Everything in moderation

Moderating processed meat consumption – latest research

Fry upThe latest health research hitting the headlines this week is that a diet high in processed meat is linked to an early death.

Jessica’s Recipe Bag seldom includes processed meat, apart from the very occasional recipe with pancetta, Parma ham or smoked meat, however we do usually include a red meat recipe in our recipe bags and from reading the media stories there seems to be some confusion over processed and red meat.

So let’s look at the facts about processed meat, what are the concerns and does general red meat consumption lead to a higher risk of early death, particularly of heart disease and cancer.

Firstly – what is considered processed

Processed meats are those that have been preserved or flavoured through methods such as curing, salting, smoking or the addition of preservatives such as nitrites and nitrates, and colourings. Foods in this group are sausages, bacon, salami, ham, hotdogs and many deli-style meats.

Good quality prepared burgers would not tend to come under the banner of processed but you need to read the label because there may be additives and the same goes for ready-meal meat fillings too.

Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, venison, horse and goat. White meat is chicken, turkey, rabbit and duck and this is not thought to pose the same health risks.

For a great discussion on this topic, see also this radio segment from BBC News.

What’s the concern?

The study which sparked the recent media reports is the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study which followed the diets, medical records and death certificates of half a million men and women from 10 European countries over 13 years. It looked at patterns of consumption of meat among its participants and found that rates of premature death rose with the quantity of processed meat eaten. A high intake led to a 72% increased risk of dying of heart disease and 11% of dying of cancer.

Other lifestyle variables such as smoking and alcohol consumption were factored in and it was found that those who ate more processed meat tended towards an unhealthier lifestyle. So here lies one of the main problems with any dietary, lifestyle and disease risk studies, it is very difficult to determine cause and effect.

Scientists can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about processed meat that increases our propensity to disease. It could be the preservatives used, the high saturated fat content, the lower quality meat, the excess haem iron intake from eating more meat or even the plastics from packaging leaching into the meat.

Back in 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) had already suggested through their research that high consumption of processed and red meats led to an increased bowel cancer risk and that people should cut back on red meat and avoid processed meats. So the message has not really changed since then with the latest guidelines being not to eat more than 20g of processed meat a day (a miniscule amount) and no more than 500g cooked red meat per week.

Help in maintaining a balanced, healthy diet

Through ordering a Jessica’s Recipe Bag we want to make it easy for people to follow a nutritionally balanced diet and avoid processed foods. We aim not to be preachy and our motto is very much everything in moderation.

We always have a red meat recipe in the Family Bag and our recommendations are to only eat red meat with one to two main meals a week. As far as processed meat is concerned the odd bacon butty or grilled cooked breakfast will probably do no harm but have it as a weekend treat, just as the odd addition of smoked or cured meat with our fresh ingredients will also be a treat. After all enjoying your food is important too!

The EPIC study also revealed that fruit, vegetables and fish may be protective of many chronic diseases, so pack these into your diet just as we like to pack them into your recipe bag.