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Healthy Balance

The Problem with Processed Meats

processed meat, sandwiches
Processed meats have been linked to colorectal cancer.

What’s a sub without salami? A pizza without pepperoni? If you’re a fan of these and other processed meats, it may be time to consider cutting back.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group has classified processed meats as carcinogenic or cancer causing. Specifically, the research revealed a link between consuming processed meats and colorectal cancer.

“These results do not mean you have to cut out processed meats altogether, however it is clear that reducing consumption will reduce your risk of colorectal cancer,” says registered dietitian Katherine Basbaum, MS, RD.

Exactly why processed meats are carcinogenic is not entirely clear, but evidence points to the way in which the meat is prepared. Processed meats are those that are not fresh, but rather salted, smoked, cured or preserved in some way.

“The fact that it is processed means that more than likely there are going to be chemicals added,” says Basbaum. The ones you’re probably most familiar with are nitrites, which are used to add color and prolong shelf life. These are known carcinogens, as are the chemicals produced when processed meats are grilled or cooked at high temperatures.

Another issue with processed meats is the excess sodium, sugar and saturated fat, which can quickly sidetrack a heart-healthy diet. “You want to keep your intake of these to a minimum,” says Basbaum.

Not ready to bid farewell to your sandwich staples? If you can’t quit the cold cuts altogether, then follow these tips for selecting the best alternatives:

Looking for personalized diet advice?

Visit the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center.

Fewer ingredients, the better. Read the label to determine which chemicals have been added during processing. Opt for those selections without nitrites.

Be aware of buzzwords. “Honey roasted” is an indication of added sugar and “smoked” is often a sign that there is added sodium. (You want to stay around 200 mg or less of sodium per serving, according to Basbaum.)

Go lean. Choose leaner cuts of meat like chicken or turkey. Or go for the roast beef; it’s typically the least processed and lower in sodium that other meats.

Visit the deli counter. Pre-packaged items may be quick and easy, but the deli will have a greater selection. Don’t be shy about asking to read the label to inquire about sugar and sodium content.

Tags: cancer

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