Work hard to bring home the bacon – just don’t eat a lot of it! That’s because eating processed meats like bacon, sausage and salami increase the risk of heart disease, according to a recent study published in the journal Circulation.
Researchers found that the risk of heart disease was 42 percent higher among people who regularly ate processed meats – those that were preserved by smoking, curing, salting or with the addition of chemical preservatives – such as hot dogs, ham and processed deli meats. In addition, the study also found a 19 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes among processed meat eaters.
“This provocative study presents interesting information and suggests it may be beneficial to eliminate the consumption of processed meats,” says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist David Frid, MD. “But we need to do further research to see how these foods impact heart disease.”
The meat of the matter
Dr. Frid points out that both unprocessed meats, like beef, pork and lamb, and processed meats contain saturated fat, a concern for people who are trying to limit their cholesterol intake. But what Dr. Frid finds troublesome about processed meats are their salt and preservative content – on average, processed meats have four times as much sodium as unprocessed meats, and contain up to 50 percent more nitrate preservatives, according to the Circulation study.
“Sodium is linked to high blood pressure, and is especially harmful to people who are sodium-sensitive,” Dr. Frid says. “Plus, there is research that suggests a possible relationship between processed meats and colorectal cancer.”
In fact, a 2007 study conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found that eating a 50-gram serving of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. A 50-gram serving is about the size of a hot dog.
Good nutrition is key
The importance of these studies is that people need to look at the impact that foods have on their health, Dr. Frid says. However, good nutrition means more than placing all your attention on meat.
“What’s also significant is your intake of fruits, vegetables and grains,” Dr. Frid says. And as to processed meats, “each individual has to make a determination about how much he or she will eat.”