I love ham sandwiches; really good ham, crusty bread and Dijon mustard. And I love sausage and mash, and really good bacon and eggs. But I don’t eat any of these very much because for years research has suggested that consuming a lot of processed meat is linked with bowel cancer. Today the news came from Scandinavia that a distinct link has been established with pancreatic cancer, a rare but usually fatal cancer. But the difference this time is in the amount consumed. Just the equivalent of one processed sausage a day (50g) can raise the risk by 19%, particularly in men.
Now whilst the consumption of processed meat is also linked to animal fat intake and obesity, the real problem is probably with the use of preservatives called nitrites, which kill harmful bacteria and cause the pink colour of the products. When meat containing sodium nitrite is cured, charred or overcooked, carcinogenic nitrosamines are formed. Interestingly this also applies to dried cured fish, a typical component of the Japanese diet and believed to be a contributory factor in the high numbers of gastic cancer in Japan. On top of all that, high consumption of processed meats by children and young people are also linked with an increase in diseases (COPD). Oh and nitrates may be a migraine trigger too.
So what can we do if we still want to eat all those things. Well, read the labels. Sausages from good butchers commonly contain no nitrites. Good sausages also don’t contain snout, testicles and tail so best to treat yourself! Get your butcher to slice off fresh slices of pork loin to make rashers of bacon. Boil up your own fresh ham. Cooks like Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall often put lists of good, small, farms and food suppliers in the back of their cook books. I particularly like Swaddles
And I am so pleased to see that real genuine Prosciutto di Parma is actually not allowed to contain nitrites, but Parma ham in packets often does, so buy it freshly sliced from your local Italian deli. However eating processed meats now and again is probably not going to do any harm. If you can, drink orange juice or anything with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in it; this seems to reduce the toxicity considerably. Look at your own family history. If these cancers are around don’t do it.
Another quick meat tip. Researchers have known for ages that burned and charred meat is a stomach and bowel cancer risk, due to the formation of carcinogens called heterocyclic amines. Using marinades of wine, rosemary sage, garlic and onion, and putting onion in burgers may reduces these toxic chemicals.