There’s been a lot of talk about processed meat causing cancer lately. You want the truth? Here it is without the hype and the scare tactics.
It can easily feel as though we are always bombarded with new evidence about what we shouldn’t eat. A quick Google search would reveal the mounds of research on the risks linked with the consumption of processed meats. This can often lead us to question: Is anything safe to eat anymore? If it’s all dangerous fare, then why bother sorting anything out? For all the bacon lovers, the news of not to eat it can be alarming. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) concluded that there is strong evidence that processed meats cause bowel cancer and that “there is no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase risk.” The WCRF also found that eating just one sausage a day could significantly raise your risk of bowel cancer. Specifically, 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily raises the chances of the cancer by 20%. That’s only about one sausage or three pieces of bacon.
How Is It Defined?
The first thing to know when reading about the health risks of processed meats is the exact definition of the term. In a general sense, “processed meats” is a bit of a catchall term. It refers to any meat that has been given additives to be preserved. This can range from inserting chemicals to smoking, curing or salting the meat. Arguably, the chemical preservatives may pose the greatest potential health threat. But, research has been focused on the results of processed meats as a whole rather than separating the types of preservation. What can also make processed meats pose harm to your health are the nitrates added as a preservative, coloring and flavoring. These nitrates are often converted into something called nitrosamines. These have been linked with a greater risk of some cancers.
What’s The Evidence?
The research done on the effects of processed meats will certainly give you pause. One study done at the University of Zurich concluded that, “men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases but also to cancer.” The study also said that limiting the consumption of processed meat could prevent more than 3% of all deaths. In another study of 190,545 people, scientists at the University of Hawaii found that those consuming the most processed meat had a 67% increased risk of developed pancreatic cancer compared with those consuming the lowest amount of processed meat. They did not find evidence of increased risk from consuming poultry, fish or dairy. A Swedish study concluded that, “processed meat consumption is positively associated with pancreatic cancer risk. Red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in men. Further prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings.” A study by the American Cancer Society stated, “[Our] findings provided modest support for an increased risk of bladder cancer with total dietary nitrite and nitrate plus nitrite from processed meat. Results also suggested a positive association between red meat and PhIP and bladder carcinogenesis.”
Processed Meat With Bad Habits
Beyond the scope of the health risks of diseases brought on by eating processed meats, there has also been research showing additional health habits of men who consume cured meats versus those who rarely or never do. The trend only worsens. The study of 51,229 people concluded that, “Compared with men eating the most cured meats (≥1 serving/day), men with the lowest intake of cured meats (never/almost never) were more physically active, less likely to be current smokers and had a lower BMI. The consumption of cured meats was positively associated with the risk of newly diagnosed COPD in age-adjusted analysis.” These are but a handful of studies and findings on the subject. There is even more research out there indicating the real health risks caused by the eating processed meats.
The Bottom Line
The mountain of research clearly brings on one conclusion. There is definitely a link between processed meat and reduced health and longevity, whether by disease, cancer or other health habits. The evidence provides real standing that steady consumption of processed meats is harmful to your health and could reduce the length of your life. Just like with processed meats diets like carb cycling can have interesting effects as well. The evidence does not conclusively reveal that mild to rare consumption of processed meats poses detrimental risks to your health. In fact, many of the studies qualify their results stating that the results positively support the connection. But, they indicate it only provides modest support. It also does not specifically examine whether the connection is specific to the nitrates or other precise additives. Ultimately, while there have been a large number of studies conducted, there is still not enough concrete evidence to promote vegetarianism or extreme changes in diet. Qualifications being stated, in the end, it is important to recognize that the risks are real and have been proven. Given this data, you should make changes to your diet. While extreme changes may not be needed, everything you do matters. Consistent consumption of processed meats should be removed from your routine. Merely being careful is going to widen your view and help you make better choices. Reading this article, for example, has already provided a reason for you to consider all meat that you consume.
Now that you’ve learned about the dangers processed meats pose to your health, the common question is what to do. The info is a lot to process. How to use it to your advantage can be challenging. Don’t get overwhelmed. Here are three easy steps for you to consider that may help use the data to take preventative measures.
#1 Check Your Diet
Many people don’t think about their overall consumption. Try taking an actual log of your meals, just to give yourself an undeniably real list of what you eat. If asked, many of us would most likely say we eat healthier than we really do. That’s why you should write it down. Writing down a real log for a few days (up to one week) will show your actual diet and habits. With that, you’ll have a clear picture. Analyze your list. Take note of how many processed meats you’ve consumed. But, that’s not the whole picture. You should also look at how many processed foods you’ve consumed. Why? Processed meat isn’t the only threat to your health.
#2 Cut Back On These Foods
If you eat processed meat daily, stop! You should at least make a serious attempt to avoid this. If you eat it more than once daily, perhaps you should try planning your meals until you adjust. Or, you could avoid buying processed meats for a while. This can help you quit the habit. It’s a great step to adapt to life without the processed meats. If you only eat processed meats a couple of times per week, you’re on a good track. At this rate, you could cut your consumption to monthly. You could even try a complete removal of processed meats altogether. Now that would be ideal! Staying healthy never boils down to one thing. Nothing is that easy. Reducing your consumption of processed meats can be preventative and shrink your health risks in the present. While cancer may not present itself right away, irritable bowel syndrome and similar digestive troubles are mostly a direct result of your diet. As you cut your processed food intake, boost your fruit and veggie intakes. If you’re a heavy meat eater, you should mostly focus on upping your fiber intake and consuming veggies that are anti-cacogenic like spinach.
The Flaw In Your New Plans
When reading the comments following articles condemning the consumption of processed meats, many show their frustrations. The main frustration seems to be the lack of availability of healthy foods. Consumers feel as though markets provide more processed options than not. The problem is, they’re right. Obviously, you could shop all organic, all range-free, all farmer’s market and avoid processed foods altogether. If you have the fiscal means to do this, you should. It is absolutely healthier and better for you. There’s no debate! But, most people do not have the fiscal standing to spend twice as much on organic foods. Also, many rural areas or locations that don’t service a population seeking organic brands provide very little offerings in the organic and healthy department. Living in a big city can make shopping healthy easier and more available. Ethnic markets often sell goods at much lower prices. But, these stores aren’t in every city.
The Silver Lining
While overall, it may seem a daunting task if the availability doesn’t seem to be near to you, it is highly plausible that you just don’t know what to look for. But, times are changing. The evidence is mounting and companies are complying. Seeking precise brands can make your life a whole lot easier at the same price, or perhaps just a bit more. Still, it would be well worth the minor increase. Common organic brands are Simple Truth and Applegate. These are found at major markets offering a variety of foods for you to choose from. Even Walmart has jumped on the bandwagon. They now have a health section in their frozen foods section. Again, fortunately for you, companies are finally taking all this commotion and creating products that you can actually eat guilt-free. One more important brand to note is Boar’s Head. This brand is especially of note for parents who pack their kids’ lunches. They are well known for not adding any nitrates or preservatives to their meats and they are undeniably tasty. If you haven’t watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, it is surely something to check out. You should especially seek out his description of pink slime. Articles on processed meats tend to focus on what we buy at the grocery store and consume at home. But, the fast food world has also capitalized on the preserved meats market in order to make their businesses function. Oliver says, you don’t have to outright ban all fast food and never eat it again. In general, going to extremes tends to split people and force them to ignore the facts. In creating a compromise, you should merely attempt to make a balance. Will it really be that hard? In the long run, when it positively impacts your health, aren’t changes to your diet well worth it?
If you’re also feeling unsure how to use healthier foods in your diet in a way that actually tastes good, try following a recipe. There are lots of resources. In fact, speaking of Jamie Oliver, his Food Revolution website provides recipes and videos to help you make those changes. You could also check out YouTube. There are lots of how-to videos that can help. With the Internet, you can easily find free recipes to help you live a healthier life. If that is overwhelming, you can always buy a book or join a club. Better yet, stay on this site. We’ve got you covered. Look around and you’ll find lots of tips. Just be careful in your choices. Any detoxes cleanses and extreme changes should be avoided. Start with your basic diet. Once you feel like you’ve got the handle on living moderately healthy, then you can try to add jumps in your pace. All in all, the old saying that you are what you eat still has merit. Small steps may seem insignificant at first, but you might be surprised at what positive benefits you could discover from those little strides towards healthier eating. By Alyssa Bright