Death by Processed Meats – It's NOT Just Baloney! – Your Health Detective

As Westerners, we love our hot dogs, bologna, pepperoni, salami, bierwurst, beerwurst, bacon, and corned beef. That said, current research shows that diets with processed meat significantly raise diagnosis of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes – linking them to an early death.

People who ate more than 5.7 ounces (160 grams) of processed meat a day were 44 percent more likely to die within 13 years than those eating two-thirds of an ounce (20 grams) of processed meat or less daily. To put this into perspective, two sausages plus a slice of bacon add up to about 5.7 ounces
of processed meat.

What about Red Meat?

High consumption of red meat was linked to a 14 percent higher risk of early death – that association vanished after the authors adjusted the results for other lifestyle risks.

Those who ate no more than two-thirds of an ounce (20 grams) of processed red meat daily (i.e., five ounces or 140 grams per week) showed no increase in death risk. Those portions are approximately 2 bacon slices in one week. The researchers attributed the safety of moderate intake of processed red meat to the fact that red meat is high in certain nutrients, such as B vitamins. That said, the allergic responses from the chemicals used in processing can still cause allergic reactions, migraines, rashes, etc. Earlier studies linked heavy consumption of red meats and processed red meats to health risks. These include a study involving half a million AARP members, which was summarized in Red Meat Linked to Cancer and Death in Largest Study.

The study authors defined processed meat as red meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives, including sandwich meats,  ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, chorizo, pepperoni, hot dogs, and some sausages.

Red meat (beef, lamb, and pork) and minced red meats count as processed meat only if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.

Healthy Protein Alternatives

Poultry has not been linked to similar health risks, while seafood is clearly beneficial as evidenced by new studies.

Last year, a Harvard team reported the results of two studies, which affirmed the findings of prior ones:

“Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.” (Pan A et al. 2012)

  Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite is so dangerous to humans, yet the FDA and USDA continue to allow this cancer-causing chemical to be used! You might be asking, Why? Most of us know that the interests of the food industry now dominate the actions by U.S. government regulators. The USDA, for example, tried to ban sodium nitrite in the late 1970′s but was overridden
by the meat industry. It insisted the chemical was safe and accused the USDA of trying to “ban bacon.”

Processed meats include bacon, sausage, hot dogs, sandwich meat, packaged ham, pepperoni, salami and virtually all red meat used in frozenprepared meals. They are usually manufactured with a carcinogenic ingredient known as sodium nitrite – used as a color fixer by meat companies to turn packaged meats a bright red color so they look fresh. Unfortunately, sodiumnitrite also results in the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the

human body – leading  to a sharp increase in cancer risk for consumers.

A 2005 University of Hawaii study found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67 percent. Another study revealed that every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent. These are alarming numbers. Note that these
cancer risks do not come from eating fresh, non-processed meats, wild seafood or free-ranged natural poultry. They only appear in people who regularly consume processed meat products containing sodium nitrite.

Meat Products Containing Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite appears predominantly in red meat products (you won’t find it in chicken or fish products). Here’s a short list of food items to check carefully for sodium nitrite and monosodium glutamate (MSG), another dangerous additive and a neurotoxin:

 • Beef jerky

 • Bacon

 • Sausage

 • Hot dogs

 • Sandwich meat

 • Frozen pizza with meat

 • Canned soups with or without meat

 • Frozen meals with meat

 • Ravioli and meat pasta foods

 • Kid’s meals containing red meat

 • Sandwich meat used at popular restaurants

• Nearly all red meats sold at public schools, restaurants

Protecting Your Health

Today, the corporations that dominate American food and agricultural interests hold tremendous influence over the FDA and USDA.
Consumers are offered no real protection from dangerous chemicals intentionally added to foods, medicines and personal care products. The only real proactive approach to preserving your health is to educate yourself and READ LABELS. Consider purchasing my book, Chemical Cuisine: Do You REALLY Know What You’re Eating? It is available from the Health Matters Store at and will become your “bible” for food ingredient references.

You can protect yourself and your family from the dangers of processed meats by following a few
simple rules:

 1.           Always read ingredient labels.

 2.           Don’t buy anything made with sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is
also legally labeled as other aliases, listed in my book Chemical Cuisine previously mentioned.

3.           Don’t eat red meats served by restaurants, schools, hospitals, airlines, hotels or other institutions.

Researchers stressed that moderate consumption of red meat is not inherently unhealthful, noting that it is a good source of protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, especially vitamin B12.

Study links processed meat to risk of early death

The authors analyzed data from a study that involved 448,568 men and women from ten countries, who were followed for an average of 13 years – the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition or EPIC (Rohrmann S et al. 2013).

The EPIC participants – who were between 35 and 69 years old – had no history of cancer, stroke, or heart attacks. The study authors had access to the volunteers’ body mass indexes and self-reported diets and lifestyles.

As an epidemiological study, this data analysis cannot prove a cause-effect relationship between dietary habits and health outcomes.  Critically, the link between processed meats and risk of early death remained after the authors adjusted the data to account for other major risk factors such as overweight, smoking, low activity levels, and others.

Men who ate a lot of meat also tended to drink more alcohol than average. Only studies as large as this one provide enough statistical power to isolate the effects of eating processed meat from other lifestyle factors.

Processed Meats and Bowel Cancer

And a study by the World Cancer Research Fund, published in 2007 and confirmed again in 2011, provided strong evidence that diets high in processed meats raises the risk of bowel cancer (Chan DS et al. 2011).

The organization estimates that there would be 4,000 fewer cases of bowel cancer annually if people ate less than 10g (one-third ounce) of processed red meat per day.

Eating processed meats and red meat regularly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, a large new study shows.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed dietary-intake data from more than 200,000 men and women in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Studies. The participants have been tracked for a decade or more.

Type 2 Diabetes and Processed Meat

A 2-ounce serving a day of processed meat (hot dog, bacon, sausage, salami or bologna) increased the risk of diabetes by 50%.

The scientists also did a larger analysis, combining their data and that from other published studies to analyze the diets of 442,101 people. About 28,000 of these people who regularly consumed processed meats developed type 2 diabetes.

The researchers adjusted for the participants’ age, weight, physical activity level, smoking, family history of diabetes and other dietary and lifestyle factors. Their findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

  • A 2-ounce serving a day of processed meat (hot dog, bacon, salami or bologna) increased the risk of diabetes by 50%.
  • A 4-ounce serving a day (the size of a deck of cards) of unprocessed red meat such
    as hamburger, steak, pork or lamb was associated with a 20% increased risk of diabetes.
  • Substituting nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy such as yogurt for a serving a day of these types of processed or unprocessed meats lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 16% to 35%, the analysis showed.

Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, says the high amount of sodium and nitrites in processed meats are potential factors that increase diabetes risk.

The Way I See It…

I haven’t consumed processed meats in over 20 years, nor would I. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing how your food is grown/raised, how it’s processed and what ingredients are added.  I hear from patients daily whose quality of life is sabotaged with inflammatory disorders (fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, migraines/headaches, allergic responses, etc.) and, until I help them do the detective work for what they consume, they have no idea the origin of the underlying causes of their disorders.

I was victim of debilitating migraines from early childhood to my early 30s – the headaches stopped when I began to research while attending dental school about symptoms of food additives that included MSG, Nitrates and Sulfites. I eliminated them completely and haven’t had a migraine
in over 30 years.  When I purchase deli-type meats they’re from a health food store deli that I know is quality meat, unprocessed with no nitrites added – it’s clearly labeled.  Learn to read and interpret food labels – Health thru Education© at its finest!

Selected References:

Bernstein AM,
Sun Q, Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Willett WC. Major dietary protein sources
and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Circulation. 2010 Aug
31;122(9):876-83. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.915165. Epub 2010 Aug 16.

Central Limited (BCL). Processed meat linked to premature death. March 5, 2013.
Accessed at

Chan DS, Lau
R, Aune D, Vieira R, Greenwood DC, Kampman E, Norat T. Red and processed meat
and colorectal cancer incidence: meta-analysis of prospective studies. PLoS
One. 2011;6(6):e20456. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020456. Epub 2011 Jun 6.

Pan A, Sun Q,
Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Red meat
consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch
Intern Med. 2012 Apr 9;172(7):555-63. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287.
Epub 2012 Mar 12.

Rohrmann S et
al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective
Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Medicine, 2013; 11 (1): 63 DOI:

Sinha R,
Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a
prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Mar
23;169(6):562-71. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.6.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

John Riedl

Simply put that’s why I’ve gone down the health journey of research and creating health brands.

Our gallery
Scroll to Top