One of the protein foods that bodybuilders occasionally find ourselves eating is processed meats, but we’ve heard for years about the health problems involved with selections like lunchmeat, jerky, and others. While cancer is often the focus of these concerns, is it possible that processed meat could also cause heart disease?
Let’s see what the facts have to say.
Scientists have studied the effects of red meat on heart health for decades, so it’s not too surprising that they have moved to include processed meats in their research in recent years.
For instance, a 2012 study out of Greece compared the effects of processed meat and unprocessed meat on the health of subjects in terms of risk for developing both diabetes and heart disease. The researchers found that, while both types of meat may increase the risk of diabetes, only processed meat made it more likely that subjects would develop heart disease.
An earlier (2010) literature review led by researchers at Harvard examined thousands of previous studies encompassing more than 1 million total subjects. Among those subjects, about 24,000 had or developed heart disease during the course of the studies. Culling through the data, scientists concluded that red meat didn’t necessarily contribute to heart disease but that processed meat led to a 42% increase in the risk for developing heart disease.
Finally, as mentioned in a paper from St. Luke’s Health Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, the USDA released updated Dietary Guidelines in 2015. One of their specific recommendations was that Americans should reduce our consumption of processed meats in order to avoid various disease risks.
What Should You Do?
The truth is that most or all of the studies done to this point into the risk of heart disease from eating processed meats are epidemiological in nature — they look at large groups of subjects over long periods of time and try to correlate behavior to the eventual development of diseases. The problem with this approach is that it relies on self-reported dietary habits and can thus be prone to error.
In general, epidemiology should be used to suggest further study rather than for drawing firm conclusions.
In the case of processed meats, though, these studies pretty much back up what you’ve always known – it’s almost always better to eat whole, unprocessed foods that are made without the use of chemicals.
After all, can you think of many health advantages that, say, bologna would impart to you?
You will occasionally find yourself eating lunchmeat or jerky, and you don’t need to panic when that happens. Most of the time, though, you would be best served to avoid eating processed meat.
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