Tufts University analyzed hundreds of studies and reports that eating processed meats may increase your risk of cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified meat as a carcinogen (causes cancer) back in 2015. Now, scientific studies are showing compelling evidence that eating processed meats can increase your risk of colorectal and breast cancer.
Why Is Processed Meat Bad For You?
A study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found postmenopausal women had a 21% higher risk of breast cancer if they ate an average of nine or more grams of processed meat per day. A typical serving size for packaged lunch meat is 6 times this – at roughly 56 grams.
The problem here is in the processing. Processed meats like bacon, ham, sausage, and other deli meats all undergo some sort of process to preserve flavor. It can be cured, salted, smoked, fermented, or have nitrates added. Nitrates are used to prevent bacterial growth. But, when processed or cooked, nitrates can form into nitrosamines, which are classified as carcinogens.
Deli meats are also notoriously high in sodium. To put this in perspective, six thin slices of deli meat can contain roughly half of the total amount of sodium an adult needs in a day. So, say you put three slices of deli meat on your sandwich. The meat alone contains 25% of your daily sodium needs, and that doesn’t even count the bread or other toppings.
How Much Is Too Much?
I can hear you asking, ‘Ok. I LOVE deli meats. How much can I safely eat?’ Well, unfortunately, like all health questions, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. But there is good news. Many forms of cancer can be avoided through healthy lifestyle choices like eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and avoiding smoking and alcohol as much as possible. Here are some precautions you can take for your health when it comes to processed meats:
- Cut Down On Frequency – my recommendation is to eliminate processed meats altogether because even small amounts can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. But if you love processed meats, try to eat them on occasion rather than every day.
- Avoid Heat – Stay away from grilling or pan-frying meat. Cooking meat at high temperatures leads to more carcinogenic chemicals.
- Check The Label – Look for the sodium content on all packaging labels. Try to eat around 2,300mg per day.
- Avoid ‘No Added Nitrates’ – It may sound counterintuitive, but I recommend skipping these options entirely. Often celery juice or other natural sources of nitrates are used instead and there is no evidence to show these are any safer.