What is Processed Meat: Health Effects, How Much Processed Meat is Safe to Eat?

What is a Processed Meat?

Though there is no clear definition for processed meat we can define any meat to be processed if you add preservatives to it, smoke or treat it or even salt it. Studies suggest that individuals who eat processed meat in good quantities have a high risk of developing major diseases like cancerheart diseases and diabetes due to the presence of chemicals, fat and excess salt in their food. If you too are a processed meat lover, then here are some pointers on what you should know about processed meat.

In a recent research program that encircled more than 800 studies, processed meat was considered to be one of the major causes of cancer in the human body while red meat was labeled to be a probable one. IARC or International Agency for Research on Cancer made this statement after careful and detailed research on the same.

Any meat that comes from a mammal is known as red meat. Thereby red meat includes the meat from pigs, sheep, goats, bison and horses and of course cows. On the other hand, fish and poultry provide the white meat. If red and white meats are compared with one another, red meat is more likely to cause cancer as compared to the white one. The difference in color is marked by the blood amount in the animal’s tissue.

Meat which is not fresh and is treated and preserved for further use is known as processed meat. Processed meat not only includes beef and pork, but also all types of poultry be it duck, turkey or chicken and fish. If a meat is modified from its natural state, it becomes processed, regardless of the fact whether it is smoked, fermented, cured, salted or processed in any way in order to improve its preservation and flavor. Some common examples of processed meat would be canned meat, chicken cold cuts, hot dogs, corned beef, beef jerky and sausages.

What is a Processed Meat?

Health Effects of Processed Meat

What you should know about processed meat is directly related to your health and prevention of serious diseases. When we use the word ’cause’ it sounds much more definitive than ‘being linked’. Since processed meat consumption has been stated to be a cause of cancer, mainly colorectal cancer, it immediately puts all types of processed meats into the red zone and tells us that we need to avoid it as much as possible. Other studies carried out in Australia, Europe and Japan support this finding wherein it was stated people who consume processed and red meat regularly are 17 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who do not.

A lot had been said about the possibility of cancer causing chemicals in processed meat in the earlier studies. However, during the recent scientific researches, scientists were able to reveal how processed meat causes genetic mutations and shifts in chemicals thereby turning healthy human cells into cancerous ones.

It was found out that in the processed red meat there is a chemical known as haem, which gives the red pigment in the animal’s blood. This chemical on entering the body gets broken down in the gut and forms several chemicals which are together known as N-nitroso compounds. These compounds damage the healthy human cells of the bowel, causing the already present cells in the bowel lining to replicate rapidly to help the body heal. This rapid and excess replication is what causes errors in the development of the cell’s DNA and later on turns into cancer.

What you should also know about processed meat is that such chemicals also form when you cook meat at extremely high temperatures which is the case in barbequing or grilling, thereby increasing the risk of cancer ten-fold. Moreover, the reason why processed and red meat is the most dangerous is that such chemicals are produced in large numbers in such meats.

What you also need to know is that there are some other theories in this regard too. Other researches state that the cancer is caused due to the high amounts of iron in red meat while some suggest that the presence of bacteria in the gut helps support the errors in cells DNA development.

How Much Processed Meat is Safe to Eat?

What you should know about processed meat is that these studies in no way state that a few single-meat meals are bad for you. However, these studies do state that if you continue to eat large amounts of processed meats for long, you are increasing the risk of several diseases. Eating meat in moderation is just fine as it is undoubtedly a good source of zinc, iron, protein and other nutrients essential for the body. But to ensure a healthy lifestyle, it is important to make healthy food choices and avoid eating too much of processed meat too often.

The next sensible question to ask would be how much amount of meat would be considered moderate? The answer to this question is tricky as researchers and scientists do not state as to how much processed meat would increase the risk of cancer and what a moderate amount would be. It would be safe to say that the lesser processed meat you eat, the better. However, as per health considerations, it is recommended not to eat more than 70 grams (cooked weight) of processed meat in a day and try to limit it to 50 grams if possible.


Now that we have discussed what you should know about processed meat, it is advisable to start cutting down on it at the earliest and try to stay well within the recommended limits. Try to substitute processed meat with more portions of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet which are not only healthy but also help you achieve a toned and slim body quite easily.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 2, 2017

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