If you weren’t already steering clear of cured meat because of its health risks, a study published in the journal Thorax might give you the push you needed to ditch this unhealthy food for good.
Data from nearly 1,000 participants who took part in the French epidemiological EGEA study over the course of seven years showed that a fifth of people noted a rise in asthma symptoms over time. What caused some people’s asthma to worsen over time? Researchers from Inserm looked to their diet to try to explain the phenomenon, specifically their intake of cured meats.
First, they accounted for the obesity parameter. BMI is considered a risk factor for asthma, so obesity could have distorted the results otherwise. The researcher also accounted for other factors that can affect asthma, including a person’s age, whether or not they smoke, their level of education and the amount of physical activity they get.
After making adjustments, they found that a high intake of cured meat – in this case, eating it at least four times a week – was directly associated with the aggravation of a person’s asthma symptoms. For example, those who ate four or more servings of cured meat per week had a 76 percent higher likelihood of seeing their symptoms worsen compared to those who ate less than a full serving of cured meat per week. Moreover, just 14 percent of the connection between the intake of cured meat and asthma could be explained by obesity, showing that it wasn’t the obesity caused by eating these foods alone that was responsible for the effect.
The researchers concluded that diet has a great effect on asthma in adults, and the authors recommend that public health messages be disseminated outlining why people should reduce their intake of cured meat.
What constitutes a cured meat?
Cured meat is considered any type of meat that has been preserved and flavored by adding some combination of salt, sugar, nitrites and nitrates. Bacon, pepperoni, ham, salami, corned beef, prosciutto, pastrami and other processed meats fall into this category. One portion for the purposes of the study was considered to be two slices of ham or salami or one sausage, for example.
Ground beef is not considered a processed meat in and of itself if it’s just beef that has been put through a meat grinder, but if it is modified further with additives as many supermarket ground beef offerings are, then it does fall into the dangerous category.
These foods have not only been linked to asthmabut also other respiratory conditions like lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nitrites are responsible for the oxidative stress related to lung damage and asthma, so those with breathing problems would do well to avoid these foods.
Even if you don’t have asthma, there are still plenty of reasons to avoid processed meats. Chief among them is the fact that the World Health Organization recently announced that these foods cause cancer. According to the WHO, 50 grams of processed meatper day raised a person’s odds of developing colorectal cancer by a remarkable 18 percent. That’s less than two pieces of bacon. At the same time, they labeled red meats like beef, pork and lamb as “probably carcinogenic” but conceded there was limited evidence.
With so many good reasons to cut cured meat from your diet, what are you waiting for? It might be hard to give up lunchmeat at first, but there are plenty of great alternatives. Grilled organic vegetables, eggs and hummus all make satisfying and nutrient-packed sandwich fillings. You could also roast an organic chicken and slice up the meat for sandwiches. It might not have the same flavor as ham or bacon, but it’s far less likely to make you sick.