Processed meats include bacon, sausage, hot dogs, sandwich meat, packaged ham, pepperoni, salami and virtually all red meat used in frozen prepared meals. They are usually manufactured with a carcinogenic ingredient known as sodium nitrite. This is used as a color fixer by meat companies to turn packaged meats a bright red color so they look fresh. Unfortunately, sodium nitrite also results in the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the human body. And this leads to a sharp increase in cancer risk for those who eat them.
Past studies on red and processed meat's potential health effects have been chalked up to "well, people who eat a lot of that stuff lead unhealthy lifestyles to begin with." Same thinking goes for vegetarians, who are known to live longer than meat-eaters, but who also generally lead healthier lifestyles.
But now, a new observational study examined specifically the effect of processed meat on health, and shows that not only is it the sort of person who eats a lot of processed meat that has the negative health risks, but the processed meat itself.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine and conducted by researchers from the University of Zurich, shows an association between processed meat and higher risks of dying from heart disease and cancer.
The results are based on an analysis of 448,568 men and women between ages 35 and 69, who did not have cancer and who had not suffered a stroke or heart attack when they entered the study. Researchers gathered information on their diets, exercise, body mass index and smoking status. The participants came from 10 countries.
A 2005 University of Hawaii study found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67 percent. Another study revealed that every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent. These are alarming numbers. Note that these cancer risks do not come from eating fresh, non-processed meats. They only appear in people who regularly consume processed meat products containing sodium nitrite.
Sodium nitrite appears predominantly in red meat products (you won't find it in chicken or fish products). Here's a short list of food items to check carefully for sodium nitrite and monosodium glutamate (MSG), another dangerous additive:
Frozen pizza with meat
Canned soups with meat
Frozen meals with meat
Ravioli and meat pasta foods
Kid’s meals containing red meat
Sandwich meat used at popular restaurants
Nearly all red meats sold at public schools, restaurants, hospitals, hotels and theme parks
If sodium nitrite is so dangerous to humans, why do the FDA and USDA continue to allow this cancer-causing chemical to be used? The answer, of course, is that food industry interests now dominate the actions by U.S. government regulators. The USDA, for example, tried to ban sodium nitrite in the late 1970′s but was overridden by the meat industry. It insisted the chemical was safe and accused the USDA of trying to "ban bacon."
Today, the corporations that dominate American food and agricultural interests hold tremendous influence over the FDA and USDA. Consumers are offered no real protection from dangerous chemicals intentionally added to foods, medicines and personal care products.
You can protect yourself and your family from the dangers of processed meats by following a few simple rules:
-Always read ingredient labels.
-Don’t buy anything made with sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate.
-Don’t eat red meats served by restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels or other institutions.
-And finally, eat more fresh produce with every meal. There is evidence that natural vitamin C found in citrus fruits and exotic berries (like camu camu) helps prevent the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines, protecting you from the devastating health effects of sodium nitrite in processed meats. The best defense, of course, is to avoid eating processed meats altogether.