South Africans have been cautioned against eating processed meats such as polony, vienna sausages, and russians after the recent Listeriosis outbreak that has claimed at least 180 lives so far.
But Listeriosis isn’t the only reason people should be avoiding processed meats. Research has shown that processed meats are linked to a variety of health problems. Dietician and co-founder of Transform Your Health Network, Tanya Alberts, spoke to us about the dangers of consuming processed meat.
But first, to clearly understand the dangers associated with eating processed meats, it is important to know what is meant by the term processed meat and what is contained in such meat products.
“Processed meat is meat that has been treated in some way to extend the shelf life, change the texture, colour and or flavour it. Some of the processes include salting, curing, fermenting, smoking, adding sugar and adding synthetic preservatives and/or nitrates to the meat,” explains Alberts.
So what are the dangers?
Processed meat can contain many harmful chemicals and other animal parts that you might not be aware of. These include intestines, bones, hooves, sugar, phosphates, maltodextrin, MSG (Flavour enhancer), spices, acidulants, hydrolysed vegetable protein, flavourants, sodium erythorbate, to preservatives (Sodium nitrite and Sodium nitrate) and colourants among others.
“Added to the mixture are other ingredients to bulk up the product and give it its distinctive pink or orange colour and taste. The ingredients, preparation, size, and taste can vary widely by both manufacturer and region of sale. When the food processing industry wants to produce a product that will be at a lower cost to the public, almost any part of the animal can end up in the product, varying from cheap, fatty specimens stuffed with meat blasted off the carcasses and hooves,” says Alberts.
Apart from the fact that the meat can contain unhealthy ingredients, it can also lead to premature death. A study by Swiss researchers reported that those who regularly ate processed meats increased their risk of dying prematurely by 44%.
Cancer.org also reports that eating 50 grams of processed meat (about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog) every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Another study by Dr. Renata Micha from the Harvard School of Public Health found that a person who ate one portion (about one hot dog or two slices of deli meat) of processed meat every day was 42% more likely to develop heart disease and 53% more likely to develop diabetes than if that person did not eat processed meat every day.
The high levels of salt contained in processed meats can increase your risk of developing hypertension as salt increases blood pressure.
“The MSG’s can contribute to weight gain as MSG’s generally affect your taste buds to want more than what you require which can lead to eating a large amount of food,” says Alberts.
She further warns that processed meats can even lead to stomach ulcers and people should rather eat “meat products from a reliable distributor, and lean cuts of meat.”
“Remember to have a diet high in plant-based foods including fruits, vegetable, beans and legumes; and whole grains to improve gut health, weight management, and to help decrease your risk of developing chronic disease,” she concludes.