Cancer Healthy Living

Facts About Processed and Red Meats

More often than not, when going for a deli sandwich, for example, people typically add bacon, ham or a cold cut like salami or sausage to their sandwich concoction. These kinds of meats, along with hot dogs, pepperoni, and corned beef are considered processed meats.

  • Processed meats are essentially any meat that is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by adding chemical preservatives.
  • These “chemical preservatives” can be nitrates or nitrites, which are added to meats in order to preserve their color and prevent them from spoiling. The negative side to these preservatives is that studies have shown that nitrates/nitrites form cancer-causing compounds or carcinogens when they are eaten frequently.
  • Smoking meats also creates carcinogenic compounds which are very damaging to the body.

Additionally, eating red meats in general – beef, lamb, and pork – has been shown to increase the risk for developing colorectal cancer.

  • A recent report by AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) revealed a link between red meats and colorectal cancer.
  • They found that eating high amounts of red meat – greater than 18 ounces a week – was associated to a higher risk of this type of cancer, and also elevated risk for heart disease.
  • There are a couple of reasons why diets high in processed and red meats are known to increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
    • Red meat contains a compound called haem (gives meat it’s red color) that actually promotes and enhances the formation of carcinogenic compounds.
    • Evidence has shown that when cooking red meat at very high temperatures, compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed, which have shown to cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.

Make Lunch Count!

For many of us who live busy lifestyles, the thought of setting aside some time to have a relaxed, uninterrupted lunch break can seem like a pipe dream. During these moments, it’s usually easiest to go for some sort of cold sandwich or a wrap – something that’s convenient, easy to make, and oftentimes available wherever you might be.

However, when it comes to the quality of the ingredients in these convenience meals, we might not always be aware that some of those ingredients, particularly the meat cuts, can actually be causing us more harm than good! Let’s go ahead and expose some hidden elements within our meat products.

Lower Your Risk For Cancer

The choices we make in terms of our health such as what we eat and how often we eat, as well as our physical activity, will ultimately be what determines our risk for cancer. Grabbing a deli sandwich or hamburger patty at lunchtime every once in a while won’t necessarily impact your cancer risk; however, there are some ways you can make healthier food choices that will work towards making your mealtime count for the better:

Try These Healthy Swaps!

  • Replace processed deli meats with fresh chicken, turkey or fish
    • Chicken, turkey and fish are lean meats, meaning they are lower in fat while still being excellent sources of protein.
  • Give vegetarian sausages a try over pork sausages, bacon or salami!
    • Vegetarian sausages are virtually free from saturated fats, which are fats found in animal products that contribute to the development of a number of health conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, and even some cancers.
  • Instead of adding sausages and fatty pork to chilis or sauces, sprinkle in some beans such as red beans, kidney beans or lentils.
    • Not only will you be eliminating a lot of the fat, but you’d be adding a great source of fiber!
  • Mix it up by trying different sources of protein like eggs, low-fat cheeses (cottage cheese, mozzarella), Greek yogurt and even hummus!
    • Add more variety to your meals by switching up your protein sources every couple of days.

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About the author

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.