Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples of processed meats include deli meats like ham, pastrami, salami, bologna, as well as bacon, sausages, and hot dogs. It’s now known that those who eat processed meats often are at a slightly greater risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Why? This seems to be due to a couple of factors. Processed meats contain the well absorbed “heme-iron”, which can damage colon cells and trigger cancer growth. They also contain sodium nitrite, a preservative added to prevent food poisoning. During cooking, nitrites can react with compounds naturally occurring in meat to form chemicals associated with certain cancers.
How much processed meat is safe to eat? It’s difficult to say because the risk seems to increase in lockstep with consumption. Studies have shown that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day, raises a person’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. If deli meat is your lunch time go-to, consider switching things up to keep your cancer risk low.
A few ideas: Try making sandwiches with canned fish, eggs, or leftover sliced chicken breast, pork tenderloin or beef. Consider a vegetarian sandwich with grilled vegetables and hummus. Or, make a batch of spicy black bean or curried chickpeas to fill a whole grain wrap.