Don’t Go Bacon Our Hearts: The Truth About Processed Meats

Bacon, a deli sandwich, a hot dog from a street vendor: all yummy foods that have been question marks in nutrition.

Meat has enjoyed a renaissance lately. Protein-heavy diets encourage meats often over carbohydrate-laden breads and other grains.

Protein is a critical building block in good nutrition, but it’s worth considering the source. More specifically, are processed meats good for you? A meat is processed when it has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed processed meat (as well as red meat) carcinogenic. Many experts agree.

“There is absolutely evidence that consumption of processed red meat increases your risk for cancer, specifically colorectal cancer,” said Gillian Arathuzik, a Registered Dietician at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “It is a dose response, the more you consume, the higher the risk.”

A quick Google search of the topic brought back 38 million hits. The risk of meat goes along with the method used to process the food. Additionally, smoking meats is thought to add polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) or N-nitroso-compounds (NOC), both of which are thought to be carcinogenic.

So, what’s a bacon-lover to do? Opt for all-natural turkey bacon, you say?

Not so fast, experts warn.

“Sadly, turkey bacon is the same deal because it is still a processed meat,” Arathuzik said. “The real controversy now is whether or not it is better to choose products with no added nitrates or nitrites except for those occurring naturally in celery salt.”

We still need more evidence that these natural sources of nitrates or nitrites are just as high risk, she said.

“I typically tell people to choose the most natural products, but still limit overall consumption,” she said.

For more information on processed foods and what to avoid, speak with your health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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