Saturday, September 19, 2015

Death by Meat – Why to Avoid Processed Meat Like The Plague

If you aren’t a vegetarian or a vegan, you probably come across something called “processed meat” on a regular basis. And whether you eat it or not may make a big difference in your health.

These meats are everywhere, as regular staples of American diets and of the modern world in general. This has a lot to do with how convenient and accessible they are to people of all income levels and cultural backgrounds.

But today, new questions are being asked about the negative effects of the prevalence of these meats in our diets, and the answers are looking pretty grim.

It’s now a demonstrated fact that processed meat is bad for you. Maybe even very bad. Yet we continue to eat it like we’re ignoring all those pesky facts.

Frankly, I’m sick of it. The processed meat industry will continue to thrive if we as consumers don’t wise up and refuse to buy and eat these foods any longer.

So, if you still aren’t sure why you shouldn’t eat processed meat, here are the reasons, once and for all.

First of all, what does “processed” mean?

processed meatProcessed meat broadly refers to any variety of meat that one way or another exists past its normal shelf life, having had its taste and texture altered through the use of added chemical flavorings and preservatives.

Today, processed meats include products like deli meats, hot dogs, burgers, bacon, sausage, and pepperoni.

These animal-derived foods have been altered from their original states for some stated purpose or other, usually under the guise of convenience or added enjoyment for the consumer. They can either be ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat.

Because of this, they are often called “convenience meats” because they are sold already prepared and are usually “safe” for the consumer to eat right out of the packaging. Perfect in accordance with accommodating for the typical fast paced lazy Western lifestyle.

Processed meats have had a long history in salting and smoking – two processes that were used to keep meat around for long periods of time before the dawn of refrigeration. But today’s techniques are not the same as they once were, as they often involve using artificial smokes and seasonings.

The chemicals and methods used in the modern production of processed meats are neither natural nor traditional. And, while we won’t fall prey to the appealing-to-nature fallacy here (the idea that because something is “natural” it’s perfectly good for you), there’s more than enough evidence to show that processed meats are bad news.

Health Risks

cancerA study performed by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) investigated the health effects of processed meat consumption on over half a million men and women across ten countries. The people studied ranged between the ages of 35 to 69, and had no history of cancer, heart attack, or stroke. They were observed for at least a decade.

The findings were striking. There was a clear link between eating processed meat on a regular basis and an increased risk of early death, especially from heart disease or cancer.

The researchers even came to the conclusion that if processed meat intake were limited to less than 20 grams per day, 3 percent of premature deaths annually could be prevented.

Another study, published in the journal BCM Medicine by the University of Zurich, found that of ten European countries, the heaviest consumers of processed meat were 44 percent more likely to suffer from premature death from any cause than those who ate very little.

The same study also found that consuming processed meat in high levels increased heart disease death risk by a shocking 72 percent, and cancer by at least 11 percent.

A rat study published to Pub Med in 2010 demonstrated a link between processed meat intake and colon cancer.

In 2007, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) found there was convincing evidence that cured and processed meats caused colorectal cancer. In fact, for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily (around two slices of deli ham), the risk of colorectal cancer increased by an average of 21 percent.

A review of more than 7,000 clinical studies investigating the relationship between cancer rates and diet choices came to a single conclusion: processed meats should be off-limits.

Why So Dangerous?

processed meatsWhat is it that makes processed meat so dangerous?

For starters, sodium nitrite.

Nitrite is used as an additive in processed meat products for three reasons:

  • To preserve color
  • To improve flavor by suppressing rancidification
  • To prevent the growth of bacteria, reducing the risk of food poisoning

All three of those sound great, right? Yeah, you guessed it; that’s not all the nitrite is doing.

According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic, sodium nitrite can damage your blood vessels, harden and narrow your arteries, and affect the way your body processes sugars, increasing your risk of diabetes.

Nitrite can be dangerous because of the way it binds to proteins in the foods we eat. The nitrite-protein combination is sometimes converted in the body to nitrosamine, a known carcinogen, which increases your risk of cancer when exposed to over time.

In general, high levels of sodium in your diet can lead to some pretty nasty health problems. A single serving of lunch meat can range from 310 to 480 milligrams of sodium, which when added up, can contribute to high blood pressure or risk of stroke.

Even without high blood pressure complications, high sodium diets are being linked to adverse effects on your organs, including your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and brain.

Because of the methods of production, processed meats can also be very high in saturated fats and calories. The cuts of meat chosen for meats like bologna, hot dogs, and sausages, are typically way fatter than a typical lean cut of meat.

Another major factor in the risk posed by processed meat is that each piece we eat no longer comes from only one animal.

Because of the way feedlots (the industrial facilities that hold grain-fed cattle) function, thousands of cows are literally shoulder to shoulder. Since they don’t have designated areas to defecate, they stand in their own feces day in and day out.

This means there’s a greater chance for the passage of microorganisms back and forth from animal to animal.

But the hamburger you eat does not come from a single cow. It is the product of hundreds of cows, their meat ground together in huge vats to be processed in order to produce a single hamburger patty. This means there can be a much greater chance of listeria, E. coli, or salmonella ending up in your food.

This is why there are so many recalls of meat every year. Tens of millions of pounds of beef were recalled in the first two months of 2014 alone.

Beef is so frequently tainted that the USDA has been trying to establish a rule requiring the labeling of mechanically tenderized beef. This process is known to compress pathogens found at the surface of the meat down deep inside it, where it can more easily thrive and survive after being cooked. Between 2003 and 2009, this tenderization process was to blame for at least five E. Coli outbreaks.

Fortunately, the USDA has finalized these labeling requirements. We’ll start seeing the labels in May of 2016.

Why is processed meat still so popular?

yum baconYou’re probably wondering: if all of this information is so publically known, why do we still eat the stuff?

The number one reason for the continued popularity of processed meat is its price. For instance, compare the price of beef today to what it was in the 1970s.

Today, you pay around half what you paid then for beef. Processing meat makes production more efficient, increasing supply while driving costs down. Simple economics.

As consumer demand for processed meat increases, the meat industries figure out new ways of getting it onto your plate as cheaply as possible while maintaining their standards – often as loosely as possible.

In the United States, we pay a lower percentage of our per capita income on food than any other country. 96% of Americans eat meat on a semi-regular basis, yet we only pay 2% of our disposable income on the food itself.

A lot of this has to do with what happened after World War II. Instead of relying on local butcher shops and meat markets to supply the meats we purchased, we started going to grocery stores and supermarkets.

As refrigerators became more popular, we had an increased ability to store foods long-term. Because of this refrigeration technology, shipping meat long distances from one industrial source where the meat was already processed before it was ever loaded into trucks became the norm.

Instead of actually going and confronting a carcass hanging on a hook and choosing which one looked the most appealing, we were able to look for logos on boxes. And once we opened those boxes in our kitchens, preparation time went way down.

Also, a lot of it has to do with ignorance of the facts. Industrial-scale farming operations have huge issues, but most people seem to prefer to continue blissfully unaware of how the animal they’re eating lived and died.

We love efficiency. And we love to save money on necessities. There’s just no getting around it.

While I can’t exactly blame people for any of this, I still desperately wish people would educate themselves! Maybe then we could see some real change in the way our food is made.

Healthier Alternatives

healthy foodOkay, so there you have it folks. Processed meat is terrible.

If you aren’t already health conscious, and have a worse overall set of health habits, you’re probably more likely to consume higher quantities of processed meat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change.

Avoid processed meat like the plague, pure and simple. And despite what some of my friends tell me, I am not here to tell you to become a vegetarian or a vegan. There are other options.

For starters, you can add more fruits and vegetables to your diet without converting to a brand new diet.

Make a grocery list before you go to the store, a grocery list that contains the fruits and veggies you enjoy, and stick to it. When they’re sitting in your fridge or in a bowl on your table staring at you all day, you’ll be more likely to give in and mix them into your meals.

When you do eat meat, go organic. Look for grass-fed or free-range beef. Look for labels that specify no nitrates (especially in red meats). Include more fish in your diet, or even try something easy and awesome like the Mediterranean diet.

Stay away from beef jerky, frozen pizzas, canned soups, and frozen dinners, as these are typically high in sodium and are almost always heavily processed.

Check the nutrition facts for stuff you should avoid like high salt content or the dreaded monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Instead of always shopping at the supermarket, consider finding farmers’ markets or buying directly from local farms where animals have been able to live in their natural environment. You can use online directories like Eatwild to find your nearest pasture-based farm or ranch with healthy, natural offerings.

One way of stopping that carcinogenic nitrosamine combo I mentioned earlier is to always pair whatever meats you eat with foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruits and green veggies. Vitamin C stops the chemical reaction that leads to nitrosamine developing.

All-in-all, the smartest option is to limit your intake of processed meats to as close to zero as possible. I know it’ll be hard – they’re everywhere.

But if you care about your health, you know you can reduce how often you eat these kinds of foods to only special occasions. If you eat them every day, drop them down to once or twice a week. From there, make them an even rarer treat.

I know you can do it.

What have you done to limit your processed meat intake?

The post Death by Meat – Why to Avoid Processed Meat Like The Plague appeared first on Nutrition Secrets.

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