We know that the fresher our food, the healthier it is. We’ve also heard of how processed meats like cold meat, corned meat, sausage, salami, ham or canned meats are detrimental to your health. How much of this is true and how much of it is just a backlash of the eat-everything-raw trend? Let’s find out:
Firstly, what is processed meat?
Health Line explains that processed meat is any meat that has been cured, salted, canned, dried or smoked. They also clarify that freezing, cutting or slicing meat does not put it into the ‘processed meat’ food category.
Health 24 sites a Swedish study of over 450 000 people, which came to the conclusion that the more processed meat you eat, the shorter you’ll live. They say that the risk of early death is raised by as much as 44% for regular processed meat eaters. These foods are linked to heart diseases like strokes, cancer and diabetes.
Causation or correlation?
Is processed meat causing all of this death? Or is it merely a matter of coincidence because the people who live longer are doing so by living healthier lives and therefore making more natural food choices? People who wear running shoes are also proven to be better runners. It’s not the shoes that are making the people healthier, it’s the fact that they are worn by people who run!
That same Swedish study found that people who ate processed meat regularly were also more likely to avoid exercise, drink alcohol regularly, smoke cigarettes and make other unhealthy lifestyle decisions. Those who avoid processed meat are probably doing so for health reasons, and are therefore more likely to follow a good exercise regime and a eat a much healthier diet in general.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are many ingredients that are added to processed meats that extend their shelf lives. These ingredients kill off bacteria, and are gradually doing the same to us.
Processed meats contain 4 times more sodium than their unprocessed counterparts, according to Dove Med; and that is not all: Nitrates are also added to prevent discoloration and keep meat from spoiling. Nitrates are preservatives that prolong the amount of time it takes before food becomes inedible. Bacteria and other micro-organisms do not survive well in the presence of these nitrate compounds.
Processed meats become carcinogenic
The nitrate compounds discussed above tend to form other compounds that become carcinogenic (a substance is carcinogenic when it causes cancer). One of these compounds is called polycystic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH for short). PAH is formed when the nitrates in processed meat are subjected to high temperatures. This happens during the manufacturing process, so eating these foods straight from the fridge won’t keep you safe.
Another dangerous substance found in these meats is heterocyclic amines (or HCAs). HCAs damage DNA. Additionally, the high levels of iron found in these foods can damage the lining of your large intestine. Consuming too much iron is known to lead to cirrhosis, heart failure, diabetes and premature death.
So should you eat processed foods at all?
Now that you know that processed foods are linked to higher mortality rates and that they contain harmful ingredients; the choice is up to you.
What about you, Mr Author?
Personally, I do eat processed meats on occasion (once or twice a month at family gatherings). My daily diet, however, consists of varied, raw plant foods like fruit and vegetables, a variety of high quality meats like fish, dairy products that aren’t too high in sugar and bread every other day.
The take-away: How to be happy in a world where the foods you like are the ones you shouldn’t eat
In the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, we tend to focus on what we should not be eating and what we need to cut out. It is a lot easier to get healthy when you focus on what you should be eating. Add 5 servings of fresh fruit and veggies to your daily diet. Make sure that you drink enough water. Find natural ways to increase energy. Eat enough high quality protein and balance your meals between proteins, fats and carbohydrates by selecting foods from different sources. By doing this, you give your body the opportunity to get nutrients from a variety of sources.
Very often, food becomes unhealthy because we are eating the same thing all the time. By doing this, we automatically get too much of one nutrient and too little of the other. Experiment with foods that you’ve never eaten before. Don’t discard food as bland just because you know that it is good for you. Adding healthy flavors like garlic can spice up your food without the need for extra salt.
And what if you don’t like anything healthy? Well I have good news for you: Your taste buds get renewed every few weeks. Eat anything often enough, and your brain will associate that particular taste with good food. Keep eating healthy food and it’s only a matter of time before the food that your body needs becomes the food that you actually enjoy. Even exercise becomes enjoyable with repetition.
Experience the positive feeling of knowing that you are improving your health with every meal that you eat. I probably enjoyed the sweet crunchiness of my carrot yesterday more than the guy with a pepperoni stick in his hand every day. Find goodness in the good things, and you’ll be healthy forever!
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