Myth: Processed Meat Has No Place in a Healthy Diet

Fact:

Processed meat can play a very helpful role in a healthy, balanced diet. Meat is a nutrient dense food that offers complete protein with all the amino acids your body needs, a unique source of Vitamin B12 and a strong source of important minerals like iron, zinc and niacin. Preparing meat products in a plant by seasoning and cooking them can make them more delicious and convenient for consumers – and as a result, more accessible.

Some of the healthiest populations around the world regularly consume processed meats as part of their diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) looked at followers of the Mediterranean diet, which to many is considered the gold standard healthy diet, and found that followers eat twice as much processed meat as those who follow the typical USDA food pattern.1 This shows that meats like ham, salami and sausage can easily be a beneficial part of a healthy balanced diet.

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All meat must be “processed” in some way before we eat it. Products can prepared in a variety of ways like chopping, slicing, seasoning, marinating, or cooking at a plant -- or at home. Hamburger is ground and formed into patties. Other meats like hot dogs, bologna or bacon have ingredients added to them to create particular tastes and characteristics prior to being cooked. Just because preparation is done in a plant instead of a home kitchen doesn’t somehow make then less healthy. And the great nutrition meat provides remains the same whether the meat is sold prepared in a store or as a single ingredient fresh product in the meat case.

Any ingredients used in meat products are approved by the USDA and FDA as safe. Every package is required to list the ingredients in a product so consumers know exactly what’s in the product. Meat companies have also developed a wide range of nutrition formulations, so if you want a product that is lower in sodium or fat, you can find those on store shelves. The nutrition information is included on the nutrition facts panel and sometimes called out in a special claim such as “low sodium”.

The key to good nutrition is moderation. Too much of anything is not good for you. Eat a range of foods including meats, vegetables, fruits and whole grains for optimal nutrition.

  1. USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern