Processed Meat May Kill You, Study Finds
Eating meat that has additives in it may increase your risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease — especially if you live an unhealthy lifestyle as well.
Advertisements showing a juicy burger or a sandwich piled high with meats may look appealing, but those meats are often processed before being served to you and, according to a new study published in the journal BMC Medicine, may be deadly.
Meats, especially those served in fast food restaurants, are often processed with additional additives such as salt, nitrate, phosphates or sweeteners to add flavor or extend shelf life.
Researchers looked at nearly half a million people from 10 European countries over two decades and found that the more processed meat that a person consumed, the higher their risk of premature death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“Overall, we estimate that 3 percent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20 grams of processed meat per day," Sabine Rohrmann, PhD, study author and assistant professor of chronic disease epidemiology at the University of Zurich, said in a statement.
Twenty grams, which is less than an ounce, is far less processed meat than the average American eats, said Howard Weintraub, MD, a clinical associate professor in the department of medicine at the Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Processed meat generally includes all smoked and cured meat, such as ham, bacon, and sausage, according to the study, but also includes meat that has added salt, such as deli meats, and meat from fast food restaurants, which often contains preservatives.
“These effects obviously come as a consequence of these chemicals that are used as preservatives,” Dr. Weintraub said. “It’s also not surprising that eating processed meats, which are going to be fattier and saltier, will clog your arteries or give you cancer.”
People in the study who ate a lot of processed meat were also more likely to live unhealthy lifestyles— they smoked, they didn't exercise, they ate poorly, and they drank alcohol — all of which can raise your risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease, Rohrmann said.
And while eating processed meat may not be good for you, eating meat can be part of a healthy diet, said Dr. Rohrmann says. Even though eating steak and other fatty meats consistently may hurt your health, they do provide some nutrients. To avoid negative health effects while still getting the nutrients you need, she recommends eating meat that has either not been processed at all or has only been minimally processed.
“Meat is rich in important minerals and vitamins,” she said. “My recommendation is to lower processed meat intake. Most importantly, quit smoking, be physically active and keep a normal body weight.”
Weintraub agrees, saying that it's okay to occasionally indulge in a lean cut of meat that's cooked in a way that lets fat drain off, such as grilling or broiling — especially if it means you eat it instead of processed meat.
“I think minimizing your intake of saturated fat is important, but I think it’s more important to minimize your intake of processed meat,” he said. “I’d rather someone tell me they’re going to have a small piece of beef than a piece of processed meat because of how salty and fatty they are.”
“Eating at home and eating simple is a good idea,” Weintraub added. And if you are going to enjoy a steak, “Make sure that the meat occupies no more than a third of your plate, and that your plate is filled the rest of the way with veggies," he said.
Rest of the story: Processed Meat May Kill You, Study Finds
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