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Processed Meats: What they are and how they effect your heart health

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

You have probably heard of the dangers of red meat and its link to cardiovascular disease (CVD). But did you know that processed meats (such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats) can also have a very negative affect on heart health?

Processed meats are any meats transformed by salting, curing, smoking or adding chemical preservatives. That transformation often leaves processed meat with a high concentration of salt, in addition to the saturated fat many meats already contain. The added salt can quickly add up, increasing blood pressure, weight and the risk of heart disease – three common causes of CVD.

You might be surprised to realize just how little processed meat can adversely affect your heart health. In a decade-long global study, researchers analyzed the diets and health outcomes of almost 135,000 people across 21 countries. They tracked meat consumption and rate of CVD across a diverse range of cultures and income levels. The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed processed meat has a more significant impact on the risk of CVD and death than either unprocessed red meat or poultry.

How much processed meat should you eat?

The study found that eating 150 grams (slightly more than 5 ounces) or more of processed meat a week increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 46% and the risk of death by 50% when compared to eating no processed meat. To give you an idea, 5 ounces of processed meat is equivalent to approximately:

  • Five slices of bacon

  • Less than two hot dogs

  • Five slices of deli meat (cut 1/8-inch thick)

I don't know about you, but that could be consumed in one meal (think a deli meat sandwich at lunch)...multiple times a week...and this is small amount has a large, negative effect on your heart! And for that reason, experts have recommended avoiding (or at least limiting) your consumption of processed meats. Research continues to uncover additional reasons to ELIMINATE processed meats from your diet.

More alarming news...

A division of the World Health Organization has classified processed meats as CARCINOGENIC (read: potentially cancer-causing). Remember how much 150 grams of processed meat is (about 5 ounces)...eating 50 grams (about 2 slices of bacon or deli meat) of processed meat daily has been linked to increased risk for:

  • Breast cancer

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Prostate cancer

And if that doesn't get your attention...another study, also published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, establishes a link between processed meat and dementia. Researchers found that eating 25 grams of processed meat per day may increase the risk of dementia by 44% and Alzheimer’s disease, in particular, by 52%.

The takeaway

Avoid processed meats! Easier said than these meats are abundant and well-loved. Start with reducing the amount you consume...your heart (and other body parts) will thank your for it!

Tips for limiting or avoiding processed meats:

  • Choosing spicy vegetarian sausages as a substitute for bacon, chorizo or salami

  • Eating roasted vegetables with eggs instead of bacon or sausage

  • Reading the label, and avoiding items with ingredients such as nitrate and nitrite, or words including “cured” or “salted”

  • Replacing deli meats with options such as fresh chicken or fish

  • Trying different protein sources, including eggs, cottage cheese, tofu and hummus

By uclahealth. May 17, 2021. The effects of processed meats on your heart health.

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