06 May

How Healthy is it to Eat Smoked and Processed Meat?



Preserving meat with smoke adds flavour and rich colour. But eating smoked or processed meat too regularly can come at a price.

If you love tucking into bacon, Kassler chops and smoked chorizo sausages, you’re probably well acquainted with the wonderful flavours that smoking can impart to meat.

But, as with all high-fat, high-salt and cured meats, smoke-cured meat should be eaten in moderation.

“Smoke is composed of many wonderful compounds, but some harmful ones too,” writes Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in Charcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking & curing.

“Prominent among these are the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are proven carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and which are formed from all of the wood components in increasing amounts as the temperature is raised.”

Smoked meat is considered processed meat.  All processed meats have been classified as Group 1 carcinogens. This classification, says the World Health Organisation (WHO), is based on evidence from several studies that have shown that eating processed meat, including smoked meat, causes colorectal cancer.

Research has demonstrated that eating smoked and other forms of processed meat lead to small increases in the risk of cancer. This risk seems to increase with the amount of processed meat one eats: for every 50g portion of processed meat you eat every day, you could be increasing your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

In addition, scientists know that sodium nitrate, a preservative that’s used when smoking meat, could increase one’s risk for heart disease and diabetes.

How to cut your risk for disease

Right now, you might be wondering what you could do to cut your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes while still enjoying meat.

A few tips:

  • Limit the amount of smoked meat in your diet.
  • If you do eat smoked meat, keep serving sizes small.
  • Choose lean, fresh meat and poultry whenever you can.
  • Instead of smoking meat, use seasonings (e.g. herbs, spices and lemon juice) to add flavour to non-smoked meats.
  • Add a few drops of “liquid smoke” to marinades to get that smoky flavour. These products are available from local delis and butchers.

Good to know

Remember that diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes cannot be blamed on a single factor or food (e.g. smoked meat). If you’re worried about getting any of these diseases, talk to your doctor about getting the appropriate screening tests done.

Many medical aid schemes in South Africa will cover your doctor’s visits and tests, even if you are on an affordable medical aid of hospital plan.  Saving and going for regular check-ups is important. Early detection is key.

By CARINE VISAGIE (for Genesis Medical Scheme)


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