We all love processed meat for their unique flavor, aroma and texture. However, we may not always be cautious of the ingredients used to process and preserve meat. Meat is processed when it has been preserved by salting, smoking, drying or canning, such as salami, sausages, hot dogs, beef jerky, smoked meat, dried meat or canned meat. Processed meat is considered unhealthy because it has been associated with cancer, heart disease and other chronic disease as has been shown in many research studies. Although a direct cause-effect is often difficult to prove, the evidence is strong that processed meat can negatively impact health. That is because the processed meat contains many potentially harmful chemicals that are not present in fresh meat. These harmful chemical compounds when taken in large quantities and over long periods of time can increase significantly the risk of chronic disease such as pulmonary disease, stomach or bowel cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Nitos-amines are cancer causing substances that are formed from nitrites. Nitrites are typically added to processed meat to preserve its color and prevent bacterial growth. However when nitrite containing meats are exposed to high temperatures, such as when frying or grilling, nitrosamines are formed which have negative effects on health.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are another family of substances formed when meat is smoked and are also found to cause cancer in animals.
Heterocyclic Amines are a class of carcinogenic chemical compounds also formed when meat is processed at very high temperatures.
Sodium chloride or salt has been added to processed meat for thousands of years as a preservative and when taken in large amounts can contribute to many health problems such as high blood pressure.
Eating processed meat occasionally should be ok but most of our diet should be fresh cooked meats and other whole foods that are full of phytochemicals and healthy antioxidants.