No Surprise Here: Eating Too Much Processed Meat Is Bad for Your Heart Health

Elizabeth Millard
·2 min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
  • Consuming a little over five ounces of processed meat per week may put you at greater risk for heart disease and early death, according to new research.

  • While jerky and deli meat sandwiches (like ham and cheese) are popular fuel for long rides, raisins, dates, boiled potatoes, and fruit are healthier options that will still give you the energy to keep going.

You’re prepping for a long ride and getting that bag of snacks ready, and you’re considering beef jerky, energy gels, a ham and cheese sandwich, bananas, and peanut butter. But should any of these fuel choices be up for reconsideration?

According to a new study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you may want to cut back on the jerky and deli meat.

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Researchers looked at data compiled from more than 134,000 people in 21 countries who tracked their meat consumption and cardiovascular illness for more than a decade. They found that consuming 150 grams or more—a little over five ounces—of processed meat per week was associated with a 46 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 51 percent higher risk of early death than those who ate no processed meat. That association wasn’t present with unprocessed red meat or poultry.

One limitation with this study is that researchers did not look at what those with low processed meat consumption ate instead. It’s possible that their better health outcome might be from loading up on vegetables and whole grains in addition to eating processed meat rather than simply cutting it out completely.

That said, do these results mean you can never bite into a Slim Jim again? Like so many food choices, this one benefits from limitation over outright restriction, Wisconsin-based dietitian Kara Hoerr, R.D., told Bicycling.

“Processed meats can be enjoyed in moderation, but when possible, we need to aim for getting most of our nutrition from whole foods, which includes unprocessed meats,” she said.

In terms of long rides or training, they’re not the best choice anyway. The additives, like a high amount of salt, can be problematic for staying hydrated. But Hoerr said there are processed foods that can be very beneficial.

“The energy gels, bars, and other snacks you pack can be a convenient and fast way to help you refuel—a critical piece in being able to stay on top of your nutrition,” she said. “The quick carbohydrates are needed to replenish your glycogen stores and provide energy for your working muscles.”

If you want to limit processed or packaged foods even when training, Hoerr suggested raisins, dates, boiled potatoes, and fruit. These can all give you that glycogen reset—and maybe save the jerky for your next road trip.

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