You are what you eat
In this diet-crazed world we live in, it can be hard to find healthy options. Every time we turn around, someone is telling us about the newest way to lose weight or the next super fruit that will cure all of your ailments. And the next day, they tell us they were wrong and now have something better. Even Snapple, who claimed to make their famous tea product from "the best stuff on earth," has now found "better stuff." In reality, they didn't find "better stuff" — they decided to use less processed ingredients and more natural ones. That should be a lesson to us all: The more natural something is, the better it will be. That goes for everything, including meat. So why does America continue to eat the meat-like product called luncheon meat?
Luncheon meats, also known as cold cuts and deli meats, consist of things we know as turkey, ham, roast beef, bologna, salami and more. These meats are different from regular meats because they have been processed with food additives to preserve the shelf life. These additives, known as nitrites and nitrite salts, allow these lunch meats to keep their distinct pink color and savory taste that consumers are used to. These additives also prevent against deadly food-borne illnesses from forming on the meat, most namely botulism. As helpful as these additives are, they can do great harm to the human body in two ways. Nitrites are salts, and they add a lot of sodium into the diet. A high-sodium diet can lead to hypertension — or high blood pressure — which is a major contributing factor to heart disease. Second, and more importantly, these nitrites combine with compounds in your stomach acids to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. These compounds have been linked to stomach, esophageal, liver cancers and many more. A survey by the National Cancer Institute suggests that those who ate the most red and processed meats had heightened risks of developing any stage of prostate cancer, or advanced cancer in particular, according to a Nov. 5 Reuters article.
The second thing you should know about lunch meat is the second way the government has approved to process these meats. In April 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved lunch meats to be sprayed with a combination of six live viruses to prevent against food-borne bacteria. That's right, not only is the American consumer eating meat that has the potential to cause cancer, they are now ingesting live viruses at the same time. Yes, the viruses prevent against deadly bacteria, but do we really want to eat those either?
The third and most important fact that you should know about luncheon meats is that they can be made from mechanically separated meat. Now this may not sound gross, but the next time you have a second, Google image search it. Mechanically separated meat is meat separated from the animal bone by a machine instead of a butcher. In this process, the meat is shredded into a pink slurry, which has the appearance of strawberry frozen yogurt. Also there is a certain amount of bone and connective tissue allowed to be in this flowing meat-like substance.
All of these things are completely government regulated and permitted for lunch meats. I tell you these things not to make you lose your appetite, but to make you realize that you may not know the facts about what you eat. I encourage you to read all of the ingredients for the food you eat and look up the facts about how these things are made. More importantly, I encourage you to only eat foods that you can understand how they are made without an extensive lesson. We read countless articles and do the research on everything else in our lives, but not the food that we eat, the food we put into our body. Why is your car, home, television or cell phone more important than your body? So the next time you are looking for a healthy lunch, I hope you will stay away from the deli line, and maybe put a little more thought into how you are going to fuel your body.
Anna Norcia is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior majoring in nutritional sciences. Her column, "Just the Facts", runs on alternate Mondays.