Most lifters understand that we need to take in plenty of protein in order to build bigger muscles, and we’re always looking for new and affordable sources. One of the most affordable and available protein sources is processed meat — like lunch meat — but there is plenty of grumbling in the media about how bad processed meat is for you.
One of the potential problems with processed meats is the chemicals that are used in, or produced by, that processing.
So is processed meat bad for you or dangerous and what that might mean for your health.
What Are Processed Meats?
Processed meats include any sort of animal that has been chemically modified to help preserve freshness and give it a longer shelf life. This includes salting, curing, grilling, and other chemical processes.
This may not sound too bad, but grilling and other high-heat methods produce carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, that have been linked to various forms of cancer.
What’s more, the more heavily processed meats get the way they are through the use of specific chemicals, like sodium nitrite. While sodium nitrite may not be so bad in its own right, it forms various nitrosamine compounds during digestion, and that can be bad news for your health.
In particular, nitrosamines tend to be volatile in that they form free radicals easily, and you may know that free radicals can cause all sorts of health problems. That’s the reason why antioxidants are important — to neutralize free radicals.
And free radical formation may be just one of the mechanisms that nitrosamines undergo in our bodies.
In fact, a 2006 study found that processed meats may contribute to stomach cancer in humans, and the scientists speculate that the main culprit could be the nitrites contained in the meats.
What’s more, many processed meats contain N-nitrosodimethylamine, which itself is already a nitrosamine.
What Should You Do?
While processed meats may be a decent source of protein, and while the evidence that they cause any specific health problem is incomplete at this point, they’re not a great choice if you’re trying to maintain or improve your health.
With so many different studies pointing to so many different potential problems, processed meats aren’t worth the risk in general. Besides, do you really think that all those chemicals can do you any good?
There may be exceptions — you had to skip one meal and your only choice at the next is lunch meat — but for the most part, you should avoid processed meats.