By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If one man’s meat is another man’s poison, as the old saying goes, research is making it pretty clear that the real poison is processed meat. Studies, seemingly one after another, are piling up evidence indicating that processed meats – such as hot dogs, sausage, salami, ham, bacon, and lunch meat – are definitely harmful to the body and should be consumed at a minimum. Processed meat is defined as any meat preserved by curing, salting, smoking, or with the addition of chemical preservatives.
Regularly eating processed meat may shorten your life. That’s the conclusion of a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Nutrition that analyzed dietary questionnaires filled out by seventy-five thousand Swedish men and women and which covered a 15 year period. Compared with no consumption, high consumption of processed red meat (100 grams, or 3.5 ounces) daily was associated with a progressively shorter survival. Consumption of non-processed red meat alone, in this study, was not linked to shorter survival. In the same issue of the journal, an analysis of more than forty-four thousand French women’s eating habits revealed an association between the consumption of processed red meat – but not with unprocessed meat − and hypertension.
My Viewpoint: The research is clearly separating unprocessed from processed meats. Unprocessed should be eaten less often (up to 18 ounces a week is considered OK) but processed meats should be avoided altogether. That’s because they contain an assortment of additives used for smoking, curing, salting, or preserving that can generate cancer-causing substances. In my own field of cardiology, there’s increasing evidence that these substances can also contribute to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
What this Means to You: You are risking your health and may be shortening your life as well if you regularly eat processed meats.
My Recommendation: Having a hot dog, some sausage on occasion, or ham over the holidays, is not a problem. But that’s it. If you are a meat eater, try to eat grass-fed meat, which is usually organic. Typical, conventionally-grown meat is loaded with antibiotics, steroids, and hormones and is very high in inflammatory fats. I prefer chicken that is organic and free-range for the same reasons. For fish, it should be wild caught and not farm-raised. Broil, bake, lightly sauté, or stew your meats – don’t fry them.
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