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Processed meats are bad for you. But are some types worse for you than others?

The evidence is quite convincing that regular consumption of processed meats is detrimental to health, including colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In 2015, the World Health Organization announced that processed meat was “carcinogenic to humans,” citing “sufficient evidence” that it caused colorectal cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends eating little, if any, processed meat, and limiting red meat to about three portions per week.

The main issue seems to be the processing itself, rather than what the processed meat is made from. The act of curing or preserving with nitrates and nitrites, which can create carcinogenic chemicals in food, might contribute to the cancer risk.

Other Processed Foods To Cut Down

· Margarine

Some margarines are enhanced with added phytosterols that have been shown to help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However the flip side of margarine is that it also contains trans fat. As part of the manufacturing process , they are hydrogenated in order to make them solid thereby altering their chemical structure making them trans fat.

Swap margarine for butter, even though it is not a perfect swap as it is naturally high in saturated fats as well. The advantage of butter over margarine is that butter is not chemically altered in any way making it a healthier alternative.

· Luncheon meat

These types of meat include hot dog, salami and cured bacon generally found sliced or in a can are all processed food. They are associated with increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, bowel and stomach cancers.

A healthier alternative would be unprocessed chicken and turkey breast slices or naturally smoked salmon and jar tuna. Hard boils eggs are also a healthier alternative.

· Vegan meat alternatives

There has been a real boom in veganism over recent years and there is no doubt that a diet higher in vegetables and plant based products is very good for us. The problem lies in some meat alternative products. In order to get plant based foods to look like a sausage and still have flavor often comes with a lot of industrial processing.

There isn’t a real alternative except for tofu which does not come remotely close to meat taste. If you decide to eliminate meat completely its best to stick to natural alternatives like hearty mushrooms and filling potatoes.

· Commercial granola bars

Granola bars can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Everyone’s impression is that they are healthy, full of nuts , seeds and dried fruit. In fact the natural or home made ones can be a very good source of protein and fibre. However the commercial one , the mass produced ones we get at most supermarkets are very high in sugar , artificial sweeteners and rice syrup. As well as skimmed milk powders and polyols which contain sugar alcohols that can cause digestive problems.

A great alternative would be home made bars. An easy and fast recipe available in the Recipe section.

· Instant noodles

The ingredients consist of dried noodles made from wheat and palm oil and often contain flavor sachets , which include different flavor enhancers and monosodium glutamate(MSG).More over a pot of instant noodles does not provide much nutritional value to your diet.

The best alternative would be to make your own noodle soup by including healthy vegetables and protein to your broth and adding good quality noodles. This option will contain high levels of proteins , vitamins and minerals.

· Cheesy slices

They might look like cheese and melt well on over a burger but processed cheese slices are not a good option to use. They are around 60% cheese flavoring and contain artificial trans fats that derives from chemically altering oils , part of the manufacturing process that allows this product to remain solid at room temperature.

Its best to use good quality cow’s or goat’s cheese and have it sliced. Instead of using processed pre-sliced cheese.

· Microwave popcorn

Not many are aware that microwave popcorn is a processed food containing palm oil. Which when put in microwave to pop increases trans fat. Some brands also have added sugar and high levels of salt.

The healthier alternative is to make pop corn the old- fashioned way. Let it pop in a pan with good quality oil , or in a popcorn air machine.

· Shop bought cakes

Shop bought pre packed cakes are effectively an ultra processed food . They are very high in calories and , saturated fats and contain artificial trans fats as well as refined sugars and glucose syrup.

The healthiest sweet alternative is a 75% cocoa or higher dark chocolate. In fact not only it can be a satisfying alternative but it is also a good source of iron, magnesium and fibre. It is also packed with antioxidants and polyphenols.

· Crisps and other savory packet snacks

The oils often used in making crisps such as sunflower oil are very high in omega 6 and while this essential fatty acid is needed in our diet , too much of it can increase inflammation in the body which in turn contributes to health issues.

The healthier alternative would be air popped popcorn or homemade roast potato circles or wedges. The latter can be very filling , satisfying and packed with healthy nutrients like vitamins A, B and C.

· Fizzy Drinks

Fizzy drinks offer no nutritional benefits , in fact contribute to weight gain , non alcoholic liver disease and high sugar related health issues.

A tasty alternative to fizzy drinks are fruit and herbs infused sparking water. Adding strawberries , oranges , limes , apples and herbs to sparkling or still water can make a refreshing , delicious drink. Much healthier option to the high sugar , high calorie drink.

Many flavored water ideas are available in our Recipe section.

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