I’d sooner give up chocolate before giving up bacon. So when I heard about the study this week that links eating processed meats—including bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausage—to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, I thought "not another ‘meat will kill you’ study."
But this was a huge study—a meta-analysis published online on May 17 ahead of print in the journal Circulation in which researchers delved into a total of 1,598 studies from around the world and compared the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes from eating processed meat to unprocessed red meat. They settled on 20 studies that met their criteria for final analysis and they found that just under two ounces (1.8 oz) of processed meat a day was associated with increasing heart disease risk by 42 percent and diabetes risk by 19 percent, but those who ate only unprocessed red meats had no significantly higher risk. Neither red nor processed meat consumption were associated with stroke, but this outcome was based on only 3 studies.
The link between high intake of meat and health risks shouldn’t come as a surprise, but this new research suggests the real culprit may not be the meat, but instead the salt and preservatives. Processed meats are typically smoked, cured, or salted which adds calories, fats, sodium, and chemical preservatives including nitrates and nitrites. A recent European Food Safety Authority study, researchers found unsafe toxins in smoked meat flavorings giving rise to some safety concerns. A number of studies have also debated possible exposure to cancer-causing compounds in smoked meats as well.