What You Should Know About Processed Meat
What Is Processed Meat?
There’s no clear definition — it’s more of a description — but if you smoke it, salt it, cure it, or add preservatives to it, it’s probably processed. People who eat a lot of these kinds of meats are more likely to get heart disease, diabetes, and even certain kinds of cancer, thanks to all the salt, fat, and chemical preservatives.
The fat in bacon is no secret — it splatters away right there in the pan when you cook it. But not all bacon is the same. Look for brands lower in salt and nitrates — some use none at all — and go with leaner cuts.
Hunks of beef, ham, and turkey are preserved with various amounts of salt, seasonings, sugar, and sometimes chemicals, and sliced for sandwiches or snacks. Check the ingredients — quality cold cuts, though still processed, can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, as long as you don’t eat them every day.
These processed tubes of meat are a staple at football games and neighborhood BBQs. Some brands use more … er … parts of the animal than others, but most of them are still loaded with salt, saturated fat, and nitrates.
Fast Food Chicken Nuggets
They’re easy to pop in your mouth, but they’re processed. There’s chicken meat in them, along with bones, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue, fat, and skin. If you buy your own chicken and bake it in bite-size chunks, you can leave out the stuff you’d rather not think about, let alone eat.
It’s the perfect traveling meat snack: dried, salted meat you can put in your pocket. Quality makes a difference here: Cheaper, mass-produced beef jerky can have added sugar along with the fat and salt. But high-quality beef jerky is still processed meat, so don’t overdo it.
It’s a favorite topping for pizza, but it’s part of a family of processed meats — fermented sausages — that have all the usual suspects: salt, fat, calories, sugar, and preservatives. To ferment a sausage, you let the raw meat cure in its casing, which gives it that tangy flavor and chewy texture.
This is pork belly that’s been preserved with salt. Unlike bacon, it’s not smoked as part of the curing process, and that’s a plus because smoked meat has been linked to some kinds of cancer. It’s found mostly at specialty delis and usually has fewer preservatives. But it’s still full of fat, calories, and, of course, salt, so make it a rare treat.
Fast Food Hamburgers
The ground beef fast food restaurants use in their hamburgers often has growth hormones and antibiotics to go along with all the salt, fat, and preservatives. It’s a better idea to make your burgers at home with good quality lean beef or ground turkey.