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Posted on: June 6, 2019 at 9:05 pm

A new health push may eliminate many peoples favorite dishes from U.K. hospital cafeterias. This ban includes recipes with sausages, mash, bacon, and all processed meat.

Plant-Based Health Professionals UK Ltd, an association created by medical professionals, worry about the harm posed by these foods, particularly about the cancer risk from consuming processed meat. The group states that hospitals should promote healthy diets.

“The NHS spends millions treating cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes,” says founder Dr. Shireen Kassam. “Why serve food that can cause life-threatening conditions? Hospitals will argue healthier options are available, but there’s no safe limit with processed meat.”

The health group launched a Give Bacon the Boot campaign where they petition the elimination of processed meats from hospital food vendors. The members urge the public to write to MPs and local hospitals about the issue.

Anesthetist Dr. Charlotte Houltram supports the cause. “Bacon is in the same category as asbestos as far as its potential to cause cancer.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had previously classified processed meat as a carcinogen—a substance capable of causing cancer.

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What is Classified as Processed Meat?

This term refers to meat transformed through salting, fermenting, curing, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve its preservation. Examples include:

  • bacon
  • hot dogs
  • sausages
  • ham
  • corned beef
  • biltong
  • salami
  • beef jerky
  • pepperoni
  • canned meat
  • meat-based preparations and sauces

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorized processed meat with other cancer causes, including smoking tobacco and asbestos—a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be highly toxic, especially when inhaled. However, WHO states that these are not all equally dangerous.

The Harmful Effects of Processed Meat

Eating this type of meat has been shown to increase the risk of chronic diseases, including:

  • High blood pressure [1]
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke [2]
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [3]
  • Bowel and stomach cancer [4]

Additionally, processed meat is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. This food has been deemed harmful for decades and people who choose to consume it on a regular basis are more likely to engage in other negative habits such as smoking and eating fewer fruits and vegetables. [5]

Why is Processed Meat So Unhealthy?

Manufacturers’ recipes for processed meats include certain ingredients and compounds that are potentially detrimental to one’s health. Here are four of the most harmful.

1. Nitrite and Nitrosamines

Sodium nitrite is a common additive because:

  • It preserves the pink/red color of the meat.
  • It improves the flavor by suppressing fat oxidation.
  • It prevents bacteria growth and reduces the risk of food poisoning.

Nitrite can be found in other foods, even vegetables, and in this form could be beneficial from one’s health. However, not all nitrites are the same. In processed meat, nitrite becomes harmful N-nitro compounds, such as nitrosamines. [6]

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Nitrosamines are created when processed meats are exposed to heat higher than 266°F or 130°C. Picture sausages on a grill or bacon in a frying pan. [7] Studies have linked this type of nitrite to increased risks of colon, kidney, and stomach cancer. [17]

Nitrosamines are also found in:

  • Contaminated water
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Salted and pickled foods. [8]

2. Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs)

Processed meat also contains compounds heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which form when meat and fish are exposed to high temperatures, like with frying or grilling. Large amounts of this compound are found in fried bacon, sausages, and burgers. [9]

Studies have shown HCAs, especially in large amounts, are linked to colon, breast, and prostate cancer. [10] [11]

When cooking fresh meat, it’s recommended to avoid charring or blackening the food because of this carcinogen. Safer cooking methods include low-heat frying and steaming.

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3.Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

This compound is a result of the smoking process that flavors this kind of meat. They occur when organic matter burns. They stick to the surface of meat products being cooked over an open fire, such as a barbecue, grill, or spit. [12]

PAHs can be formed from:

  • Burnt or charred meat
  • Burning wood or charcoal
  • Dripping fat burning on a hot surface

Researchers have found PASHs increases a person’s risk of developing cancer. [13]

4. Sodium Chloride

This compound needs no introduction. Sodium chloride is another name for table salt, and processed meats contain large amounts of this ingredient.

Excessive salt consumption can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease, particularly for those diagnosed with salt-sensitive hypertension. Salt has also been associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer and promoting the growth of stomach ulcers. [14] [15] [16]

  1. Prospective study of nutritional factors, blood pressure, and hypertension among US women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8621198
  2.  Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479151
  3. Cured meat consumption, lung function, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among United States adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17255565
  4. Meat intake and risk of stomach and esophageal adenocarcinoma within the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16507831
  5.  Diets and selected lifestyle practices of self-defined adult vegetarians from a population-based sample suggest they are more ‘health conscious’ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15829014
  6.  Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19439460
  7. The use and control of nitrate and nitrite for the processing of meat products. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22062097
  8.  N-nitroso compounds and man: sources of exposure, endogenous formation and occurrence in body fluids. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9306073
  9.  Heterocyclic amines: Mutagens/carcinogens produced during cooking of meat and fish. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15072585
  10. Meat consumption patterns and preparation, genetic variants of metabolic enzymes, and their association with rectal cancer in men and women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15051825
  11. A prospective study of meat and meat mutagens and prostate cancer risk. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16357191
  12. Contamination and distribution of parent, nitrated, and oxygenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in smoked meat. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24910314
  13.  Bioavailability and risk assessment of orally ingested polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15513831
  14. Salt and hypertension: is salt dietary reduction worth the effort? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22482843
  15. Salt, processed meat and the risk of cancer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21160428
  16.  Diet, microbial virulence, and Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric cancer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23989802
  17.  Nitrate https://progressreport.cancer.gov/prevention/nitrate
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Sarah Biren
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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