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What Are Processed Meats And Why Are They So Bad For Your Heart?

February is the month of love, and since love comes from the heart it only seems right to discuss a very important topic in the field of cardiovascular health.

You may have heard that cardiovascular disease is one of the most significant public health concerns in Canada today, and I’d rather it be a concern that none of our readers have to deal with for a very long time, or at all.

When it comes to living a long healthy life, it’s important to acknowledge that eating in a manner that reduces your risk of cardiovascular and other serious condition, such as diabetes and cancer, is absolutely fundamental.

Achieving this goal requires diligence in terms of what you eat, but also an understanding of the foods you should either avoid or minimize.

When researchers look at all of the different types of foods that people eat and how they affect human longevity and heart health, they tend to come to the following conclusion:

  1. People who consume above average amounts of foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular and certain other diseases.
  2. People who consume above average amounts of processed meats tend to have a higher risk of cardiovascular and certain other diseases.

This might not be all that surprising for you to hear.  Many of us have heard from one source or another that processed meats aren’t that great for us, but few people understand why.

In today’s article I will help you understand why consuming too much processed meat is not the best choice for your health.

Before we get into that though, let’s  start by defining what I mean when I say processed meat.

Processed meat usually refers to pork or beef that has been salted, cured, smoked or transformed in some other way.  Prime examples include sausages, hot dogs, ham, corned beef and beef jerky.

So what is it about these foods that causes them to be damaging to our health and what can we do about it?

Let’s find out:

  1. Processed Meat Contains High Levels Of Saturated Fat

Processed meats are high in a specific type of dietary fat known as saturated fat.

Although you may have heard to the contrary, it is still largely accepted that people who eat higher levels of saturated fat tend to have an increased risk of heart disease.

We also know that when people tend to replace some of the saturated fat in their diet with different types of fat from non-animal sources, their risk of heart disease goes down.

One of the absolute best ways to do this is rely on plant-based protein sources more frequently.

Luckily for you, has a tofu steak recipe to fulfil that very need!

Insert Tofu Steak Image  + hyperlink from ->

  1. Processed Meats Are Usually Cooked At Very High Heat 

Foods like sausages and hot dogs in particular are often cooked at very high temperatures and exposed to open flames for the simple reason that these foods tend to either be fried or barbecued.

And while these cooking methods produce aesthetic grill lines and delicious results, they also promote the formation of dangerous compounds on your meat.

These compounds, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines, are hazardous for human consumption.

Believe it or not these compounds are actually similar to what you would find in cigarette smoke and can cause inflammation of your arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease.

The best way to avoid their formation is to minimize charring of your food and avoid allowing your food to be in contact with open flames.

These are not the only compounds that can form when cooking at high heat though. One trick you can use to keep your food safe( aside from lowering the heat) is to cook using either lemon juice or vinegar.

  1. Processed Meat Contains Heme Iron

You’ve probably heard somewhere that all types of meat of meat are an excellent source of iron.

This iron known as heme iron is very well absorbed by our bodies.

What you may not know is that an excessive consumption of heme iron, over time, may also be damaging to our bodies and actually contribute to plague formation and inflammation in your arteries.

Plant-based protein sources such as legumes, nuts and seeds are also rich in iron of a different type that does not lead to any of these issues.

The take home message? Embrace the fact that you can get iron from both plant and animal-based foods.

Processed Meats Contain Significant Amounts of Sodium & Nitrate Preservatives 

You would be right to be argue that all of the things I have discussed about processed meats so far are also true about red meat in general (such as beef and beef), which is not considered nearly as dangerous to our health as processed meats are.

What sets processed meats apart from red meat is the fact that it is a much richer source of sodium and harmful preservatives.

Sodium (what many people think of as “salt”) is known to increase blood pressure when consumed in excess. An elevated blood pressure, in turn, increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by role in elevating blood pressure, which in turn can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease owing to the strain it causes

.Processed meats are also a concentrated source of nitrate preservatives. Scientists believe that these preservatives may contribute to the development of plaques in the arteries and interfere with the proper functioning of the heart, they may also be carcinogenic (cancer causing) which explains why processed meat consumption has been strongly linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

So What Should You Do?

Your best bet is to mostly avoid all processed meats including sausage bacon, ham, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, pastrami, bologna, corned beef and deli/lunch meats.

If you are craving them once in a while or they are being served at an event, that’s fine.

Consuming them regularly, however, I would advise against.

As far as red meat is concerned, a safe recommendation is to keep your intake to no more than 500 grams (cooked) weekly.

The best thing you can do for your health is to learn to rely more on alternate protein sources such as fish, legumes and tofu.

Andy De Santis RD MPH

Andy is a Toronto-based private practice dietitian and nutrition writer/blogger. He also holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Toronto. If you are interested in learning more about Andy and his services, or you’d like to read more of this nutrition content, you can do so at










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