Should You Stop Eating Any Processed Meats?

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Woman eating ham sandwich
Andrey_Popov /

Eating even small amounts of processed meats can raise your risk of dying or having a major heart disease-related event like a heart attack, a recent study finds.

The research — published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — concludes that eating as little as 150 grams (about 5 ounces) of foods such as hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon per week is enough to increase both health risks.

The study, which analyzed data on more than 100,000 people from 21 nations, also found that eating moderate amounts of unprocessed red meat and poultry is not associated with an increased risk of death or major heart disease-related event.

In fact, you can safely eat around 250 grams (just under 9 ounces) per week of unprocessed meat — including red meat — without increasing those risks.

What makes processed meats so dangerous? In an interview with HealthDay News, study author Mahshid Dehghan, an investigator at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada, says:

“We believe this might be the result of food preservatives, food additives and color because if you compare, cholesterol and saturated fat in unprocessed and also processed are very similar.”

He adds that the major differences between the two types of meat involve food additives, color and nitrate.

The study defined processed meat as meats that have been modified to improve taste or extend shelf life. Examples of such processes include salting, curing and treating meat with preservatives or additives.

When asked how much processed meat was too much, Dehghan responded that just two servings per week probably puts you in the danger zone. He noted that a medium-sized sausage is about 75 grams, so two such servings would increase your risk of poor health outcomes.

For more on how to trim meat from your diet, check out “8 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Meat.”

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