Why You Should Think Twice About Eating Processed Meat

We've all likely eaten some form of processed meat in our lives. According to WebMD, if you cure meat, salt it, smoke it, or add preservatives to it — it's likely processed. This includes many delicious meats like bacon, cold cuts, beef jerky, and hot dogs. But while these items may taste appetizing, the impact they have on our health is harder to swallow. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meat as a carcinogen. In addition to potentially causing cancer, those that eat a lot of this type of meat have been shown to suffer from heart disease and diabetes (via WebMD).

"The current evidence suggests the higher intake of processed meat, the higher the risk of chronic diseases and mortality," Frank B. Hu, Professor at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, told NBC News. Hu explained that while there is no safe amount to eat, if you eat it just once or twice a month, it's less likely to have a negative impact on your overall health. But what about deli turkey or meats that say they contain no added nitrates — are those safe to eat?

Are deli meats or products that say they are nitrate-free safe to eat?

Nutritionist for the American Cancer Society, Colleen Doyle, told NBC News that more natural-sounding meats may sound better, but they likely aren't. "They use natural sources of preservatives," she explained. "Many companies are using celery powder, celery juice, or celery salt, which are high in nitrates. They can still label their product 'nitrate-free,' because those are natural and not synthetic, but they are nitrates nonetheless." So if you're eating deli turkey, chicken, or ham with natural preservatives, you're still consuming nitrates.

Doyle recommends replacing processed meats with healthier options, like swapping sandwich filling with canned tuna or leftover chicken and turkey. She also suggests buying a rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store and using that as a sandwich filler or in your salads. Ultimately, Doyle said to stay healthy it's important to consume processed meat sparingly, if at all.