Is Smoked Meat Bad for Health?

Indulging in smoked pork or beef can be tempting; the rich, woodsy flavor the smoke imparts on meat is hard to beat. While eating these foods occasionally is likely safe, making them a regular part of your diet may have some consequences on your future health. In fact, it may be the smoking process that is more hazardous to your health than the meat itself.

Montreal smoked meat sandwich (Image: David Chin/iStock/Getty Images)

Sodium

Smoked meats often contain a considerable amount of sodium. Rubs added to meat, which provide flavor and help develop a crust, often use salt as a central ingredient. In addition, some meats are salt-cured prior to being smoked. This added salt can use up a sizable chunk of your daily intake of sodium, which should be no more than 2,300 mg. Consuming too much sodium puts you at risk for developing high blood pressure, a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Heart and Diabetes Risks

The high sodium content is one of the main culprits behind health risks associated with smoked meats. A September 2010 report from the the Harvard Family Health Guide revealed that eating such meats increased the likelihood of developing both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Harvard researchers found that increased risk was not associated with eating fresh red meat but instead with eating smoked or other processed meats. They reviewed multiple studies, gathering data on over one million individuals. Every daily serving of these meats increased the chances of developing diabetes by 19 percent. Heart disease risk jumped 42 percent.

Carcinogens

Carcinogens, chemicals that can cause cancer, are another concern when it comes to eating smoked meat. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are formed when fat from meat drips onto open flame, such as during grilling. PAHs can also develop during the smoking process. PAHs may play a role in the risk for developing pancreatic, colorectal and prostate cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. The NCI cautions, however, that more research is needed in this area. PAHs have been found to cause cancer in animals, but it's difficult to assess these chemicals' effect on humans.

Breast Cancer

One study, published in May 2007 in the journal "Epidemiology," revealed a connection between smoked meats and breast cancer. Dr. Susan E. Steck and her co-researchers found that postmenopausal women who consumed grilled or smoked meats more than once weekly during their lifetime had a 47 percent greater breast cancer risk in comparison to women who ate these foods once a week or less. Smoked or grilled poultry and fish did not increase breast cancer risk, according to the study's findings.

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