Hot dogs, deli meat, chicken, oh my: Which processed meat is the worst for you?

Eating meat has some known health benefits, such as being a good source of fatty acids and nutrients such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. But all meats are not considered equal. Red meat, for example, has the advantage of being a great source of high-quality protein; consumed too often, however, and has been linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Other meats require similar risk-versus-benefit considerations—especially when the studied disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

What is processed meat?

While many people think of processed meat as chow that has gone through some kind of mechanical process—like when beef is put through a grinder to be turned into hamburger meat—it’s not really the case “When fresh, ground beef or chicken is not considered processed meat,” explains Dr. Donald Hensrud, an associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition for the Mayo Clinic and the editor of “The Mayo Clinic Diet.”

Instead, processed meat is meat that has been modified to extend its shelf life or to improve its taste, such as when it has been fermented, cured or smoked. Processed meat also includes when “chemical preservatives have been added,” says Kearson Petruzzi, a registered dietitian for the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. “Some examples are bacon, hot dogs, cured and pre-packaged meats,” he says.

As a general rule, processed meats are any meats that are not fresh – although meats that are not processed and are fresh frozen to be served later are still considered unprocessed.

What is the healthiest processed meat?

In the world of processed meats, some are thought to be healthier than others, as “some processed meats have more health risks than others, depending on the type of meat and the degree of processing,” he notes. Hensrud. Because red meat already has significantly more potentially negative health outcomes than fish or chicken, for example, its processed version is often considered worse than the processed version of many other meats. But experts insist that no research definitively shows that any processed meat is free of health problems.

Should I stop eating processed meat?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans”. This means “that research can confidently conclude that it causes cancer”, says Petruzzi. For many people, this information alone is enough to prevent them from eating processed meat altogether. But because the WHO does not define how much of a carcinogenic substance must be consumed before it reaches cancer-causing levels, some people choose to continue eating processed meat, although perhaps less often than they did before. the cancer connection was known.

In addition to being associated with a higher cancer risk, processed meat is also linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and is associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. “For some conditions like type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, the risk of eating processed meat is almost double the risk of eating red meat — and red meat is already worrisome,” says Hensrud.

Because of these factors, experts recommend fresh meat options – poultry or fish in particular – over processed meat. Other healthier alternatives to processed meat that are still good sources of protein include eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, beans and lots of nuts and seeds, such as cashews, walnuts, almonds, macadamias, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. And when looking for good meat options to use as pizza toppings or sandwich fixings, Petruzzi recommends slicing fresh meat at home instead of using popular processed meats, such as prepackaged meats or sausage and peppers. “There are absolutely some healthier alternatives to processed meats that can be an integral part of a balanced diet,” he says.

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