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Homicide Ham? Processed Meat Linked to Cancer, Heart Disease, Premature Death

Update Date: Mar 07, 2013 01:40 PM EST

Everyone knows that bacon, ham and sausages aren't exactly health food. However, a recent study has outlined just how dangerous these and other processed meats are. The study found that eating processed meat significantly raises the risk of premature death, certain types of cancer and heart disease.

According to the Guardian, the enormous study was conducted by procuring data from 448,568 people in Europe, including in England, Germany and Spain. Many of these participants were tracked from the 1990s until well into the 2000's.

According to NPR, the researchers found that eating 20 grams of processed meat a day raised the risk of heart attacks, stroke and certain types of cancer. In fact, 20 grams is the mere equivalent of eating a thin strip of bacon a day. The largest consumers of processed meat had a 44 percent greater likelihood of dying prematurely of any cause than consumers who ate little processed meat. In fact, high levels of processed meat consumption raised the risk of heart disease by 72 percent and the risk of cancer by 11 percent. In particular, processed meats heightened the risk of bowel cancer; in the United Kingdom, if everyone ate fewer than 10 grams of processed meats a day, there would be 4,100 fewer cases of the disease.

In addition, if everyone limited their intake of processed meats to just 20 grams a day, researchers estimate that three percent of premature deaths could be avoided.

Researchers believe that the correlation can be traced to a number of factors. The salt, smoke and nitrate used to preserve processed meats may increase the risk of certain cancers. Many processed meats are absurdly high in fat as well.

Lifestyle may be linked too. People in the study who ate large amounts of bacon and ham also ate fewer amounts of fruits and vegetables. They were also more likely to smoke and to drink alcohol and less likely to perform vigorous exercise. Researchers tried to account for these factors, but acknowledge that is impossible to entirely unlink them.

However, while researchers suggest that consumers minimize their level of meat intake, they acknowledge that meat carries a load of nutrients and minerals as well. They simply encourage people to limit their intake of processed meats and red meat.

The study was published in the journal BMC Medicine.

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