Processed Meats and Your Health: What You Need to Know

lab for processed meats

The meat industry has evolved over the years to include lots of food products that don’t resemble their original form. Some can say that this is done strategically to create a larger disconnect between people and their food choices.

Processed meats are the products of manipulation that drastically change fresh meat into something else.

This “something else” is designed to be consumed in a convenient and cheap way.

Some of the most popular processed meats include bacon, jerky, sausage, salami, and corned beef. In many cases, processed meats are engineered to last longer on the shelf or to be packaged for fast and easy consumption.

Processed meats are made for the convenience of a growing population that doesn’t have the time or desire to cook.

They are simple solutions in a world that is becoming more and more fast paced by the day.

But what is the cost for these “convenient” food-like products?

There are many factors at play here and many people won’t like the reality behind their favorite foods.

Whether it’s the fact that factory-farmed animals live in nightmarish conditions before their imminent slaughter or the fact that regulations in the processing phases are loose and rarely followed, the truth is scary.

And beyond these (and other) shocking facts behind your guilty pleasures, your health is at risk in ways most people can’t even imagine.

What Are Processed Meats?

what kinds of food are processed meats

Processed meats are animal products that have been modified or preserved in a way to extend their shelf life and make them cheaper and more convenient to the consumer.

There are many different methods to process meats. Some include smoking, curing, salting, and fermenting.

People love the taste of processed meat. Most processed meats are flavored and ready for consumption upon purchase.

This makes them a fast and easy option for the busy worker or parent.

And while it might taste good, the consumer is gambling with their own wellbeing as a tradeoff for the ephemeral satisfaction one has when eating.

This is very worrisome. Because while many foods are tasty, people don’t typically eat candy and cakes every single day. That isn’t the case with processed meats.

Meat, in general, just had a record year in 2018 and is predicted to go up even more in 2019. This is true even though veganism is growing faster than ever before.

In 2018, Americans ate an average of 222.2 pounds (100 kilos) of meat per person.

So why do people continuously increase their meat consumption even though they know it isn’t healthy?

Does Flavor Compensate For The Risks?

If people’s health is at risk and they are feeding processed meats to their children, what is the justification?

Why do people continue eating processed meats if they know the health risks?

A lot of it comes down to convenience and cost.

But before getting into that, it’s important to address the link between processed meats and cancer.

Processed Meats Are Highly Linked to Cancer

processed meats are linked to cancer

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (an agency of the World Health Organization), processed meats are listed alongside other group 1 carcinogens such as tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and arsenic.

A carcinogen is a substance that is known to potentially cause cancer.

The fact that processed meats rank alongside something as toxic as tobacco should sound warning bells.

While everyone is allowed to make their own choices and eating processed meats is one of them, there is a more sinister side that most people fail to recognize.

If you asked a parent if they let their children smoke cigarettes, you will be met with a resounding no by every single one of them. Same thing if you asked them if they allowed their kids to drink alcohol.

But what about processed meats?

How many parents order sides of bacon at the diner for their children? How many parents make bologna sandwiches at home for their kids.

According to scientists and doctors from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children run an even higher risk than adults from food chemicals and highly-processed foods and meats.

People eat processed meats because they are convenient

Highly processed foods are generally much cheaper than fresh, healthier options. And while it is very possible to buy your own fresh produce at farmer markets and cook your own meals, most people consider that to be too time-consuming.

And that is true. It certainly takes longer to prepare your own meals. But most people don’t consider that to be worthy of their time and instead opt to buy faster more convenient options.

The problem with the more convenient options is that they are highly processed and unhealthy.

People eat processed meats because they are cheap

When it comes to cost, you highly processed meats and foods can be cheaper but not always. Piecing together a meal from fresh ingredients at the farmers market can also be inexpensive. But if you want a fast and ready meal that only requires a microwave then chances are you will find cheaper alternatives.

However, these industrialized, ready-to-eat meals are generally laden with chemicals.

Some of the preservatives in processed meats are known to cause a wide variety of different health problems.

Another issue comes down to human habit.

It’s hard to break what you’ve been doing for years

Humans are conditioned from a very young age.

You tend to mimic your surrounding environment and act like the people around you growing up.

If your parents are feeding you bologna sandwiches from a very young age then you believe that is a healthy option.

You don’t think twice about the food you eat growing up because you blindly trust your parents to make the right decisions.

It doesn’t occur to most people that their parents could be feeding them foods ranked as toxic as tobacco and alcohol.

And why would they?

The parents themselves don’t believe this to be true. In fact, most would never even consider that a possibility because too many people have such a strong disconnect between their food and its origin.

That’s exactly how the food industry wants it to be.

Big food wants you to believe that the cheap, convenient options are healthy.

Why are processed meats and foods so cheap?

why are processed meats cheap

Many processed foods are cheap because the US government subsidizes the producers of crops like wheat and corn.

Corn is the biggest crop in the US and used in countless processed foods. Its byproducts include numerous sweeteners that can be found in candies, snacks, bread, cereals, and many other products.

Beyond the obvious snacks, corn sweeteners are used in the process and production of many processed meats and poultry products.

One reason that processed meats are so cheap is that they are made with the “throw-away” parts of animals.  

Hot dogs, for example, are a prime example of processed meat that is hard to define.

While the exact ingredients in a hot dog might vary from company to company, some common ingredients might shock you.

From chicken trimmings and mechanically separated turkey to natural sheep casing and corn syrup, each industrially processed hot dog is truly a mystery.

Trimmings can contain a wide variety of ingredients that would turn away customers if they were actually listed on the packaging.

According to the USDA, trimmings contain “the raw meat materials used for precooked-cooked products are lower-grade muscle trimmings, fatty tissues, head meat, animal feet, animal skin, blood, liver, and other edible slaughter by-products.”

Higher quality meats are sold at higher prices to become different products targeting a different market.

Processed meats use the leftovers

But farmers and manufacturers don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to make as much money as possible. Because of this, they find as many ways as possible to utilize as many parts of the animals as possible.

It’s very common that people don’t even know what they are buying anymore. And a lot of the times, what they are buying doesn’t contain what’s being advertised.

People see the prices of processed meats at the supermarket and get excited. Add the convenience factor of not having to do much work when it comes to prepping the food and you have a winning combination. Or so you might think.

This combination has some dangerous consequences.

Consumers go for a good deal and end up buying things they aren’t expecting. From cheap meat trimmings and entirely different animals to products loaded with antibiotics and other chemicals, it’s always a crapshoot for the consumer when it comes to buying processed meats.

What Kind of Processed Meats Are There?

what kind of processed meats are there

Many consumers don’t know exactly which meats are considered processed and which meats aren’t.

Processed meats are everywhere and include many different products that people consume on a regular basis. If the meat is changed at all after being taken from the animal, beyond simply cutting the meat, it can be considered processed meat.

Some of the most widely consumed processed meats include the following:

  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Bologne
  • Jerkies
  • Ham
  • Corned beef
  • Salami
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Canned meat (think Spam)
  • Dried meats

The kinds of processed meats vary from region to region. Different countries have different types of processed meats.

So how do we avoid the health risks associated with processed meats?

What is the Best Way to Avoid Health Risks Caused by Processed Meats?

The easy answer is to avoid processed meats altogether.

Unfortunately, that isn’t an option for most people. Human habit is difficult to change for most people.

For people that are unwilling to give up processed meats, the best thing they can do is buy from local producers. Knowing where your food is coming from is always a great thing.

Understanding where your food is coming from is always advantageous, regardless of what you eat.

But what about avoiding processed meats altogether? Why is that the best option?

Adopting a Vegan Lifestyle

adopt a vegan lifestyle

Becoming a vegan is the best way to ensure that you aren’t consuming processed meats.

No vegan is perfect. There is no such thing as a cruelty-free vegan and there is also no such thing as always knowing exactly where your food came from.

It is a difficult reality that health-conscious people need to accept. There will always be a time and place where you don’t eat what you want to eat.

But by going vegan, you will drastically reduce the chances of consuming products that are as toxic as processed meats.

There are many vegans out there that still enjoy far too many snacks. That’s the reality of any lifestyle. Some people will lean toward the extremes in any situation.

However, if you decide to make the change to the vegan lifestyle, you are instantly cutting out a wide array of products that rank alongside tobacco and alcohol when it comes to products that increase your chances of getting cancer.

Conclusion

The road to cutting our processed meats is much harder for some than others.

It isn’t a race and it isn’t something that has to be done in a certain timeframe. Human habits are difficult to break.

By educating yourself more about where your food comes from and how your body reacts to the foods you consume, you will find yourself in a more informed position than most people.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to look for support from others that have already done the same thing.

Thankfully, you can find plenty of online support groups for people looking to become vegan and people looking to improve their health overall.

And if you aren’t ready to go vegan, that is ok. It usually isn’t usually a lifestyle change that happens in the snap of the fingers.

Vegetarianism is a great option to work your way into a drastically different lifestyle.

Cutting out processed meats is a great start and becoming a vegetarian is a great way to go about doing that.

And when you are ready to take the next steps you will be more prepared.

Have you considered cutting our processed meats and foods in an effort to improve your health?

 

Sentient Media editorial team

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