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The Truth About Processed Meats

By Sara Butler

Many people eat processed meats daily. They’re easy to find, they’re inexpensive and they’re fast to grab when you’re on the go. But, you may have heard the hype surrounding processed meats lately and the dangers they may be presenting to your health. Here is the lowdown on processed meats and what you need to be on the lookout for to ensure you and your family’s safety and health.

What Are Processed Meats?

Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by salting, curing, adding chemical preservatives or smoking. Some popular processed meats include:

  • Hot dogs
  • Lunch meats
  • Salami
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Ham

Processed meats have been linked over the past several years to a variety of health conditions such as heart failure and cancer, and there’s evidence to suggest that the media isn’t just hamming the facts up.

What’s In Processed Meats?

The ingredient that often makes health experts frown on processed meats is sodium nitrate. It is used to protect people from foodborne illness, but once you eat it and it comes into contact with the acid in your stomach the nitrate is converted to nitrite and that can be turned into a known carcinogen through metabolic processes in your body.

The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that eating even small amounts of processed meats regularly will increase your risk of cancer. Cancer has its roots in both environmental and genetic factors, but one of the factors you can control in the equation is how much processed meat you consume.

Another thing that makes processed meats so unhealthy is how much sodium they contain. Many processed meat options have up to 500 milligrams in just one two-slice serving. That is roughly 20 percent of your recommended daily amount of sodium, and increased sodium intake increases your risk for high blood pressure. Even if you don’t get high blood pressure, large amounts of sodium in your diet have been found to have a negative impact on your organs and blood vessels.

Smarter Choices

Of course, one thing you can do to avoid all of this is to eat less processed meats. But, if this is something that you find difficult to cut out of your diet due to time or budget, you can look for certain things to try to make healthier choices. You should:

  • Control the portions – Read the label to find out how much is actually in a serving and have just one serving.
  • Look out for sodium – If there’s a low sodium version of your favorite processed meat go for that one. If it has less than 350 milligrams a serving, then it’s a winner.
  • Look out for saturated fat – Go for leaner processed meats such as roast beef, ham, and turkey. Try to stay away from higher fat meats such as hot dogs, sausage, and salami.

The road to good health is full of things you should do, you just have to decide for yourself what is doable and what isn’t, and take into account all the information you can to make the best decision. It’s best to try to phase these meats out of your diet as best you can.

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