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I talked more about why I choose to rarely buy deli meat in Part I of this post.
Is it Just the Nitrates?
A lot of people ask me if it’s the nitrates that cause cancer. According to the report, they do not fully understand how processed meats cause cancer yet. They suspect it is due to several things:
Heating meat forms the following chemicals (known or suspected to be carcinogenic):
- Heterocyclic aromatic amines
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
Processing meat forms the following chemicals
- N-nitroso compounds (including, but not limited to added nitrate and nitrite)
- Polysyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
So, yes, it is a great idea to get nitrate or nitrite-free processed meats if/when you choose to purchase them. It’s also a good idea to get uncured meats. And also a good idea to get non-red meat processed meats such as fish and poultry.
Doing those things is a good idea, but does not change the fact that there still may be compounds in the food that are or may be carcinogenic. The report did not look at how differently processed meats (nitrate-free, free-range, grass-fed, uncured) could have less or greater effect.
A lot to think about. Maybe you feel good that you already don’t eat a lot of processed meats. Maybe you feel panicked, because this is the ONLY food your kid will eat. Maybe you don’t care.
All valid feelings. Everyone has different positions on this. I know a lot of people who eat processed meats all the time. I don’t judge. It’s truly your call. I have zero way of telling if processed meats will give YOU cancer. There is no way to tell that. No amount of research can tell you that.
So, deep breaths for everyone.
Let’s talk about what makes sense for “most” people. I say “most,” because there are always exceptions.
Can we add more veggies?
Can we add more fruits?
Can we add more beans, peas, and lentils for protein?
Can we use unprocessed meats like poultry and fish when we eat animal protein?
All these things have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer for people. If you need ideas for fruits and veggies to add into your diet, I have a free veggie exposure shopping list that I use.
Can you reduce the amount of processed meats or red meat you serve?
If You Want to Make a Change (with Sandwich Ideas)
We used to eat deli meat quite a bit when we first got married. I slowly weaned us down and found different sandwiches to serve instead. Now we don’t rely on processed meat as part of our diet. We enjoy on occasion, but otherwise, it’s not much a part of home cooking for me. That’s the balance I found that works for me. Every person has their own priorities and balance that they find that works for them.
If you want to reduce your processed meat consumption…
First, think about where you are. Every day? Several times a week? Now and then? Are you happy with that? Where do you want to be in the future?
How much emotional and time energy do you have to put toward this? Is it a priority for you right now?
How extreme do you want to be? Do you want to be vegetarian or have more flexibility in social situations?
Does anyone in your family have medical needs that are helped by meat consumption? Anemia? Diabetes? Extreme picky eating with meat being a preferred food? Sensory processing disorder with meat being a preferred food? Other things? Can you switch from processed to unprocessed?
If picky eating is your issue, I have a free guide, From Picky to Positive, that gives strategies for helping kids try new foods.
If you’re looking for vegetarian sandwich ideas, I have a short post with ideas for how to build vegetarian and non-processed meat sandwiches.
If you still have more questions about the WHO report, they have a Q&A page that you may find helpful.