Myth: Processed Meat is Unhealthy and Should Be Avoided
Processed meats come in many different formulations to meet a variety of nutrition needs — whether it’s low fat, fat-free, lower sodium or even gluten-free products — and play a meaningful role in a moderate, balanced diet.
Processed meat certainly has been stigmatized in recent years, but it’s important to remember that all meat must be processed before it is consumed. It can be processed in a plant, where it is cut, seasoned and cooked. Or consumers can buy meat fresh and take it home and process it the kitchen. They may add salt, seasonings and spices. They may cut it, trim it and cook it. Meat processors do the same thing, except they do it under the watchful eye of federal inspectors, according to strict regulations and on a larger scale.
Sometimes the ingredients a processor might use — all of which must be included on the label — may have different names, but often they serve the same purpose. For example, a processed meat product like a meatball may have oat protein added to it, while at home, a consumer may add bread crumbs or oatmeal to hold the meatball together. But these ingredients are essentially the same.
While some studies have been widely reported alleging a link between processed meats and cancer, many others have found quite the opposite, yet they have received much less publicity. One of the largest studies ever done 1 in which data from 14 major studies was pooled found that there was no association between red and processed meat and cancer. Furthermore, a comprehensive, 2010 review of the evidence 2 on processed meat and colon cancer concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a link between the two.
The best advice is to enjoy processed meats as part of a balanced diet.
- Meat and fat intake and colorectal cancer risk: A pooled analysis of 14 prospective studies, American Association for Cancer Research Abstracts Online, August 2, 2011.
- Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a quantitative review of prospective epidemiologic studies, European Journal of Cancer Prevention, August 2, 2011.