What Are the Dangers of Eating Smoked Meat?

Smoked meats can include foods like sausages, bacon, ham and some types of jerky. Though smoked foods may be tasty, they can pose a number of serious health risks -- including gastrointestinal infection, diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. If you have a family history of these conditions, you may be even more likely to develop them if you include smoked meats in your diet regularly. Be sure to consider the implications of smoked meats before adding them to your meals.

A piece of smoked bacon. (Image: veou/iStock/Getty Images)

Increased Risk of Cancer

People who eat a lot of smoked meat may be more likely to develop prostate, colon, rectal and pancreatic cancer, the National Cancer Institute notes. The institute suggests that the higher rate of cancer diagnoses in people who eat smoked meats frequently may be related to their consumption of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These dangerous chemicals are formed when fats and other juices from meat drip over an open fire, as they do during the smoking process.

Increased Risk of Gastrointestinal Infection

Gastrointestinal infection may also occur as a result of a diet high in smoked meat. While a number of bacterial conditions can occur as a result of eating smoked meats, Listeria monocytogenes infections are especially common. Listeria monocytogenes can cause loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and respiratory distress. E.coli contaminations, which can result in bloody diarrhea, can occur during processing or if food handlers don't practice proper hygiene. If you suspect you may be experiencing one of these conditions, seek immediate medical attention.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease

As with other high-sodium foods, smoked meats can lead to increases in blood pressure levels. Over time, people with high blood pressure -- or hypertension -- may be at risk for the development of certain types of heart disease. Most healthy adults should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day to maintain optimal health, says the American Heart Association. Read the labels on smoked meats to assess their sodium content before incorporating them in your diet.

Increased Risk of Diabetes

The Harvard Medical School notes that eating smoked meat is strongly linked to the development of diabetes. In fact, researchers have found that each serving of smoked meat consumed per day can result in an increased risk of diabetes of as much as 19 percent. This correlation appears to be related both to the high amounts of sodium in most smoked meat and to nonsalt preservatives. If you have a family history of diabetes, you may also be more likely to develop the condition than people who don't.

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