Processed meat’s disease links stretch from cancer to asthma

Processed meat is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — and the list just keeps growing. Case in point, let’s start with research from the Paul Brousse Hospital in Paris…

These researchers found that people with asthma who ate processed meat frequently had more severe symptoms than people who ate less processed meat.

Over the ten-year study period, people who ate the most processed meat, for example, were 76 percent more likely to experience worsening asthma symptoms than people who ate the least processed meat. Those symptoms included difficulty breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Surprised? Just think of processed meat as the cat burglar of your health and vitality, stealthily stealing it away while you’re busy doing other things… like eating a hot dog, a bologna sandwich, bacon or corned beef.

Processed meat causes cancer

But even if you don’t have asthma, there are plenty of compelling reasons to pass on that salami sandwich. Like the fact that processed meat causes cancer…

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meat as a definite carcinogen. To reach this conclusion, they reviewed over 800 scientific studies.

One of the most alarming findings from this review was that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily increases your risk of colon cancer by a whopping 18 percent. If you’re eating a hot dog or BLT (with four strips of bacon) every day, this statistic applies to you.  And in other studies, processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of early death from all causes.

So, what is it exactly that makes processed meat so bad for you?

The answer is nitrates. Now, many foods contain natural nitrates, like spinach, beets, celery, parsley, green beans and carrots. These nitrates can be beneficial to your health. They can even improve your muscle strength and stamina.

But processed meat contains an added chemical nitrate called sodium nitrite. Once you put this chemical nitrate in your body, it turns into N-nitroso compounds, which have been linked to cancer. Cooking processed meat at high temperatures — especially when you’re barbecuing or grilling — can also increase the levels of these cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds in your meat. So, keep that in mind once summer rolls around. (And hold on to this marinade recipe that can decrease the cancer risk).

Limiting processed meat

Of course, if you want to eat processed meat on occasion (like during the holidays), it won’t kill you. Everything in moderation, right? But the less you eat it, the better.

And when you do eat it, do your best to find nitrate-free meat. It’s available at most natural grocery stores and even some conventional ones. There’s nitrate-free bacon, ham, lunch meat — pretty much any meat you can think of.

Or, if you’re a person who can take or leave processed meat, you might as well just avoid it altogether. There are already enough carcinogens hiding in our homes, air, water, etc. Why willingly ingest more and put extra strain on your body?

Whenever you do choose to eat meat (processed or otherwise), make sure it comes from a high-quality source. Do your research on your meat supplier. Is their meat organic? Grass-fed? Local? These factors are generally the litmus test for whether your meat is healthy… or whether it’s slowly sending you to an early grave.

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  1. Li, et al. “Cured meat intake is associated with worsening asthma symptoms.” British Medical Journal, 2016.
  2. “World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer.” American Cancer Society. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  3. “Processed meat and cancer – what you need to know.” Cancer Research UK. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  4. Rohrmann, et al. “Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.” BMC Medicine, 2013; 11 (1): 63.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and