By Sarah Hunt, AZFB Communications Intern
Have you ever heard that eating too many hot dogs causes cancer? I thought this was just one of those made-up things you hear as a kid, but as it turns out, eating too much processed meat actually can be detrimental to your health. Find out more about the subject below, such as what is processed meat, what meats should you avoid eating, and what meats are part of a healthy diet.
What is processed meat?
A past Fill Your Plate article, How To Reduce Ultra-Processed Foods In Your Diet, explains this perfectly:
“Not all processed foods are bad, and it is important to differentiate between processed foods and ultra-processed foods.” (Fill Your Plate)
- Unprocessed food is one that has been unaltered and had nothing added to it. “Unprocessed foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, pulses and natural animal products such as eggs, fish, milk and unprocessed meat.” (BBC Food)
- Minimally processed food is one that has been altered from its original state. For example, a peeled and steamed carrot is processed. They have no additional ingredients.
- Processed food is “made using a mix of [unprocessed food and processed culinary ingredients]… They include smoked and cured meats, cheeses, fresh bread, bacon, salted or sugared nuts, tinned fruit in syrup, beer and wine. The main purpose of the processing is to prolong the food’s life or enhance its taste.” (BBC Food)
- “Ultra-processed foods are manufactured using several ingredients and a series of processes. Examples are soft drinks, potato chips, pre-prepared frozen meals, refined pasta. When food is ultra-processed it depletes the food of essential nutrients. These foods are also often calorie-dense and higher in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Multiple studies have linked ultra-processed foods to obesity, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and overall increased rates of death.” (Fill Your Plate)
- In another Fill Your Plate article, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, we share that “In 2017, a meta-analysis… linked a poor diet with increased depression risk. They found that high intakes of red and/or processed meats, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, and potatoes with high-fat gravy increase your risk of depression.”
What are some different kinds of ultra-processed meat that you should avoid?
Ultra-processed meats include chicken nuggets made from ground chicken, “bacon, sausages, hot dogs, canned meat [such as SPAM], lunch meat[, or any]… meat that has been processed in some way to preserve or flavor it. A number of studies have found links between processed meat and various forms of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.” (Harvard School of Public Health)
This above cited article from the Harvard School of Public Health states that it is unclear how much processed meat is okay to eat, and if the risk is increased or decreased depending on if the meat is red, white, includes nitrates, or is nitrate-free. In general, the more processed meat you eat, the more you are at risk of developing chronic diseases.
The expert from the article, “Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology … at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health [said]… that eating a small amount of processed meat occasionally, such as once or twice a month, is unlikely to significantly harm health. ” (Harvard School of Public Health)
This means that the more you avoid processed meat, the better! Cutting it out entirely is ideal, but not always feasible for families with picky eaters. I know it’s easier to get children their protein for the day by feeding them hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and sandwiches with processed deli meats, but even just doing the best you can to make meals with unprocessed and minimally processed meats will make a big difference in your health and the health of your family members.
What are hot dogs, SPAM, and other processed meat made of?
From an article titled, What Are Hot Dogs Really Made Of, Business Insider shares that “According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): “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.”
That sure makes you want to never eat ultra-processed meat again, doesn’t it?
What should you eat instead?
Lucky for you, here at Fill Your Plate we already know all about the healthiest meats to eat. A healthy diet should include:
- Unprocessed fish and seafood
- Fresh sliced meat from your local grocery store’s deli counter, and not pre-packaged deli meat
- Fresh cuts of meat such as beef steaks, chicken breasts, and porkchops from the deli counter
- You can also get these fresh, unprocessed meats directly from local Arizona ranchers. They can be found here through Fill Your Plate’s Find A Farm Product database.
- Other forms of healthy protein include unprocessed or minimally processed eggs, nuts, cheese, milk, and cottage cheese
Find delicious recipes to use your unprocessed meats in on Fill Your Plate’s recipe database! Use these recipes to meal prep for your week instead of eating ultra-processed frozen meals.