Q. Why do you say “deli turkey” is a processed meat and should be limited or avoided? I buy oven roasted, no nitrate sliced turkey.


A. Fang Fang Zhang, PhD, an associate professor at the Friedman School who specializes in cancer epidemiology, answers: “Processed meat is any meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked, or undergone other processes for preservation or to enhance flavor. The evidence that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer is strong enough that the World Health Organization has declared processed meat a carcinogen (something that causes cancer).

“While red meat products such as hot dogs, sausages, ham, bacon, and jerky are the most common types of processed meats, poultry can be processed as well. If you look at the label of even ‘oven roasted’ sliced turkey, you’re likely to see ingredients such as salt, sodium chloride, sodium phosphate, or potassium chloride. These are used to salt meats—meaning the turkey is processed. There is no way for researchers to determine if processed poultry is somehow less risky than processed red meat, so it seems wise to limit or avoid both.

“Experts think part of the link between processed meats and cancer may be related to the presence of nitrates used to cure meat. (Nitrates can be converted in the body to nitrites, which in turn can become potentially cancer-causing nitrosamines.) But the ‘no nitrates added’ label is misleading. In response to consumer concerns about nitrates, many manufacturers started using celery powder, celery juice, or other natural sources instead of synthetic sodium nitrite. Unfortunately, meats cured with these natural substitutes end up containing just as much nitrate and nitrite as traditionally cured meats—and likely pose the same health risks.”


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