Article Review: Picking Your Battles with Meat

The article I am writing about today discusses the dangers of processed meats.  Processed meats are usually a staple in most people's diets, whether the person is careless about his or her health, or an extremely health conscious individual. Every now and then, we all need a little convenience in our lives! However, this article does a great job of clearly outlining the different dangers associated with a high consumption of processed meats, while making the public aware of some healthier alternatives. This article is entitled "Processing of meats and cardiovascular risk: time to focus on preservatives." Here is the citation before I forget!

Micha, Renata, et al. "Processing of meats and cardiovascular risk: time to focus on preservatives." BMC medicine 11.1 (2013): 136.


The purpose of this article was to explain why deli meats have been associated with adverse health effects, as well as to provide ways to enjoy meats in healthy and less harmful ways. The article begins by expressing how the consumption of red meat has been considered to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease because of saturated fat and cholesterol. However, recent findings suggest that the saturated fat and cholesterol of red meat do not provide sufficient evidence to prove a causative effect between red meat and cardiovascular disease. The authors state that a more rounded view must be taken on this topic.

The authors proceed to summarize various studies that have proven that unprocessed red meat does not have a significant association with cardiovascular risk. The consumption of unprocessed poultry (chicken, turkey) was slightly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Another study reviewed in this article, conducted in 2010, found that unprocessed red meat and coronary heart disease had no significant association; however, there was a significant association between processed meat intake and coronary heart disease. The most notable differences between processed and unprocessed meats are sodium and nitrates. These preservatives are added to most deli meats and are thought to be the cause of these adverse associations between processed meats and cardiovascular disease. The authors conclude that these "low-fat" deli meats should not be advertised as "healthy" and that dietary recommendations should not just be "fat-based" but overall "nutrient" based, promoting fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish, while recommending the avoidance of processed meats and other high-sodium and refined foods.

My opinion:

Okay, so basically, preservatives are bad, fresh meats are good, class dismissed. But, I feel that there is a very important concept to note and always remember when dealing with these scientific discoveries. Associations do not necessarily mean causation. What I mean by this is that one factor can be associated with another. For example, an association is that people who have a lighter in their pockets have a high association with smoking. But, the fact that these people have lighters in their pockets is not the only reason why they are smoking; it is not the cause of them smoking. The cause is most likely because of addiction, habits, etc, and not just because they happen to have a lighter in their pocket. The authors in this study note that some of the studies they reviewed did not adjust for certain "outside forces" that may have impacted their participants. Many people who eat a high amount of processed meats have higher rates of smoking, drinking, having inactive lifestyles, and have poor eating habits in general. These outside forces, or "confounding factors" can impact the findings of these studies and make the outcomes somewhat fuzzy and unclear. We don't know if the adverse effects are just from the processed meat consumption, lack of exercise, lack of whole foods, or because these people happen to smoke and drink. That is why it is always important to read scientific studies with a watchful eye.

Now, while I firmly believe that these preservatives and additives are harmful and should be avoided, I understand that real life happens. Sometimes, in our healthy eating journeys, we have to make allowances for certain convenience items. In a perfect world, we would all have time to cook our meats from fresh, grass fed, antibiotic free sources, bake our own breads from the wheat we have grown ourselves, and eat fresh (not frozen) fruits and vegetables all day long. Unfortunately, our world is not perfect, and sometimes even the most health-conscious individuals must take the easy route to get nutritious foods in our diets without having to start from square one. For me, this is where deli meats come in. When I need a quick protein source but know I won't have time to cook some meat, I usually grab a case of deli turkey from Trader Joe's. Thankfully, they have a nitrate free option, which makes me feel a little less guilty about my once in a while protein choices!! But, I also understand that these choices are not always available, and that is okay. If you can avoid these types of foods most of the time, the rare instances where you may have high sodium, nitrate-filled meats won't cause as many problems as having them consistently every day for weeks or months at a time. My recommendation would be to always try to cook fresh meat, poultry, and fish, but not fear the occasional need for some convenience "healthy" food options. If you are going to eat processed meat, I recommend getting a nitrate-free and low-sodium version whenever possible. 

I hope this article was educational and interesting for you all! Have a wonderful Thursday evening!