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Pass up processed meats, studies say

Posted Monday, Oct. 22, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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If you favor sizzling bacon and salty slices of ham, you might want to reserve these menu choices for special occasions, thanks to a growing body of science that says no to consuming processed meats.

Researchers have linked higher consumption of these meats -- bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and processed deli meats like ham and salami -- with a number of poor health outcomes, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and premature death.

Heart disease. A Harvard meta-analysis that included data on more than 1.2 million people found that processed meats were linked to a 42 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease ( Circulation, 2010).

Type 2 diabetes. Data from Harvard's Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which followed more than 442,000 participants, revealed that eating a daily 50-gram (1.75 ounces) serving (about one hot dog or sausage) was linked with a 51 percent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Cancer. While processed meat intake has been associated with a number of cancers, the most conclusive link is with colorectal cancer. In the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, which included more than 500,000 adults, a significant increased risk of colorectal and lung cancer was observed with higher intake of processed meat.

The American Institute for Cancer Research warns against eating any amount of processed meat in order to reduce cancer risk.

Premature death. A study published in March 2012 in Archives of Internal Medicine evaluated data from more than 120,000 men and women over 28 years. The researchers found that a daily serving of processed meat increased the risk of death by 20 percent.

Why the risk? There are several plausible reasons why processed meats may raise your risk for disease.

These meats are often very high in saturated fats, which are known to raise "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, heart disease risk, and promote inflammation, a root of chronic disease.

An ounce of pan-fried bacon (about one strip) has about 4 grams of saturated fat, 20 percent of your budget for the whole day. In addition, processed meats are typically very high in sodium.

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