Abom-Edible #5: Processed Meat

Published on: 07/08/2015

Light or low-fat processed meat is still processed

In the interest of full disclosure I have to tell you that I am a vegetarian. However, just because I am does not mean that I expect my patients to also be. You can do whatever you would like – we all have free will to choose – I only ask that you do so with eyes wide open. Complete awareness. Because one day I don’t want you coming to me complaining that I never told you about this or that.

So I’m going to be honest with you about processed meat.

I always tell my patients that there are two things I know definitively in nutrition:

  1. Plants are better for us than animals
  2. Processed meats are the worst of the worst

Study after study shows that when people consume processed meat, their risk of pretty much every disease (stroke, heart disease, cancer, lung disease), and even death, increases greatly. In one study of women who consumed processed meat five or more times weekly (which is as simple as taking a bologna sandwich to work everyday), their risk of developing diabetes was over 91% greater than those who did not eat processed meat.

Not sure what falls into the processed meat category? Here you go:

  • Hot dogs
  • Bologna
  • Salami
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Pepperoni
  • Spam
  • Deli meats

I’m sure I’ve left a few out, but you get the gist. Pretty much, if you can’t tell what part of the animal it’s from, it’s processed.

The all-American hot dog goes hand-in-hand with the #1 cause of death in America, heart disease

What do all these meats have in common that make them so bad for us? The chemicals used to preserve them, called nitrites, contain N-nitroso compounds, which damage our DNA. If that weren’t bad enough, processed meat is also loaded with sodium and saturated fat, neither of which your heart will thank you for.

Yet, despite my warnings, I know some of you will resist. I see the “I heart bacon” bumper stickers on cars. People LOVE their processed meats. And that’s fine. My goal is not to force you into a particular way of eating – we all get to choose what we think is best for ourselves – but rather, my goal is simply to educate.  Part of that education includes helping you to understand that the lifestyle changes which make the biggest impact are the ones that stick, and most often the ones that stick are the small, almost imperceptible ones.  So in the case of processed meat, you might consider gradually reducing your intake, perhaps limiting to special occasions (like a hot dog on the 4th of July), or choosing leaner versions (maybe deli turkey in place of bologna – at least you’ll be consuming less saturated fat). Over time, you’ll find yourself consuming less processed meat, and those small changes will add up to big health benefits.


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