By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
September 1, 2014
- The low-down on bacon, ham, sausage and more
- Tasty additive or health nightmare?
- Choicest meats for your taste buds and your health
My patients are always happy to hear my diet recommendations allow them to eat meat. This is something most of them grew up eating regularly. And the idea of going entirely vegetarian is hard for any meat eater to embrace.
Consider this: Four of our 32 teeth are specifically designed to rip meat. So, by nature, humans are meant to be omnivores.
But this doesn’t mean I advocate eating meat at every single meal. I recommend limiting meat to about 13% of your diet.
I also don’t recommend eating just any kind of meat. When you add meat to your meals, it should be the healthiest meat you can buy. And this is something some of my patients have difficulty with.
I’m not concerned when my patients say they thoroughly enjoy eating a nice, lean cut of grass-fed beef or lamb. It’s some of the other meats they’re consuming that concern me.
You see, I’ve been warning my patients away from cured, smoked and processed meats for years. But I still have some who say, “Oh, a couple of pieces of bacon or sausage patties each morning aren’t going to hurt me.”
From my experience, this is already too much. Add in the occasional corned beef dinner, smoked fish or ham sandwich, and it could be a death sentence. That’s because people who regularly eat processed meats are more likely to end up with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Put all of these risks together, and you could be walking straight into a health nightmare.
Why are processed meats such a problem? Here’s the low-down…
Since the 1970s, there have been mounting concerns about a meat additive called sodium nitrate. This is the ingredient that preserves, colors and flavors bacon, ham, hot dogs, deli meats, sausage, corned beef, pepperoni, smoked fish and other processed meats.
It takes extraordinarily high levels of sodium to cure meat. And when it’s combined with nitrate/nitrite, it can turn a piece of bacon or slice of ham into a loaded weapon.
Believe it or not, processed meat contains about 400 times more sodium and 50 times more nitrates per gram. (A gram is about one third of an ounce!)
- Excess sodium increases blood pressure and puts you squarely at risk for heart disease. This may be why eating processed meat is associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease.
- Nitrates and their byproducts damage the inner lining of blood vessels and promote plaque build-up that can lead to narrowing and hardening of the arteries. This adds even further risk when it comes to heart disease and stroke.
- Nitrates have also been shown to contribute to insulin resistance. This puts processed-meat eaters squarely at risk for diabetes.
- Some of the processes and chemicals used to preserve processed meats generate cancer-causing compounds. Even eating small amounts on a regular basis have been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers. The risk is high enough that the World Cancer Research Fund recommends avoiding processed meats altogether. I heartily agree.
Now here’s the thing…
Even if you eat only a little bit a day, it counts against you. As little as two ounces daily – which amounts to about two slices of deli meat or a single hot dog – greatly increase your chances of developing any and all of these dangerous health problems.
In the meantime, there are plenty of meats you can eat on a regular basis… without worry.
As you might already guess, I advocate buying meat that is raised as naturally as possible. After all, if you’re going to restrict your meat eating to 13% of your diet, it better be good, right?
But in some cases, it’s hard to tell what is natural for each industry. Here’s what I suggest…
1) Red Meat: When it comes to red meat, I’ll almost always choose lamb instead of beef. Specifically, grass-fed, New Zealand lamb. Unlike North American livestock, these creatures are able to roam freely, eat a healthy diet, and are hormone- and antibiotic-free. If not lamb, then grass-fed buffalo or beef works.
2) Poultry: I prefer turkey over chicken, and in either case, only when organic and free-range. On a side note, I have a lot of patients who think they’re safe by replacing their bacon and hot dogs with turkey and chicken substitutes. However, these “healthier” alternatives are still loaded with sodium and nitrates.
3) Fish: While fish is inherently healthy, avoiding mercury is your biggest seafood challenge. High-mercury fish include: swordfish, tilefish, shark, mackerel, Chilean sea bass, and tuna. Instead, go with salmon, flounder, haddock, (most whitefish, actually), and even anchovies. Shellfish lovers might like to know that oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster are all lower in mercury than many other seafood choices.
I know it can be hard to avoid processed meats altogether. But if you do indulge periodically, save it for special occasions – like the Christmas or Easter ham, St. Patrick’s Day corned beef or Fourth of July cookout.
Micha R, et al. “Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes – an updated review of the evidence.” Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2012 Dec;14(6):515-24.
Kaluza,et al. “Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: A Prospective Study of Men.” Circ Heart Fail. Published online before print June 2014.
World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.