By Reem Abdulrahman Jassim al-Muftah
It really confuses me when I see processed meat all over menu nowadays, especially when I walk into a so-called ‘healthy’ diet restaurant or wellness centre that offers them. The thing is, there have been numerous studies on processed meats and their link to cancer and other chronic diseases as well as various campaigns discussing the risks involved in eating these products, yet so many of us are still consuming them. This is why I urge you to continue reading this article to find out why you need to reduce your intake of processed meats and why you need to spread the word.
What are processed meats? Processed meats are those that are changed through salting, curing, smoking, drying, canning, fermentation or any other process that enhances flavour or supports preservation. Examples of some of these most popular products are sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, ham, cured meat, corned meat, smoked meat, beef jerky, canned meat and meat-based condiments.
How did the World Health Organisation classify process meats? The WHO classified process meats as Group 1, meaning they are known to cause cancer. There is enough evidence of carcinogens in humans and the link to cancer and other chronic diseases to confidently say there is a direct connection between the two. The cancers that are highly associated with high consumptions of processed meats are bowel, stomach and colorectal.
Then how did the WHO classify red meat compared to processed meats? Based on limited evidence showing only positive co-relations between eating red meat and cancer in animals, red meats have been classified as Group 2A. Just for your information, coffee is Group 2B, meaning that it is possibly carcinogenic to humans due to limited evidence in humans and inadequate evidence in animals. I would not rule out red meat just yet as it has numerous health benefits unlike the unnecessity of consuming health-threatening processed meats. Stick to fresh and keep an eye on how much you are eating of anything. Moderation is key! Also, keep in mind that the cancer risks associated with consumption of poultry and fish have not been thoroughly evaluated either so we should be careful with all our portions in regards to all the food items we eat not only those that have been properly studied.
What should you do? You don’t have to completely cut out these products from your diet, although I highly recommend you do especially if you already have health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes or history of bowel, stomach or colorectal cancer. What you can do though is try substituting pepperoni, salami and bacon with chicken or mushrooms. You can add more eggs, beans and lentils to your meals to compensate for some of that missing protein. Plus don’t forget that also incorporating vegetarian and vegan meals into your diet every once in a while is crucial too.
What’s the bottom line? Try to cut out or minimise your consumption of processed meats, focus on fresh meats and whole foods, reduce your red meat portions, incorporate more seafood, increase your consumption of fresh fruits and veggies and maintain a balanced diet.
* The author is a wellness advocate and influencer @keys2balance.
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