Medical experts have known for years that the chemicals used in processed meats are linked to several forms of cancer. But despite this well-known fact, millions of Americans are still buying and eating these dangerous products every day, and the government institutions that are meant to protect consumers aren't doing anything about it.
In a review of more than 7,000 clinical studies on links between diet and cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that processed meats are not safe for human consumption.
The number one culprit is sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) is a chemical compound used widely in processed meats to prevent bacteria growth and extend shelf-life. It also helps red meats maintain their color so they look fresher to consumers. While sodium nitrite on its own does not cause cancer, when combined with the amino acids in meat, it forms carcinogenic nitrosamines in the body which can lead to tumors, heart attacks, and early death.
The British Journal of Cancer found that consumption of processed meats can not only increase your risk of cancer, but can also increase risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death.
Researchers analyzed data from 448,568 healthy men and women from 10 countries and collected information on their diets, exercise, body mass index, and smoking habits. The authors of the study concluded that nearly 15,000 deaths could have been prevented from the elimination of processed meats alone.
In another study consisting of over 6,000 patients with pancreatic cancer, individuals eating more than 5 ounces of processed meat per day (about 10 strips of bacon), were 44% more likely to die prematurely than those eating less than 1 ounce.
The researchers in both studies also looked at a wide range of lifestyle factors including diet, smoking, obesity, and other unhealthy behaviors, and were able to determine conclusively that processed meats were responsible for health damage even after accounting for other factors. This disproves the long-held argument by the meat industry that individuals consuming these products are unhealthy because they make other unhealthy choices, and not because of the products themselves.
Additionally, a study at the University of Hawaii found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67%, and that every 50 grams of processed meats consumed daily increases risk of colorectal cancer by 50%.
Now, I'm not saying you should stop eating all meat, and I'm certainly not waging a war on bacon (as others who've spoken out have been accused). There are plenty of alternatives to processed meats that are perfectly healthy and should absolutely make up a significant portion of your diet.
However, there are a number of meat products that should be avoided to completely protect your health. These include:
Frozen/canned meals containing meat
Nearly all red meats sold in public schools, restaurants, and hospitals.
There was no link shown in the studies between the consumption of poultry or fish and any major health risks.
So, the next time you go grocery shopping be sure to heed the ingredients labels on any red meat purchases. Avoid anything containing sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate. Stick to chicken and fish, or organic red meats that don't contain these harmful preservatives.