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The Heart Beat

with James Beckerman, MD, FACC

Heart disease can be prevented! Your personal choices have a big impact on your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Dr. James Beckerman is here to provide insights into how making small, livable lifestyle changes can have a real impact on your heart health.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Would You Like Nitrates With That?

This is the question that we need to start asking ourselves when we walk through the grocery aisle, order in a restaurant, and particularly when we feed our children. More data emerges every day
 which challenges our previous notions of the relative significance of
 particular fats or micro nutrients. Doctors and nutritionists are
 focusing more on how our food is made.

Processed food contains high
 amounts of salt, nitrates and other chemicals used as preservatives
 and flavor enhancers – most of which the typical person knows little
 or nothing about.

While this is old news, recent data is emerging that suggests that the 
processing may pose more of a health risk than previously recognized. A few months ago, I blogged about a study that suggested
 that saturated fat intake was not clearly associated with future risk 
of heart disease – this research contradicts some of our commonly
 shared recommendations, and has forced the American Heart Association
 and other organizations to seriously rethink not only our
 recommendations, but how we come to arrive at them. Common wisdom is 
taking an appropriate backseat to research.

So I was excited to read about a more recent study which tries to 
tease apart why foods high in saturated fat would appear to be 
associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Harvard 
researchers examined the results of 20 different studies involving 
1.2 million people. They found that eating unprocessed meat (think
 steak or unprocessed pork or lamb) was not associated with any
 increased risk of heart disease, but eating processed meats (like cold 
cuts, sausage and bacon) was linked to a 42% increased risk of heart
 disease and 19% increased risk of diabetes. They specifically looked
 at the saturated fat content between the unprocessed and processed meats, and didn’t find much of a difference.

But nitrates and salt might account for some of the disparity. All it took was a typical
 serving a day (like a hot dog, or some sliced cold cuts in a sandwich)
 to reach this risk. When you consider the number of people who have
 bacon for breakfast most days of the week or have a ham sandwich for 
lunch every day, the impact of processing is impressive. The authors
 of the study also make the point that unprocessed meat may also have 
other noncardiac health risks, such as colorectal cancer and other
 malignancies.

Many Americans tend to accept processing, antibiotics and hormones in
 their food without much of a fight – these additives may make our food
 more flavorful, and likely cheaper as well. But it seems as though
 processing may come at a price – an increased risk of heart disease. You can take some steps to reduce your risk by avoiding bacon,
 sausage and deli meats, and try to focus on eating real food.

Are you concerned about how eating processed foods affects your health? Comment on this post on the Heart Disease Community.

Posted by: James Beckerman, MD, FACC at 7:09 am

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