Why are processed meats given such a bad name?

By Ashley Williams

- Last updated on GMT

The processed meat debate
The processed meat debate

Related tags: Processing and packaging Innovation

When you sit down to demolish a bacon or sausage sandwich in the morning, it’s very unlikely that you are thinking of the consequences it is having on your body.

Yet processed meats have often been flagged as a serious health risk over the years, with the latest research from the International Journal of Cancer​ revealing women who consumed a high amount of processed meats are 9% more likely to be at risk of breast cancer.

So, if some of the most desired meats are causing so much harm, why do we continue to consume them without a care in the world?

Many meat organisations, including the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and the Meat Advisory Panel, dismissed the latest research from the International Journal of Cancer​ due to its lack of evidence and clarity of definition when it referred to a ‘high’ amount of consumption.

From a global perspective, it seems that the US is in agreement with UK meat organisations.

Diana Dietz, communications manager for the American Association of Meat Processors told GlobalMeatNews​ that it was difficult to correlate meat consumption to breast cancer.

Many reports, such as the one from the International Journal of Cancer, fail to include the countless scientific studies that show no connection between meat consumption and cancer. These reports do not consider meat's nutritional benefits, nor consider the negative implications of discouraging consumers from making meat part of a healthy, balanced diet​,” said Dietz.

Many factors can contribute to the risk of breast cancer – being overweight, alcohol consumption, age and genetics, to name a few​. When it comes to prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases, eating a healthy, balanced diet and leading an active lifestyle is crucial – focusing on one kind of food is not enough​.”

Interestingly, BMPA made some interesting comments concerning reports in the media on the processed meat and cancer link, saying they “obscured the full facts surrounding a subject​” and “singled out individual parts of research without offering the full context​”, resulting in misunderstandings among consumers.

It seems that whatever we read and research about foods, particularly meats, it is destined to imply some negative impact on your health. But it’s important to highlight the nutritional benefits that processed meats can have on consumers.

How much meat should we be eating?

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), meat has been described as a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Red meat also provides consumers with a substantial amount of iron and is one of the main sources of vitamin B12.

The average daily amount of red meat and processed meat recommended by the Department of Health is 70g, the equivalent of two-and-a-half thinly cut slices of beef.

The solution?

The NHS always recommends consumers to make healthier choices in their diets. Instead of eliminating processed meats and red meats completely from the diet, the NHS advises picking a leaner option, such as back bacon instead of streaky bacon.

One key word is often highlighted when food and drink companies advertise a product that is considered as ‘unhealthy’: moderation.

As the world becomes more health-conscious, processed meats are going to be the target of increasing criticism, but it is important to realise that they do have benefits too.

Efforts have been made to provide an alternative to a traditional meat-based diet, with the rise of plant-based products across the global food chain.

Alternative meat companies such as Quorn, Vivera, Naturli’ Foods and Beyond Meat have capitalised on the increasing demand for healthier options, with launches such as plant-based sausages, bacon and steaks.

While it is often hard to completely please today’s fickle consumers, it will be interesting to find out whether these types of still-modified products will eventually generate similar criticism and, ultimately, links to cancer.

Related topics: Meat

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