"When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed meats and processed meats eaten in the U.S., we found that they contained similar amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol," Micha said. "In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, four times higher amounts of sodium and two times higher amounts of nitrate preservatives."
This suggests that salt and other preservatives, rather than fats, probably explain the higher risk for heart attacks and diabetes seen with processed meats, Micha said.
"Health effects of unprocessed red meats and processed meats should be separately considered," she said. "More research is needed into which factors in meats -- especially salt or other preservatives -- are most important for health effects."
Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian, clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Fairfield, Conn., said that "scientists are looking into why processed meats are so hazardous to our health."
"They may never know the exact reason, but we do know that people should limit their consumption of foods such as bacon, hot dogs, salami and pepperoni to reduce the risk of chronic diseases," Heller said.
"In addition, studies show that eating unprocessed red meat does increase the risk for disease as well," she said. "A study of over 500,000 people found that people who ate the most both red and processed meats had a higher risk of mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease than those who ate lesser amounts of these foods."
Both red and processed meat and other foods, such as butter and cheese, that are high in saturated fat have been linked to chronic disease, Heller said, adding that people should limit consumption of them as well.
"Going low- or no-fat with dairy products helps lower our intake of saturated fat," she said. "Choosing healthy protein sources -- such as white-meat poultry, low-mercury fish, soy, nuts an
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