Get ready for a whole lot of baloney – processed meat and cancer

Natural deli meat producers will have a field day

You’re likely going to hear, if you haven’t already, countless news stories today about the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement about the risks of eating processed meat.  Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer is adding processed meats to the list of leading cancer-causing substances, such as tobacco and asbestos. It’s a pretty damning statement, I’d say.

Evidence has been long been accumulating linking consumption of these foods to an increased likelihood of developing colon cancer, possibly due to the nitrites and nitrates which are added as preservatives. As a result, WHO has joined the ranks of other cancer agencies around the world in recommending we avoid the consumption of foods such as bacon, ham and deli meats.

Although I’m not a clairvoyant, I can already envision the food companies making so called natural deli products pouncing on the news and ramping up their advertising campaigns. No matter that these products contain the very same substances, but rather than from an artificial ingredients, they come from natural sources.

Natural – the implication is that it’s safe. Keep in mind that arsenic is also natural.

Now I’m not saying that eating a hot dog is akin to eating poison and that one should never cross your lips. But if you’re eating processed meats on any kind of regular basis, it’s time to revamp your menu. (Check out my next post where I’ll provide some ideas.)

But when you’re looking for healthier alternatives, don’t be fooled by the makers of these natural meat products. While some food companies may call their products natural, they may still contain nitrites but just from a natural source, cultured celery extract.

Here are just a few examples of labels and promotional statements by companies such as Maple Leaf Foods and Schneiders (both owned by the same company).

“When you make a meal with Natural Selections™, you can be sure that it is free of preservatives* and artificial ingredients. Find Natural Selections™ in your local grocery store. *Beyond those naturally occurring preservatives and nitrites in the ingredients. Sea Salt and Cultured Celery Extract Contain Naturally Occurring Nitrites.”

Maple Leaf® Natural Selections® Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast

“Add the savoury goodness of oven-roasted chicken to your next meal. Natural SelectionsTM Oven Roasted Chicken Breast contains our finest cuts of meat with natural ingredients, so you can forget about the preservatives* and artificial ingredients. Conveniently sliced and packaged for freshness, find Natural Selections™ Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast where sliced meats are sold at your local grocery store. *Beyond those naturally occurring preservatives and nitrites in the ingredients. Sea Salt and Cultured Celery Extract Contain Naturally Occurring Nitrites.”

Naturally smoked bacon, inspired by home-style country fare. Schneiders® Country Naturals ™ bacon is made with pork raised without antibiotics and crafted with only authentic, wholesome ingredients so you and your family can experience meat the way it’s supposed to taste – free of artificial ingredients and preservatives*.

Ingredients
Pork, water, sea salt, cane sugar, cultured celery extract, spice, smoke

“Free of preservatives” beyond those naturally occurring preservatives and nitrites in the ingredients? Huh? So how is that “free of preservatives?” What am I missing?

How can companies legally make statements such as this?

But you can bet they will be doing so in full force over the next while as they try to hoodwink those concerned by the latest dietary recommendations.

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Up next: more on the WHO recommendations that deal with red meat and some suggestions on revamping your menu.

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Categories: Food Safety, Nutrition News, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Get ready for a whole lot of baloney – processed meat and cancer”

  1. Betty
    October 26, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    I am curious about home smoked products. My son has a smoker that heats with gas and the smoke is created with wood chips. The bacon he makes is awesome. Can I feel better about it than store-bought bacon?

  2. October 27, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Betty, it’s a good question! But according to the statement yesterday, they say, “Processed
    meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smok
    ing or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.” Now the home smoked would be missing the nitrates and nitrites so the risk may be lessened but they’re still smoked and therefore not eaten regularly. That being said, it also depends on what other foods you eat. For example, do you consume lots of fruits, vegetables and other protective plant foods? All these play a role.

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