Sure, they’re convenient, and they’re often the only choice when you’re out and about. But when it comes to heart health, a new Swedish study shows men do best avoiding these and other processed red meats.
The study, published online recently in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, of the American Heart Association, found that regular consumption of processed red meats by men was associated with a higher risk of heart failure, and of death from the condition.
Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops working or that the person will die immediately; rather, it’s a condition that develops over time, and it means that the heart is unable to pump enough blood into the lungs for oxygenation, or doesn’t pump enough oxygenated blood into the whole body (usually, both conditions are present).
Heart failure is one of the most common and deadly cardiac illnesses. In the United States, it is estimated that 800,000 new people will be diagnosed with heart failure in 2014, and about half of them will die within five years of being diagnosed. (Source: AHA.)
The study found that men who ate about 2.6 ounces of processed red meat a day — the equivalent of 2-3 slices of ham — had a 28 percent greater risk of heart failure, and more than twice the risk of death from the condition, compared to men who ate less than one ounce a day. Risk of heart failure increased by 8 percent with every 1.7 additional ounces of processed red meat eaten daily, and risk of death from heart failure increased by 38 percent for every such increase in consumption.
Researchers gathered data for more than 37,000 men, ages 45 to 79, who had no history of heart failure, heart disease or cancer.
At the start, participants were asked about their diets and lifestyles for the previous year. The processed red meats the men were asked about were sausages, ham and salami cold cuts, blood sausages and liver pate. The subjects were also asked about their consumption of unprocessed red meats: pork, beef and veal, including hamburger and ground-minced meat.
The men were followed from 1998 until they were diagnosed with heart failure or died, or until the study ended in 2010. Almost 2,900 of the men were diagnosed with heart failure, and 266 died from the illness.
Researchers found no association between consumption of unprocessed red meat and heart failure. However, the study did not prove that frequently eating a certain amount of processed meats causes heart failure — it only showed that the two things often go hand in hand. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that people avoid eating processed red meats altogether.
Previous studies had found an association between eating processed red meats and a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
The researchers in the above study stated that they expect to find similar results in a study of women.
What Is Unhealthy About Processed Meats?
One important thing to consider is that nearly all processed meats — including turkey, chicken, sliced bacon and of course, hot dogs — have a considerable amount of salts and artificial preservatives added to them, such as sodium nitrite and phosphates. Processed meats may also have stabilizers that provide no nutrition, as well as artificial flavor enhancers.
Much Better Alternatives to Processed Meats
When it comes to meats, your best bet, by far, is buying the fresh cuts at the supermarket, and preparing your own meat dishes at home. You control all the ingredients you use, including how much salt, and everything can stay natural.
Tip: when cooking, watch out for flavored salts, which can have preservatives and anti-caking agents. To flavor foods, getting the individual spices, whether fresh or dried, is the best way to go. Spices can be intimidating at first, because there are so many of them; but once you find a few you like, you’ll always want them around. Garlic is one of the most flavorful spices, and the truth is that a little garlic, pepper and salt are all you need to enhance the flavor in your all-natural meat dishes.
For something quicker and ready-made, try canned tuna (in oil, to decrease salt content) or canned salmon. Some stores also sell canned chicken that’s nitrite-free. Always read product ingredient labels, to know what you’re buying.
When ordering pizza, avoid pepperoni or sausage as a topping. Better toppings are minced vegetables, hamburger, fresh chicken, etc.
Another option is to find a couple of restaurants near you, which use natural ingredients to prepare their foods. (Though these might cost a little more.)
And whatever healthy meat you choose to eat, remember to always add some raw, steamed or stir-fried vegetables (and a starch or whole-grain product), for a balanced, super-healthy meal.
By Lisa Pecos