It’s no secret that processed meats aren’t good for our health. So how can you avoid them and make better choices?

Over the past few years, a wealth of research has emerged about the detrimental effects of eating too much processed meats. Processed meat has been linked to various conditions and illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Maybe you've heard all this before. And perhaps you're still unclear on what makes processed meats so bad and why you should look for other options. Keep reading to learn more about what processed meats are, what makes them detrimental to your health, and how you can sub out healthier alternatives.

What is processed meat?

Processed meat is meat that has been preserved for longevity, usually by curing, salting, smoking, or canning. Some examples include hot dogs, sausages, ham, and beef jerky. Even the meats you get behind the deli counter are typically processed.

To preserve processed meats, a host of chemicals and a large amount of salt are used. Nitrate and salt are the two leading unhealthy culprits found in processed meats and have been linked to many diseases and conditions, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.[1]

And while some evidence suggests that processed meats can be a good source of zinc, protein, and iron while offering a tasty option to get such nutrients, health experts generally recommend that you consume as little of them as possible. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that even consuming a small amount of processed meats can drastically increase your risks for colorectal cancer.[2]

Choosing healthier options

There are a few ways you can reduce your intake of processed meats. One way is to become food label savvy and learn what to look for if you buy meats from the grocery store. Find options that are nitrate-free, low in sodium, or sodium-free. However, be aware that even if commercial meat producers don't add in nitrates or sodium, they are still free to use natural sources of nitrates and sodium and still label their products as nitrate-free or low sodium.

Because labels can be tricky, an excellent strategy to avoid processed meats is to go directly to a farmer or butcher. Having a conversation with them about your needs and what you are looking for is a good way to get the healthiest meat options available.

If you’re looking for a more convenient way to get the nutritional benefits of consuming meat, there are non-meat alternatives you can add into your diet that are flavorful without the unhealthy drawbacks. Tuna, hummus, and peanut butter are a few great options. If you crave the flavors of certain processed meats, you can also add in a variety of spices to help mimic the flavors you are craving. One example would be to add fennel and Italian seasonings to fresh, organic ground beef, helping to curb some of your flavor cravings without having to consume nitrate and salt-laden sausages.

Supplementation is also an easy way to help offset the unhealthy side effects of consuming processed meats. BELDT Labs Bedrock Series Flaxseed Oil is a great option that delivers heart-healthy omega acids. It provides many of the same benefits as fish oil without the fishy aftertaste and digestive discomfort. Taking flaxseed oil can also improve your blood pressure, as well as the appearance of your skin.

While it may be challenging to cut processed meats from your diet at first, you will find the health benefits to be undeniably positive. Learning how to read food labels, adding in supplements, and buying your meat directly from butchers and farmers are some ways you can fuel your body with the highest quality meats or reap the same nutritional benefits of meat and not worry about increasing your risk factors for disease.

[1] Petit, G., Jury, V., de Lamballerie, M., Duranton, F., Pottier, L. and Martin, J.-L. (2019). Salt Intake from Processed Meat Products: Benefits, Risks and Evolving Practices. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 18, pp. 1453-1473. VIEW

[2] American Institute for Cancer Research. (2021). Limit Consumption of Red and Processed Meat. VIEW