Hold the Hot Dogs?

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, R.D.

New and emerging research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that the daily consumption of less than two ounces of processed meat (prepared by smoking, curing, salting or adding other chemical preservatives) can significantly increase heart disease risk. Obviously, the extra sodium in processed meat (as well as the other preservatives) isn’t healthy for your heart, so as with all the food you eat, watch the sodium content of the processed meats you consume and make sure you don’t exceed your daily recommended allowance, which is about 2,400 mg based on a 2,000 calorie diet. That seems to put foods like bacon, deli meat, hot dogs, and beef sausage on the cutting block, right? Not so fast. As with everything, it’s all about moderation.

Yes, in general, the less your food (of any kind, not just meat) has been processed, the better. Whole grains, fruits, and meats retain more nutrients and contain less junk. And yes, according to the study findings, eating processed food every single day is not healthy. But following a heart-healthier diet doesn’t—and shouldn’t—mean you have to absolutely deprive yourself of foods you love.

In other words, a ham sandwich every now and then isn’t the worst you can do. In fact, the researchers did note that conservative consumption of processed meat—one small serving per week or less—doesn’t add much to heart disease risk. That small serving is defined as about 2 ounces—or one hot dog or a couple slices of deli meat.

So if you’re currently eating processed meats more than a few times a month, you’ll do right by your health to cut back. Otherwise, don’t stress about treating yourself to a bite of prosciutto occasionally. Personally, I don’t think I could ever give up bacon, but instead of cooking a plateful for weekend brunch, I crumble a couple slices over a pan of sautéed home fries to share with a crowd. I get the flavor and none of the guilt!


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