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Processed Meat – The Reality behind the Headlines

Published : Friday March 8, 2013 | Posted in : General Health
processed meat

What the headlines say

In the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the origins of our meat and what goes into it is at the forefront of our concerns. Research published this week by Professor Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, has highlighted a link between red and processed meats, to a number of serious health issues including obesity, cancer and heart problems. Yet this is not the first study of its kind that has raised the issue to whether red meat is good for you. Previous studies have demonstrated the risk of red and processed meat, with the World Cancer Research Fund recommending limiting red meat to 500g cooked weight per week and avoiding processed meat altogether. Supporting the World Cancer Research study, this new report shows that eating more than 160g of processed meat a day, the equivalent of three sausages, can have a detrimental effect on your health and can even lead to an early death.

What makes meat “processed”?

Processed meats are meats that have been preserved with chemicals or preservatives by smoking, curing or salting. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meat only count if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.

In general, diets high in processed meat are linked to people who have a generally unhealthy lifestyles; the study showed that those who ate processed meats were also likely to eat the fewest fruits and vegetables, and were more likely to smoke and be overweight.

By shopping smart, you can spot processed meat. The average sausage contains as little as 42 per cent meat, are 25 per cent fat and have a gram of salt, so avoid eating these where possible. If you do fancy buying sausages, purchase premium sausages from the supermarket or butchers where you will be able to check the label for meat content and preservatives.

The health risks

Processed meat can have a serious effect on your health with research showing that people that consume a large amount of processed meat are at risk of being overweight and could increase their risk of dying from heart disease buy 72 per cent, and dying from cancer by 11 per cent.

Professor Sabine Rohrmann: ‘Overall, we estimate that 3 per cent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day.’

However, there have been several studies to counteract this argument. Dr Carrie Ruxton, an independent dietician and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, said: ‘Eating red meat in moderation is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Many young women are iron-deficient and should be eating more red meat.’

She adds, ‘You do not need red meat every day, people should still be eating fish twice a week, but if you ate a slice of red meat in a sandwich daily you can eat a portion of red meat for dinner up to four times a week and still stay within healthy limits.’

What are the alternatives?

It is still possible to eat red meat but be sure to limit how much you eat. When cooking red meat, make sure you grill it. Avoid frying as this adds unnecessary calories and seals in the natural fats of the meat.

For a great alternative to meat altogether try eating more chicken, beans, lentils and other pulses as they are a great source of protein and are less fatty than red meat.

The benefits of not eating processed meat are clear to see but if you do fancy eating it, eat it in moderation.

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