You Should Think Twice About Microwaving Processed Meats

Like it or not, it's time to face facts. Processed foods just aren't good for you. As much as you might enjoy snacking on chips, eating a hot dog at a barbecue, or chowing down on a stick of beef jerky on a road trip, these foods simply are not part of a healthy diet. Heavily processed foods in general tend to contain a lot of extra fat, sugar, salt, and unhealthy additives that can lead to a number of health issues. But what exactly constitutes processed food?

According to the NHS, processed food is "any food that has been altered in some way during preparation." While this can include just about any type of prep work, even minor changes like washing, cutting, and baking food, when most people talk about processed food, they are really referring to the kind of heavily processed, packaged food that includes a lot of additives, like the previously mentioned sugar, salt, and fat. Ready-to-eat foods like crackers, chips, and cookies, as well as frozen and premade heat-and-serve meals, are heavily processed, and likely the most unhealthy choices for your diet, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Processed meat contains cancer causing compounds

Processed meat, in particular, can also contain a high amount of additives that can be harmful to your health. Experts recommend against eating a diet high in overly processed meat, such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages, and other types of cured or smoked meat and jerky, because they have been linked to a number of negative health outcomes. To begin with, processed meat contains a very high amount of sodium, which helps to preserve the meat but has been shown to cause hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer (per Healthline).

But not only does processed meat contains a ton of added salt, but it also has a number of other additives that are downright carcinogenic. According to the Cancer Council, eating processed meat has been shown to increase one's risk of cancer, particularly of the bowel and stomach. Healthline reports that this is largely due to an ingredient called sodium nitrite, which is added to the meat to help preserve its color and flavor. When it's broken down it contains cancer-causing compounds. Furthermore, smoked meat also contains high amounts of a substance called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs. These PAHs, which are formed when meat is charred or cooked over an open fire, have also been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer.

Microwaving processed meat can worsen its effects on your health

With all of that in mind, it is probably safe to say that the amount of processed meat one eats should be limited, if not eliminated. The Cancer Council recommends substituting red and processed meat for healthier alternatives like chicken, turkey, fish, or lentils. And while it might not be realistic for everyone to avoid eating processed meat entirely for the rest of their lives, being mindful of the way you prepare processed meat can help lessen some of the food's negative impacts.

Studies have shown that microwaving processed meat can worsen its effect on one's health by increasing the amount of cholesterol oxidation products, or COPs, in the food. The radiation from the microwave causes the meat's preservatives to oxidize, forming COPs that have been shown to increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. According to a study published in Lipids in Health and Disease, "microwaving and oven grilling resulted in higher production of COPs in processed meat as compared with other cooking methods." Therefore, if you absolutely must prepare ham or sausages for your next gathering, it is probably best to avoid the microwave and prepare these processed meats in the oven or on the stove.