Processed meats do more harm than good to the body. They contain an abundance of preservatives, toxins and elements that have been linked to cancer risk. They also contain nitrites to preserve and color the meat, a compound that can cause cancer. Charring and grilling of meats develops heterocyclic amines, which are again cancer causing compounds.
Processed meat has been a hot topic lately. When a popular food item is labeled as dangerous, alarm bells start ringing.
And gosh are people upset! How dare the WHO (World Health Organization) scapegoat popular foods? Did you know that bacon has its own page on Facebook with 6 million likes and growing? True story. And now bacon, along with ham, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and even red meat are said to be potentially carcinogenic. That brings up an important question. Should bacon lovers really be worried?
Is there really such a thing as “dangerous food”?
Food: Nourishing or Depleting
At the end of the day, most food items fall into one of two categories. They are either nourishing or depleting.
A nourishing food contains vitamins, minerals, fiber antioxidants or phytonutrients. It is probably a good source of fat, carbohydrates or protein.
Conversely, a depleting food is nutritiously empty, meaning that it uses more nutrients to be digested by the body than it actually contains. When eaten too often, these foods decimate the body’s vitamin and mineral reserves. Or they offer some nutrients but also contain toxins, bad fats or other carcinogenic ingredients that can alter healthy cells and organs in the body.
Keep in mind, foods aren’t the only things that can have a depleting effect on the body. Pollution, body products and fake estrogen found in plastic are just a few examples of things which also can be depleting to the body.
How Much Dangerous Is Really Dangerous?
So this brings us back to the subject of dangerous foods. Should you really consider giving up a food you love because it has been labeled as bad? And are you putting yourself in similar disease risk pool as smokers if you choose to keep eating them? And what about those centenarians who insist that their straight diet of cigarettes, lard and Cheetos is what got them to their ripe old age? Don’t they prove that disease really just comes down to luck?
Keep a couple things in mind. Just because two things are potentially carcinogenic, doesn’t mean they are so to the same degree.
For instance, cigarettes and nuclear radiation are both carcinogens and are both clearly not health promoting. However, I think we can all agree that smoking one cigarette and being exposed one time to nuclear radiation don’t measure quite the same. So just because eating processed meat and smoking are both classified as carcinogenic doesn’t mean that they create the same risk. Second, whether or not a carcinogen mutates your DNA to potentially create disease has to do with your genetics. So just because someone lives to a ripe old age puffing on cigarettes doesn’t mean others won’t cut their lives short living a similar existence. And while our families can give us an idea of what our genetics holds, you never know the cards you were personally dealt. Banking on sharing your ancestors good health can be a bit of a gamble.
Good Balances Bad
At least 85% of the food we eat during the day should be nourishing. However, there is one thing to keep in mind. When you look at making room for favorite indulgences, everything else you eat during the day matters. When a high level of nourishing food is consumed, the body has a high reserve of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are all nutrients needed to help the body process smaller amounts of foods that are less than ideal.
The reason that processed meats are such dangerous foods for many people is that many of us are eating a diet that is almost entirely empty and depleting. And with this kind of diet, the body loses its reserve of the nutrients that help detoxify carcinogens. And as this goes on for years, the body can be worn down, leading to a state of disease.
What Should My Diet Contain?
The bottom line is that you can eat these so-called dangerous foods. But, I would like to add a few important caveats.
- Processed meats should be a very small part of the diet. They shouldn’t be an everyday thing. They should be an occasional treat.
- You should eat more fruits and vegetables than you think you should to build your nutrient reserves
- You need to limit all of your depleting foods (sugar, refined carbohydrates, cereals, granola, cheese, fried foods, bottled sauces, ketchup, salsas, salad dressings and other condiments with hidden sugar etc.) These foods, along with processed meats shouldn’t compose more than 15% of the diet.
Doing so won’t just lower your chance of getting cancer. It will help you feel better as you age. Even those of hearty genetic stock start to become depleted on a cellular level when eating too many unhealthy foods. So while they might not get sick, they won’t feel quite as vibrant, energetic and spirited as they would otherwise.
So take the news about dangerous foods with a grain of salt. There is room for a small amount of any food in most healthy people’s diets. But you need to look at the big picture when you’re evaluating where these foods will fit into your own health profile.