Tag Archives: processed meat

Nitrates, nitrites and eating sausages.

There has been so much talk about red meat over the last few years. The guidelines from the WHO told us not to eat too much red meat and showed the link between red meat and colorectal cancer. This risk was higher with processed red meat. Today it’s been more news about processed meat causing cancer, so as a population we are still eating our bacon it seems.

The problem this time is nitrates (NO3) and nitrites (NO2). These are often added to processed meats as they help it keep its pink colour and are important in food safety – protecting against botulism. Nitrates are metabolised to nitrites in the body, these are all fine until they combine with protein to form Nitrosamines. These can be carcinogenic. There lies the problem.

However nitrates themselves can be beneficial, they can relax blood vessels, being beneficial for blood pressure. They can improve the blood flow to muscles in exercise and they are a cofactor for reactions in the body.

Nitrates are found in processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami and chorizo. Interestingly they don’t seem to be added into UK made sausages, which is a slight win. They are also found added into higher amounts in smoked fish, cured fish and beer (especially German beer). The levels in your piece of ham are small. Nitrates are also found in vegetables however these naturally occuring forms do not appear to react in the body in the same way as those added into meats.

The take home – eating less meat is a good thing for the planet and for our bodies, but there is no need to cut it out entirely. In my opinion cutting things out is generally not a helpful approach. Processed meat is not something to be eating daily but it is ok to eat it occasionally. You can find some processed meats now that are nitrate free, check the labels nitrate/nitrites, but remember that does not mean you can eat it regularly. As a population we all should be eating less meat and more plant based proteins when we can. So keep that bacon sandwich for a now and again brekkie. 




Should I still be eating Bacon and Sausages?

Red meat and processed meat has been in the headlines a lot this week. There is likely to be more to come on this topic too.

For those of you not in the know, the WHO released a report saying that processed meat is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. This has been wildly stretched by some to suggest that we shouldn’t eat meat at all.

Let’s unpack it a bit.

What is processed meat?

“Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste and the main methods are smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives.” WHO quote.

This includes salami, bacon, corned beef, jerky, tinned meat, sausages, ham, hot dogs.

It is the chemical released in the processing that are the issue here. So it is not actually the meat that is the problem but the processing of it.

The figures:

50g processed meat a day (3 rashers bacon or 2 slices of ham) can increase your risk of colorectal cancer to 72 in 100,000.

Dietitian UK: Healthy Eating for Anorexia Nervosa

Or your risk of bowel cancer could be increased by 18% compared to someone who doesn’t eat meat. That may sound high but the absolute risk of bowel cancer is 6%, so by eating processed meat it may increase to 7%.

The evidence:

The evidence is pretty weak. There is no direct cause and effect here as there are multiple factors coming into play. People with an increased risk may also be overweight, smoking and eating less fruit and veggies – all of which will also have an effect. 

The EPIC study found that vegetarians had the same risk for colorectal cancer as meat eaters. That says a lot to me.

The bottom line:

Recommended red meat intake for an adult is 70g per day. 

In the UK our average intake is 71g per day. So most of us are absolutely fine.

Red meat provides a good source of iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. It can be an important source of iron for teenage girls and pregnant ladies.

Red meat is significantly lower in fat than in was 30 years ago. I was surprised at the lowered level of fat in beef and lamb at a recent event I attended.

There are lots of things that can increase your risk of cancers. It’s all about perspective and moderation. 

I will still be eating sausages.