Health Benefits of Processed Meat

The processed meat is present in human food history many centuries before the birth of Christ, since man began to use elements like fire, the sun’s heat and ice (in the colder climate of land) to make it softer to eat and tasty, or even to keep it longer, in contexts of high potential for food shortages and lack of appliances, such as the refrigerator.

Later, spices also started to fulfill this function, like salt and sugar. All of this, in fact, helps to generate typical dishes from the most diverse local cuisines, thus participating in the construction of the identity of countless peoples, in different times and places.

The Industrial Revolution created several possibilities to fulfill these same functions from the end of the 19th century:

  • coloring, to give a more striking color to meat (ie, redder);
  • flavorings, which can alter the original smell and flavor to make them even more appetizing;
  • condoms, to prolong their so-called “shelf life”.

And it went further, creating appeals:

  • promoted new mixtures of meats, added to the above additives, creating the sausages;
  • invented ultra-processed food, to be consumed right after purchase, whether it needs to be heated or not.

The problem is that the chemicals and procedures used in processed meat are not good for our health. In this text, we will see the harmful effects of processed meat, what are processed meats, what sausage meat is, the environmental aspects involved in its production and how the consumption of processed meat can be reduced. Read on!


Talking about processed meat requires broadening the subject to processed foods. In 2014, the Ministry of Health and the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (Nupens FSP – USP) launched the Food Guide for the Brazilian Population, which proposes a new internationally recognized classification for foods: by degree of processing.

They are all divided into four groups:

  • Fresh (unprocessed) or minimally processed foods:

This group includes consumed foods as they were taken from nature, or that have minimal processing, to make them more palatable or safer for consumption, such as: cleaning, removal of undesirable or inedible parts, fractionation, grinding, drying, fermentation, pasteurization , refrigeration, freezing, among others.

As you can see, this type of processing is not intended to keep them any longer or change their original structure, it is just to make their consumption possible. The addition of salt, sugar or fat is not part of these procedures. Examples: vegetables, fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, milk, fresh meat, among others.

  • Culinary or industrial ingredients:

These are already extracted from products taken directly from nature or in natura, to serve the ingredients in dishes prepared with non- or minimally processed foods, or for use in the industry itself, in the preparation of processed or ultra-processed foods, that is , they are not normally consumed alone .

Can be prepared with them: cakes, pies, sweets in general, soups, salads, preserves etc. The processes involve changing its original composition, such as pressing, grinding, refining, hydrogenation, hydrolysis, using enzymes and additives.

It is important to remember that these procedures make the products lose a good part of their original content, while at the same time they become richer in industrialized additives. Examples: corn starch, corn syrup, flours, oils, salts, sweeteners, lactose.

  • Processed:

These, in addition to going through the stage of becoming better for consumption, receive salt, sugar, fats or culinary/industrial ingredients so that their sensory characteristics (color, smell, flavor, texture) are changed.

In addition, here is also the objective of preserving the food, increasing its “shelf time” – hence the addition of substances such as salt, sugar and/or vinegar or processes such as smoking and curing, which are now carried out industrially.

They are derived from original foods, and often serve as an accompaniment or ingredients for dishes based on fresh or minimally processed foods. Examples: fruit in syrup, candied fruit, dried meat, bacon, sardines and canned tuna, among others.

  •  Ultra-processed :

They are industry formulations composed, wholly or mostly, of substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, proteins) that are derived from food constituents (such as hydrogenated fats, modified starch) or synthesized in the laboratory through organic materials such as oil and coal ( colorings, flavorings, flavor enhancers, preservatives etc.).

Here, in addition to making the food accessible, attractive, palatable and more durable, the goal is for it to be as practical as possible and can be consumed right after purchase, requiring pre-preparation or not.

In this group, there are two subgroups:

  • Require pre-preparation: frozen ready-to-eat dishes, fish sticks, nuggets, dehydrated soups, sausages, baby food.
  • No pre-preparation required (snacks and desserts): breads, cakes, ice cream, soft drinks, French fries.

Now let’s see why processed meat is bad for you. Follow up!


Depending on the types of procedures adopted, the meat can be processed, ultra-processed or embedded.

The embedded meat is made with different pieces of an animal or even different animals (beef, sheep, goat, pork, equine, poultry, fish and seafood), which are embedded in a pressure vessel, in addition to receiving the bath of chemical additives from ultra-processed products. Often these pieces come from less noble parts of the animals, which the industry would throw away.

Note the most common:

  • Sausages : each type has its own recipe. Paio is made from cured and smoked beef and pork. Tuscany is all about pork, with added fat.
  • Salamis : can be made only from pork, or pork and beef, to which pork bacon is added.
  • Mortadella : can be made from a mixture of various meats. The common is composed of 60% meat and 10% offal (tongue, kidney, liver, heart, tendons, etc.), the rest being fat.
  • Ham : this takes the noblest part of the pig, the ham (hind leg), mixed with the fat of this animal.


The World Health Organization (WHO) organizes carcinogens into five risk groups, in ascending order, as follows:

  • Group 1 : carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 2A: probably carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 3: not categorized.
  • Group 4: probably non-cancerous.

Processed meat is in Group 1, “carcinogenic to humans”, the same classification as tobacco and alcohol, which means that it certainly causes cancer. (Red meats, on the other hand, are in Group 2A, because the organization recognizes that it still does not have enough scientific evidence to analyze them in another way.)

In the same report that published this conclusion, dated 2015, is the date that eating 50g of processed meat per day (less than two slices of bacon) increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.

This is directly related to the chemical risks involved in the production of this type of food: substances such as nitrate and sodium nitrite, which are used to kill microorganisms, if consumed in large quantities too often, produce highly carcinogenic compounds in the stomach.

The biological risks of these foods to our bodies include the fact that they make us feel full without actually eating, that is, without providing all the necessary nutrients for a balanced diet, compensating for this with an excess of industrial additives (and it’s good remember that even the protein and fat they can be artificial). Not to mention the possibility of food poisoning and illness.

Physical risks, on the other hand, refer to unwanted objects that can be found in these foods: from bone fragments and animal teeth to glass and metals such as needles, plastics, broken knife blades, sausage clips.


They concern all aspects of production:

  1. Agriculture : deforestation of virgin forests to increase the grazing area of ​​​​the herds, restriction of agriculture to crops that can serve food for them and for the processed industry (wheat, corn, soybeans), which occupy large areas and often take pesticide , which also contaminates water and soil. And it takes a lot of water to produce a kilo of meat.
  2. Industry : food loses its original characteristics and nutritional value carrying large amounts of chemicals that are often harmful to the environment and human health (eg saltpeter, coal, petroleum products). Several industrial activities generate air and noise pollution.
  3. Consumption : these are products that usually generate a large amount of packaging, which are often thrown into the environment in any way, and made of materials such as plastic, which take a long time to reintegrate into nature.


There are several tips to gradually reduce this consumption:

  • Processed or ultra-processed foods can be consumed as part of recipes in which fresh or minimally processed foods are the most important part, or reserved for special occasions. Little or no processed foods should be the basis of your daily diet.
  • Prefer homemade food to ultra-processed food.
  • Use in small amounts oils, fats, salt and sugar.
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Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

Robert Asprin

Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

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