Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Aug

Is Processed Meat Actually Bad for You?

processedmeatWhile popular media coverage of people following a Primal way of eating tends to paint us as carnivorous meat enthusiasts gorging on steaks, bacon, bun-less hotdogs, and little else without regard for quality, in truth we are far more discerning about our choices of meat. We prefer pastured pork and poultry, grass-fed and finished beef, lamb, and bison, and generally deplore the conditions of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). And many of us actively limit processed meat – sausages, bologna, lunch meats, bacon, and the like. You’ll often catch us coming down quite hard on processed meat altogether, making a point to distinguish between its health effects and those of unprocessed meat when responding to studies that lump the two together as “meat.”

And as much as we reiterate that observational studies cannot establish causation, processed meat consumption is consistently linked to poor health outcomes. Now, it could very well be that processed meat consumers tend to do other unhealthy things, like not exercise, sleep poorly, eat other processed foods, eat buns with their hot dogs and pizza dough with their pepperoni. Researchers usually try to control for at least some of those variables, but it’s impossible to cover every unhealthy aspect of a person who simply doesn’t care about their health. You can’t quantify everything. That likely explains much of the relationship between processed meat and poor health outcomes.

But let’s assume for a second that the observational studies do show causative relationships. What could be causing it?

Nitrosamines

Nitrosamines are carcinogenic compounds. In animal studies, they’re used to reliably give rodent subjects cancer. In observational studies, they’re linked to human cancers. Nitrosamines form when nitrites (a common preservative in processed meats) bond with amino acids (also found in meats); this can occur during the processing of the meat or in the stomachs of those who eat it. Since processed meats contain both nitrites and amino acids, it’s kind of a perfect storm. Case closed?

Not quite. Another excellent source of nitrates (which convert to nitrites in the body) are most of the vegetables we eat, particularly the green ones. In fact, the majority of the nitrates we consume come from vegetables – not bacon or hot dogs or head cheese (well, maybe except for that German kid I went to grade school with who ate nothing but thick slices of head cheese in between rye bread every day for lunch). Plus, the majority of the nitrosamines we’re exposed to come from endogenous formation in our stomachs, not from dietary pre-formed nitrosamines. And endogenous nitrosamine formation can occur without any processed meat at all. A meal of fish (amino acids) and greens (nitrates which commensal oral bacteria convert to nitrite), for example, could conceivably increase nitrosamine formation, but I don’t think that means fish and greens are unhealthy.

For a good look at the overall nitrite/nitrate issue, check out Chris Kresser’s great post from a couple years ago.

Poor Quality Animals

Your average salty slab of beige pseudo-meat doesn’t come from a pastured animal. Obviously. Those Oscar Mayer wieners quivering in the dusky summer light of a million American backyard barbecues? Every bite contains bits and pieces from hundreds of individual animals who never knew what it was like to walk on grass. Even in countries like Italy, whose traditionally-cured meats are famous the world over, industrial farming is replacing smaller, more intimate farming. It doesn’t matter how many traditional Mediterranean arm hairs you find in your guanciale. Unless the package mentions it, or the producer confirms it, the majority of processed meat is made from CAFO cows, pigs, and poultry who ate corn (and its oil) and soy (and its oil) centric diets and have imbalanced fatty acid ratios (more omega-6 PUFA, less saturated/monounsaturated/omega-3 PUFA). That isn’t to say that it’s terrible for you, or that you can’t mitigate the imbalance by consuming more omega-3s, but it is to say that when you eat processed meats, you’re more often than not not eating the best quality meat you can get your hands on.

Oxidized Lipids (Cholesterol and Fatty Acids)

We all know about the formation of oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fatty acids in foods cooked at high temperatures, and we all know why we should limit these whenever possible: they can be incorporated into our serum cholesterol, increasing its oxidative instability and our oxidative stress, and eventually leading to atherosclerosis. During processing, many processed meats are cooked at temperatures high enough to oxidize the lipids before they even reach your local grocery store. Things like precooked breakfast sausages, hot dogs, and Vienna sausages qualify (PDF). Processed meats like mortadella (which is baked at a low heat) and salami (which is cured but not cooked), however, are relatively free of oxidized lipids. As a general rule, the higher the polyunsaturated fat content of the meat (CAFO-fed pork and poultry are especially high in PUFA), the greater the potential for oxidized fats. Sure, overcooking fresh, unprocessed meat can oxidize the lipids, too, but you’re starting from scratch. The problem with precooked processed meats is that you’re starting from behind.

A Skewed Potassium/Sodium Ratio

In the opinion of many researchers, the potassium/sodium ratio is far more important than the absolute amount of sodium a person eats. We can see how processed meat might impact this ratio:

With a diet based on unprocessed meat, the ratio is far easier to monitor and optimize. You control the flow of salt, adding as much or as little as you want. Fresh meat itself also has a favorable potassium/sodium ratio, and the rarer you eat your meat, the more potassium-rich juices you’ll consume.

With a diet based on processed meat, a favorable ratio is difficult to maintain. For one, many processed meats arrive pre-cooked and/or with all (potassium-rich) moisture removed, which removes or destroys much of the potassium. And two, most processed meats come heavily salted, further throwing off the ratio.

Heterocyclic Amines

When meat is directly exposed to high temperature, the amino acids, sugars, and creatine within it react to form heterocyclic amines (HCA), which are mutagenic in animal studies and linked to cancer of the prostatepancreas, and colon in observational studies. Certain processed meats can have signficant amounts of HCAs, with well-done (almost burnt) bacon and sausage showing more than hot dogs, deli meat, and pepperoni, but fresh meats exposed to high heat cooking (like rotisserie chicken skin) usually have more.

And so it’s a mix of real problems and overblown threats. As you can probably see, not all of these problems are inherent to processed meat and many of them can be countered with proper precautions:

Eat fruits and vegetables, especially alongside your meats (processed or otherwise). Drink tea and coffee, eat dark chocolate, consume berries, enjoy phytonutrient-rich spices like turmeric freely and wantonly. Plant foods often contain protective compounds that inhibit carcinogen formation (like nitrosamines) in the stomach. They’re also good sources of potassium.

Treat cured meats as condiments that enhance your vegetable and fresh meat dishes, not main courses. This will allow you to use and afford high-quality cuts with better nutrient and fatty acid profiles, since you aren’t blowing through them so quickly and they’ll last longer. This will also dampen the potential health impact of poorer quality cuts if you go that route, since you’re not eating so much in one sitting.

Don’t overcook your processed meats. Don’t burn your bacon. Follow the gentle cooking techniques I recommend whenever possible (if you even need to cook them at all).

So, how much processed meat should you be eating? Eh, hard to say. A little bacon with your eggs here (okay, a lot), maybe some charcuterie there as an appetizer before a dinner party, some diced pancetta with Brussels sprouts – this is pretty typical among the crowd that reads this blog. I strongly advise against basing your diet on pepperoni, bacon, and hot dogs – even high-quality ones using grass-fed and pastured animals – but I think that goes without saying. In the end, the majority of Primal eaters are not basing their meals on processed meat.

That said, there’s really something therapeutic about an occasional plate of perfectly crispy, thick-cut bacon, isn’t there?

Thanks for reading, all. Let me know what you think about all this in the comment section.

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. There is even some research suggesting nitrates and nitrites might be beneficial for you. http://chriskresser.com/the-nitrate-and-nitrite-myth-another-reason-not-to-fear-bacon

    Worldwide wrote on August 5th, 2014
  2. Home made sausages are super easy to make and very economical.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • I buy the home made sausages at Publix they are very good.

      Joe Bob wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • “Homemade” ………. from the grocery store. Makes sense.

        Mark wrote on August 8th, 2014
    • I’ve done homemade chicken sausage and I’m working on a pork sausage recipe. Tastes better, economical, and don’t have to worry about the proccessed meat issue.

      Michele wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • After making pork sausage once, I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Just patties, though…no tackling links! :)

        Energy! wrote on August 6th, 2014
  3. I’d say we have a meat eating reputation. Reeb0k is providing bacon to their athletes now. It’s gotten a little crazy at this point.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on August 5th, 2014
  4. I mostly just eat jerky and salami as a snack once in a blue moon when on the road. Try to get the best quality bacon I can for the home.

    Nocona wrote on August 5th, 2014
  5. I like 4 slices of pastured and cured bacon with my 4-egg scramble and a handful of strawberries several times per week. Sometimes a bun-less burger calls for a few slices of bacon too! Other than that, I don’t eat much other processed meats.

    Arryn wrote on August 5th, 2014
  6. While I have always generally eaten anything and everything when it comes to meat (as a kid and an adult), I really struggle with my oldest daughter who will not willingly eat meat unless it’s either in the form of a grass-fed beef or chicken hot dog or turkey pastrami (which I feel is way too processed for kids at all, but she has two parents) She errs on the side of white/beige food if left to choose for herself most of the time. She will eat eggs, but how many eggs can one give a kid? I keep wanting to nudge her diet more towards paleo (she’s grain free already), but sometimes I give in to the beans because they’re not processed meats! A naturopath once mentioned to me that if a child has a hard time digesting meat, he/she will avoid it and sometimes a dose of apple cider vinegar or digestive bitters before meals will help. It does seem to help on the digestion front, but it’s not seeming to get her over the hurdle of eating other kinds of meat. Meanwhile her 2.5 year old sister sucks marrow from bones for fun. I just don’t get how two kids from the same family can be so different! Any ideas from parents who have had meat resistant kids. I hate feeding kids hot dogs of any kind, even the “grass-fed” kind, unless it’s once a year at a 4th of July BBQ or something.

    Jennifer L. wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Kids have all kinds of quirks when it comes to food. Most of them outgrow it. Why not let your daughter choose what she wants to eat as long as the choices are healthy ones? You can steer her in the direction of fresh, colorful fruit and vegetables, instead of the white/beige stuff, and let her skip the meat if she doesn’t want it. She may eventually decide to eat meat on her own. If she doesn’t, it isn’t the end of the world. Plenty of people thrive on a meatless diet.

      Shary wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • +1 I was like this as a kid, but I honestly didn’t really outgrow it, it’s just that over time I was exposed to more meat, cooked in different ways, and I finally managed to find some that I liked. BBQ makes everything more edible for me, so that’s something to try. Also consider really increasing meat variety; I find chicken hearts very tasty and eat them in place of beef/lamb, since the nutrient profiles are similar in terms of zinc and iron. Duck is also a delicious meat that’s less commonly eaten.

        Paleo is really more of an elimination diet that people eat if they have problems with specific foods like grain, dairy, etc. If your daughter doesn’t have any issues with those foods, then they’re not bad, especially if she isn’t eating enough of the foods you provide. We’re all different, and some people actually don’t feel better with more meat. Beans+grains or beans+corn is something to consider. Doing WAP-style can really open up some options, and there’s no point to restrict foods unless it’s actually beneficial for her.

        People are different, even within the same family. The rest of my family does not share my palate, so I think it’s important to state that a limited palate is not due to how kids are raised in all cases; it’s just an individual difference. I’d say to just increase the variety of foods (and cooking techniques) you offer your daughter, and don’t make it a big issue. There are healthy diets other than Paleo, and a growing child shouldn’t be too restricted in their food choices unless there’s a clear benefit (gluten/lactose intolerance, etc).

        Cat wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • I’d like to add that growing kids need “filler” foods that a Paleo diet doesn’t always provide–particularly if they don’t eat much meat. Mark pointed this out in one of his articles not long ago. Perhaps you could consider allowing your daughter to eat various types of rice and white potatoes along with fruit and vegetables, both starchy and otherwise. You could do worse than letting her eat beans if she likes them and tolerates them well. They are an excellent “filler” food and are reasonably nutritious.

      Shary wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • She does eat white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and all types of winter squash as well as most other vegetables and fruits. The thing that is hard is that I try to let both of my kids pack their own lunches with a rule that they pick a protein, vegetable and fruit. We usually do left-overs for lunch at home, but when a kid will not eat chicken, beef, goat, lamb, pork or most seafood (she likes salmon!), it makes it a bit tricky to ensure she’s getting enough protein. She does not eat dairy, by choice, so that source of protein is out too. Beans, pepper turkey, hot dogs (as organic/free of everything/grass-fed/pastured as we can find), and salmon in the form of “fish tacos,” eggs, and nuts/seeds are about it in the protein department. My youngest thinks bone broth is something delicious akin to juice (which we don’t drink), but my oldest turns up her nose to even my yummiest soups. Feeding kids is often much trickier than I imagined. Her best friend is vegetarian and that doesn’t help matters much. Balanced vegetarian meals in a mostly grain free/dairy free house are kind of hard!

        Jennifer L. wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Here’s an informative article regarding beans:

      http://beaninstitute.com/health-benefits/nutritional-value-of-dry-beans/

      Shary wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • My 5yo will routinely eat 4 eggs for breakfast. I think eggs are great and wouldn’t worry about too many. We also eat beans that we soak and cook — I think legume consumption has been around longer than widely realized and (heresy) easily part of a primal style diet. Also, my 5yo who has long eaten a wide variety of foods on a regular basis has gotten more “picky” and sometimes will not eat what had been vegetable favorites. At 10-12, I see my nieces trying foods they would never eat before. I would say this experience is quite “normal.” One suggestion would be to try and calculate protein consumption for a few days and see if adequate for age etc. I don’t know anything about grass fed beef hotdogs but in theory it sounds like they could be decent. My 5yo eats a lot of meat, but as others have commented, I am not sure that is necessary.

      Colleen wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • My middle daughter is the same! For her, she will only eat any type of meat if dipped in ketchup and even that is iffy at best. Hot dogs and corned beef are her favorite but I hesitate with them. How much ketchup (even organic) should a kid eat? Meanwhile my oldest has never liked grains even when the whole family ate them and willingly eats paleo and seriously loves meat. Maybe a bit too much! They are polar opposites on the food front. My youngest is really picky with veggies but eats most meat. Meals can be frustrating to say the least!

      Michele wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Please don’t try to force the meat issue. I was never a big meat eater and it was very easy for me to give up. I’ve been a vegetarian for 29 years now. Excellent health. For some people meat is not a big deal nor particularly satisfying, nor makes them feel very god. And beans? They’re awesome. I’m sorry, but the paleo police are just wrong on somethings. If everything the vegan, paleo, primal, vegetarian, and anti gluten purists said was true, the human race would had died out long ago. We are far more flexible and adaptable than we think. Life is too short to force your kid to adhere to some fantasy diet. Find out what works for them and make sure it’s the cleanest, healthiest version of that preference. Then keep introducing them to other things and see what sticks.

      Clay wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • Yeah, it’s hard for me–I was vegetarian for most of my life and mostly in very good health. I have always been into healthy food and healthy eating. Pregnancy changed all of that (well, not the heathy eating, just the vegetarian part). After one pregnancy, I learned that I was gluten intolerant via a mouth full of aphthous ulcers and I developed gestational diabetes. I was lean, athletic and “healthy.” However, I have a super genetic predisposition to diabetes and unless I changed the way I ate (no more grains for me!) I was heading down the path of my mother, grand-mother and great-grand-mother. My oldest daughter is gluten intolerant and had white pasty poop as a baby due to malabsorption problems. Her behavior goes a bit wonky without enough protein. So, while I’d like to continue on my merry vegetarian path, it’s a little hard without grains, beans and most starch vegetables. My highest glucose reading during my whole pregnancy–180 mg/dL (and since) was from a plate of adzuki bean/yam/kale hash. Beans seem to do that to me (as well as yams if servings are large). Anyhow, back to the processed meats–I can’t seem to decide if her diet is fine with eggs/salmon/soaked beans/nuts/ as her main sources of protein and if I should just delete the rolled deli-turkey (diestel ranch) and hot dogs. Sounds kind of silly to write it, but sometimes parenting leads us down unexpected rabbit holes. Hot dogs, sheesh!

        Jennifer L. wrote on August 5th, 2014
        • Just ditching the hotdogs would be enough. There’s no way around it, hotdogs are just crap.

          My 11 year old daughter like to make glasses of my isolated whey protein powder. Just mixes it with milk. She naturally skews higher carb like her mom so I encourage any protein consumption. The Costco ON Performance Whey Chocolate is pretty tasty so it’s a really healthy snack that feels like a treat. I add a bunch of cinnamon and cayenne to mine and mix it with unsweetened coconut milk.

          Basically, if it’s not junk, and they seem to thrive on it, feed it to your kid. They can work out a more refined approach later in life. Right now they just need clean healthy food.

          I drank a ton of milk when I was a kid. Now it bloats me up right away. Things change, people change. At fish until I was 17 until I spontaneously became allergic. That was quite a surprise. My face was so swollen and my entire body covered in hives that the school nurse though I would drop dead at any moment (can you breath, can you breath?…)

          Will I eat meat again someday. Perhaps. I’m not invested in my vegetarianism one way or another. After 29 years I think I made my point whatever that point was.I don’t let it define me.

          Clay wrote on August 5th, 2014
        • Make your own? Seriously, you can buy casings. The filing is blenderized meat and liver and spices, with sometimes a cereal filler for cheapness and consistency. Not difficult, and most fancy mixers have a grinder/sausage filler attachment.

          Fuzzy wrote on August 5th, 2014
        • I think you should pat yourself on the back! Kids go through phases, and their ideas and needs, sometimes, have nothing to do with ours!!

          You’re paying attention to their needs as individuals, and feeding them whole foods. Congratulations, you have just won parenting… and even victory makes room for hot dogs.

          another way wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • My goodness, how is Mark or anyone here “forcing the meat issue”? For the last 35 years or so the meat industry has been under attack from “health experts” like Ancel Keyes and others with there baseless epidemiology based studies saying how bad meat is. People like Mark Sisson come along and site real scientific randomly controlled clinical trials that DEFEND beef without forcing anything. The fact that people who eat meat smoke more, are more obese, sleep less, exercise less, and generally are less health conscious than vegetarians has nothing to do with a paleo perspective. I have nothing but praise for vegetarians! They strive for good health and they generally believe in the welfare and treatment of animals. I also agree that people have different needs and finding your own path to health is so important. I was a vegatarian for 25 years(I’m57 now) and noticed my markers for strength declining rapidly. Thinking that’s just what happens when you grow old I accepted my fate until I started reading MDA a couple years ago and tried meat again and is a path I choose and will never double back on. So thank you Mark Sasson for not forcing something on me but showing me a better way.

        victor wrote on August 6th, 2014
        • I can recommend Applegate Organic Uncured Hot Dogs. I have been fighting Candida for years and after looking at the ingredients on most of the hot dogs on the market this one has been the best for my family.
          They are organic, uncured, grass fed beef with no nitrates. We use the Bubbies Sauerkraut which has live cultures along with the hot dogs. It’s a quick meal that is nutritious. They are also lower in sodium than any other I have found,

          Margaret Barnard wrote on August 9th, 2014
    • I was much like this as a child, & I think it’s part of the reason I became a vegetarian for many years. For me there was a real revulsion to the texture of meat, & especially gnawing it off the bones, so when I decided I needed to add meat back into my diet, I started with homemade meatballs, soups, omelettes with diced meats & other such gentle fare. Slowly worked my way up to real meat, though I still don’t really love steak…

      Also, will your daughter eat fish at all? I always prefered fish to red meat.

      Paleo-curious wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • My son wouldn’t eat any thing that wasn’t chicken or mince meat until he was about 5. I expect it was because he had trouble chewing it. It still takes him half an hour to eat a tiny steak but he does. Smother it in butter and make her have 1 bite of yours, it might take a while but their tastes do change. If she eats chicken make a heap of meat balls with mince, you can hide some liver in them, freeze them and feed her them. I have had a policy that they have to try everything on their plate but can leave 1 thing (once tried), it usually stopped tantrums because they knew the rule. They now eat almost anything.

      Julia wrote on August 7th, 2014
  7. Timely topic. I have been wondering about liverwurst and other pre made sausage type options to get more organ meats in my diet. Anybody have any resources for organically processed viscera?

    Jack Lea Mason wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Yes. U.S. Wellness Meats. Great stuff. I buy the Braunshweiger and Liverwurst They have wonderful lamb ribs too!

      Nocona wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • thanks I’ll look them up

        Jack Lea Mason wrote on August 5th, 2014
  8. I own a wine and cheese shop and I sell salami as well. I end up eating a pretty fair amount of salami. Creminelli’s does a pretty good job with their salami. It’s a bit more, but organic feed and heritage breed pigs. It’s delicious. They have mail order as well.
    Michael Ruhlman has a book on charcuterie that’s pretty good, so if you are worried about what others are putting into their sausage you can always make your own.

    Michael C wrote on August 5th, 2014
  9. Confounding variables.

    People who eat processed meats tend to smoke more, exercise less, eat more cereal grains (buns and bread).

    J. Kling wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Exactly. We’ve been told they’re so bad for so long, people who want to be “healthy” stopped eating such foods routinely long ago. We now eat a lot of bacon and sausage, gently cooked. How about an article that focuses specifically on the causation. From my reading I don’t see it.

      Colleen wrote on August 5th, 2014
  10. Not giving up my bacon regardless of any studies. :)

    Jacob wrote on August 5th, 2014
  11. I’m a vegetarian so I’m happy to avoid meats of any kind, but I am trying to get my BF to make better meat decisions and buy organic/non-processed as much as possible!

    Erica wrote on August 5th, 2014
  12. Mass production has screwed us up pretty good I guess :-)

    Salami/dried meats or sausage I don’t think was ever an issue when made on the farm… now… we just have to be smart.
    In the same way some potatoes fried in beef tallow are simply not a no-no when it comes to a wholesome varied diet…..but look at the state they are in now :-(

    I will stick to some artisan charcuterie and a some minimally processed bacon from time to time.

    Marc

    Marc wrote on August 5th, 2014
  13. Many of the ‘meats’ mentioned are mixed in with starch like husks and potato flour. This can cause advanced glycation end products if cooked (especially if not gently). The fat content of processed meats is good, even of not the best source, but better than denatured vegetable oils at smoking point, I reckon. Biltong, as far as I am aware, is preserved by drying and not even curing with a culture or heating. That makes it raw, albeit not fresh. I would guess processed meat with a low carbohydrate content is better than doughnuts and fizzy pop. Salami cured with cultures is very traditional and the people eating it may have had problems, but they were not generally malformed and stunted with rotten teeth. I don’t push or accept the label of carnivore, but I don’t worry much about wagging tongues regarding how much meat I eat. Diet and ethics are different things, if you want them to be (cannibalism for example). Anyway, I have and will kill my own food, so I beat most people with experience on the subject, but I have to admit my ‘mushy core’ prefers someone else to do it for me. Factory farms suck, but so does being the poor underclass.

    Kit wrote on August 5th, 2014
  14. That was ‘if’ not ‘of’. Also, there is a chance that mechanically recovered meat off carcasses that is regularly used for processed meats contains parts of the animal that one would not normally eat, thereby varying the diet. Traditionally muscle meat was not so commonly eaten, as a percentage of dead things.

    Kit wrote on August 5th, 2014
  15. I’m amazed at the good timing of this article. Just today, I was researching on nitrates and the additives to bacon. I’m on the Auto-immune Paleo Approach to heal leaky gut. I ate some bacon the other day with nitrates and spices. I don’t know if it was the spices or the nitrates or some other preservative, but it flared all my auto-immune symptoms after I ate it. I’m seriously considering never eating bacon again and it’s one of my favourite foods. This article gave me great perspective. I think I may try it at a later stage when my body’s more healed but only in small quantities. Problem is I like to gorge it in large amounts. I also tend to overcook my bacon so I’ll make a point of cooking it more gently.

    Kathy wrote on August 5th, 2014
  16. I won’t ever give up meat in tube form. But it’s a treat, not a mainstay.

    JoanieL wrote on August 5th, 2014
  17. Thank you, Mark. You’ve become an excellent writer with just the right tone: educational but not pedantic; thoughtful, non-judging, thorough, well-researched, and with a sprinkling of good humor. I appreciate your blog. I came across it about three years ago and it changed my life. Thanks for your work!

    Grace wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Brains.

      Martha wrote on August 5th, 2014
  18. For processed meats I stick to the organic/grassfed kind and I don’t know how much healthier they are than the bigger brands, but they somehow TASTE and FEEL healthier, possibly because there’s less salt and chemicals? Not sure. U.S. wellness meats makes the best tasting bacon in my opinion (with the best rendered fat) and theirs is just pork and sea salt.

    Michele wrote on August 5th, 2014
  19. So what’s the answer? How bad is processed meat? For that matter, what constitutes “processing”? Is ground beef processed? Fresh sausage?

    Dave wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Every meat with chemicals added is processed, even sodium!
      So it is hard if not impossible to be 100% primal, I guess.

      Oscar wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • OK, so “grass-fed beef” = wholesome goodness, but “grass-fed beef with salt” = unwholesome.

        Dave wrote on August 6th, 2014
        • Mark’s article mentions how the sodium/potassium ratio we get in unprocessed beef is more important than the amount of salt we have.

          victor wrote on August 6th, 2014
  20. My personal n=1 experiment is that some processed meats give me serious acne. Not all, but enough of them that I generally stay away from processed meats except as a special treat. I don’t know what’s in them that’s doing this, and I don’t particularly care – all I know is that something in them really is doing something bad to my body, so processed meats can’t be terribly good for me.

    meepster wrote on August 5th, 2014
  21. We recently served bratwurst to a bunch of kids who are picky eaters. To my surprise they cleaned me out of my homemade, cold fermented sauerkraut instead of the familiar brand red and yellow factory condiments. It was almost like they unanimously understood the SAD condiments are for corn dogs. Quality tube steaks and fermented vegetables go so well together, I’m willing to bet the lactobacilli in probiotic vegetables could negate any ill effects of the Maillard reaction may have on cooked meats.

    Jack Lea Mason wrote on August 5th, 2014
  22. “moisture removed, which removes or destroys much of the potassium.”

    What exactly is meant with potassium being destroyed?

    Jack wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Unless you have a nuclear reactor in your kitchen, you can’t destroy potassium.

      I’m not sure what Mark meant, but to change the balance (if it is just the elemental potassium/sodium balance), you’d have to either do something to remove the potassium from the food in question, or bind it up to make it bio-unavailable.

      He also comments that many foods arrive with much of the (potassium rich) water removed. Why is the water rich in potassium but not sodium? Does removing the water really change the balance? (Reference to that claim would be useful.)

      And the comment that processed foods come heavily salted, throwing off the balance, is a silly argument following on the heals of unprocessed meat where, “you control the flow of salt, adding as much or as little as you want.” So I can add salt without affecting the balance, but processors can’t? That is nonsensical.

      To me the only strong argument presented against processed meats is the quality of the meat – if you eat CAFO meat, whether processed or not, you are ingesting poor PUFA ratios and likely oxidized lipids (whether by the processor cooking it or you cooking it). If you eat high quality naturally raised meats, whether from a processor turning it into hotdogs, or you doing so yourself, your health will benefit.

      John wrote on August 5th, 2014
  23. The one processed meat I can’t seem to give up is keilbasa. I never eat it alone. More often than not it’s diced into a fry up of cabbage, onions, tomatoes and lots of spices. As Mark says, it’s more of a condiment. The local pork sausage I buy is miraculously low fat. I know it’s not grass fed. The low fat content is an advantage for limiting PUFAs. I often have to add bacon grease, grass-fed butter or coconut oil when I fry it up with my eggs. Beats that Jimmy Dean grease pooled slag.

    Keith wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • That reminds me– I used to think that I absolutely couldn’t digest beef– it would sit in my stomach like a lump of lead– but I found I could tolerate corned beef & cabbage, & I always wondered if it was the curing/cooking or the cabbage that was the secret.

      Paleo-curious wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • How did the beef come out? Never heard of chunks of beef in people’s stools.

        victor wrote on August 6th, 2014
        • Haha, no it wasn’t quite that bad, but it would give me a stomach-ache for days… not fun.

          Paleo-curious wrote on August 6th, 2014
        • I suspect I didn’t have the right gut flora… I’ve slowly acclimated. :-)

          Paleo-curious wrote on August 6th, 2014
  24. “Your average salty slab of beige pseudo-meat doesn’t come from a pastured animal. Obviously. Those Oscar Mayer wieners quivering in the dusky summer light of a million American backyard barbecues?”

    There is a distinct weird writing style that has been coming through like crazy lately on these posts. I love it. Is it Mark? Is it a worker bee? Just… hats off and slow claps, sirs and madams.

    Marisa wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • Yes, I have been curious about that too and much enjoying it.

      Christie wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • Add to the fact he doesn’t respond to these posts like he used to make me wonder as well. All the same, good stuff.

        victor wrote on August 6th, 2014
  25. I am trying to resolve a discrepancy brought on by coverage of bacon. I have read here that we should eat red meats that are cooked rare/medium rare in low to medium heat conditions. On the other I have also read that we should use slow cooking techniques, stew, soups, crockpots etc, which surely cook meat well done (over 160f). What gives?

    dave wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • As I understand it, it’s the searing/burning that causes dangerous compounds, so slow-cooked meats are usually safer.

      Paleo-curious wrote on August 5th, 2014
      • so what about meats that have been seared on the outside but are rare inside? is that better than well done?

        i hate well done steaks and roasts.

        dave wrote on August 6th, 2014
  26. I like summer sausage, and will often take about 1/4 lb of it and one or two pieces of fruit for lunch if I am going to be out all day.

    Jay Smith wrote on August 5th, 2014
    • I had to eat huge lunches before I went paleo, but now I get by on these small lunches, and whether or not summer sausage is ultimately healthy, it has got to be at least 500% healthier than a fast food combo meal. Plus it costs less than $2 compared to $7 for the fast food.

      Jay Smith wrote on August 5th, 2014
  27. I’d like to see a critique of the fermented meats like salami as they seem to fall in a different subcategory than the heat treated processed meats.

    Julia Mc wrote on August 5th, 2014
  28. I don’t eat bacon very much but I do like to buy a slab of raw pork belly from my local but her shop and slice it myself.

    Angel wrote on August 6th, 2014
  29. Butcher shop* lol I’m sorry

    Angel wrote on August 6th, 2014
  30. Sorry but no cigar; less you hand me naturally cured meats from free ranged beef with good fats. Or better yet, Jamón or prosciutto from wild boars like in Spain, or home made Beef jerky.

    Time Traveler wrote on August 6th, 2014
  31. I own a wine and cheese look and that i sell sausage likewise. I find yourself ingestion truthfully} fair quantity of sausage

    John Peter wrote on August 6th, 2014
  32. I think all this misses the point. The vast majority of people are eating their processed meat with bread. All the meats usually mentioned – sausages (on a bun), hamburgers (on a bun), bacon (with toast at breakfast), bologna (sandwich), ham (sandwich), salami (sandwich) – are eaten with bread. I mean really, no one except Paleo/Primal types eats those without bread. You all know this by the funny looks you get when you eat them without bread.

    So if a correlation of with processed meat is found, it could just as easily be the bread. Best just to ignore all such conclusions because the studies will never untangle the two food categories and just happily get on with the eating-bacon part.

    Bean wrote on August 6th, 2014
  33. I’m reading this while eating what the package tells me is 3 servings of Italian Dry Salami, all the time daydreaming about head cheese on rye.

    Erok wrote on August 6th, 2014
  34. As Gee Mark!!!
    Just put some herbs on it and call it a day.

    firefly 88 wrote on August 6th, 2014
  35. I met a guy this week who told me he is working with a large producer of chicken nuggets and other processed forms of chicken. It turns out that the company receives 300,000 chicken every day.
    What was scary was that the amount of waste at the end of the process was only one small bag. Which makes you wonder what parts of the chicken actually get used in thos nuggets.

    Ever thought about doing a series on that part of the food industry?

    Kurt Gielen wrote on August 6th, 2014
  36. I can’t fault myself for that nut, meat, and cheese board every now and again with a couple glasses of wine! At least, not yet. I think my body is still okay with that! And bacon…a one-sided romance (I don’t think it loves me, it just lives here), but I’ll always enjoy some!

    Kevin Grokman wrote on August 7th, 2014
  37. Hi Mark,
    Great post. I just wanted to comment on your introduction when talking about people who don’t care about their health. I think actually many people do care about their health, I think they are just completely clueless. In the “healthy” grocery store I watch people and what they buy (sounds creepy, i know) and I see ladies in their workout clothes, buying veggie chips, loads of whole breads, fat-free frozen foods, etc… They think perhaps it is healthy, but maybe they are only relying on their current knowledge, which has been supplied by mass media, to aid them in healthy choices.
    I think a little empathy is required when discussing “a person who simply doesn’t care about their health.” This phrase should be changed to perhaps, a person who has been mislead, or a person who is clueless about good health, or someone who struggling with becoming proficient in being a healthy person.
    Anyways,
    Thanks as always!

    Raquel wrote on August 14th, 2014
  38. I normally avoid eating fruit with meat. Vegetables, yes, but I tend to follow the basics of food combining principles so I normally only eat fruit with other plant foods, mostly just other fruits or vegetables, except for tomatoes which I treat more like a vegetable. I have better digestion that way and being careful about food combinations seems to have increased the health of my digestive system, which used to be pretty bad. I was going to say something about this under the food combining post and this one just sparked my memory. I’m sure that just eating one type of food at a time and letting your stomach clear before eating something else results in the most complete digestion of it based on self experimentation. If you have any digestive issues I recommend you give following some food combining rules a go.
    Another topic this post reminded me of that I wanted to mention is berries and the seeds in them. I suspect and worry that they could harm the intestinal tract by scraping and poking. When you eat certain berries you’re getting a lot of little sharp seeds. I didn’t put much thought into that before and generally just swallowed the seeds without chewing them any more than it takes to squish the rest of the berry, then recently I started chewing them more, and lately haven’t been eating any berries because I found chewing the seeds up really good takes too long and is not always satisfactorily possible. I don’t want sharp things poking and scraping my intestinal walls. The only seeds I’ve been eating recently are from tomatoes. Those seem a lot less sharp than raspberry seeds for example. I wonder if it’s bad to eat them but there’s plenty of tomatoes for the picking now and I’m depending on some foraging/scavenging for my nutrition so I’m eating a lot of them. I also like to bite apple seeds and then eat the inside of them and the sprouts that sometimes grow from them while they’re still in the apple. I like how they taste and figure they’re nutritious.
    I think nuts and other seeds that aren’t chewed really well could be harmful, which is one reason I would rather opt for nut/seed butter than whole nuts or seeds. Maybe even gristle could do a little damage to the intestines.. I’m thinking anything rough, sharp, solid, chunky basically could damage soft intestinal tissue, especially cilia. To think microscopically about that doesn’t make a good image.

    Animanarchy wrote on August 23rd, 2014

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