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Heart Health

Study Shows Eating Too Much Processed Meat Increases Heart Disease Risk

The 10-year study analyzed outcomes for more than 134,000 participants.

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Love to throw a little sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto, or other processed meat into your meals? While they all might taste absolutely delicious, it could be time to cut your intake. Recent research shows that consuming too much processed meat negatively impacts cardiovascular health.

According to a 2021 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating even a little bit of processed meat each week can cause an uptick in your risk of heart disease. The study took place over the course of 10 years and analyzed the diets of more than 134,000 participants from 21 countries. Researchers looked specifically at the cardiovascular health of those subjects and their meat intake.

Incorporating all of the data, they found that people who had as few as five ounces of processed meat every week — the equivalent of two sausages — increased their risk of heart disease by 46 percent. Moreover, higher processed meat consumption, which included anything salted or cured, was also linked to increased risk of death in general by 51 percent.

Interestingly, scientists also found that unprocessed forms of meat, such as poultry, beef, and pork, had a neutral impact on people’s health. That doesn’t mean that you can eat them in excess, however; rather, it means that the same drastic health effects as processed meat weren’t observed.

The study’s authors believe the strain processed meats put on the heart is due mostly to their high quantities of salt and preservatives (which are added in order to increase their shelf life). In particular, long-term excess sodium has been linked to heart disease, weight gain, and other health complications over time.

Plant-based diets are a smart alternative, but if you’re a meat lover who still wants to indulge a little bit every week, it’s best to choose unprocessed meats and fish over sausage and pepperoni. That said, a small bit of processed meat every now and then is probably okay. As always, check with your doctor if you have concerns or unique risk factors.

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