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What's the Definition of Processed Meat?

The reason that it’s hard to find a hard and fast definition for processed meat is that there isn’t one. Nutrition Diva makes sense of the madness. 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #383

Catherine writes:

“We all know that processed meats are not good for us, but what is the definition of processed meat? Is fresh sausage from the butcher with no added chemicals processed? How about the organic lunch meats that have no added preservatives? What about local bacon with no added nitrites or nitrates?”

Catherine is not alone in her confusion about processed meat. This is always a hot topic among those who do my 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade™ program, for example. The daily quiz that we use in that program asks (among other things) whether you ate any cured meats before giving you a nutrition grade for the day. Many people hope that buying “uncured” bacon or hot dogs gets them off the hook on that question.

Today, we’re going to clear up the confusion once and for all.

What is the Definition of Processed Meat?

The reason that it’s hard to find a hard and fast definition for processed meat is that there isn’t one. This term is defined a little differently by everyone. The American Institute for Cancer Research defines processed meat as “meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives.”

The World Health Organization has a slightly broader definition: "meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation."

The FAO divides processed meats into six different categories, most of which include some things that would meet the AICR definition and other things that wouldn’t.

And for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), cured meats such as ham and bacon are put in one category and processed meats, which include frankfurters, sausage, and luncheon meats (made from meat or poultry)” in another.

No wonder we’re all confused!

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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