The Collison Newsletter May 2015




Part of the recommended diet for health and disease prevention is that it should be "unprocessed and unrefined". In other words, processed and refined foods should be avoided.

The definition of what constitutes a processed food can vary slightly, but it usually refers to foods that are packaged in boxes, cans, bottles or bags. These foods need to be processed extensively so that they can still be edible after a considerable time (shelf-life).

One way of assessing the extent of the processing is to compare how it compares to its original (as found in nature) state. In general terms, the more different it is to the natural state, the less good it is for you. For example, compare white sugar to the sugar cane plant.

In addition to going through many complex processing steps, processed foods often contain additives, artificial flavourings, preservatives and a host of other chemical ingredients. So another way of determining whether a food is processed, and the degree of processing, is by looking at the ingredient list. The longer the ingredient list, the more processed the food is likely to be.

The Spectrum of Processed Foods

But what does the word "processed" really mean? There is a spectrum of 'processed foods':

Unprocessed - in their natural state. Raw fruits and vegetables are clearly unprocessed. If the raw food is cooked (boiling, steaming baking etc), in one sense it is processed, but is still generally regarded as 'unprocessed'.

Minimally processed, such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts. These are essentially pre-prepared for convenience.

Foods processed at their peak, so as to lock in nutritional quality and freshness. These include canned beans, tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables and canned tuna.

Foods with ingredients added for flavour and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colours and preservatives .... and all the food additives by code numbers).

Ready-to-eat foods such as potato chips (especially flavoured), deli meats etc.

The most heavily processed foods include some of the processed meats (salami, frankfurters etc) and frozen and pre-made meals such as microwaved dinners.

Read the ingredients list and review the nutrition facts panel. My January 2007 newsletter Read the Label sets out just how processed some foods can be.

What does it mean when we say "Processed Meats"?

When viewing meat products of various size, shape and colour in butcher shops or meat sections of supermarkets, there appears to be a great variety of such products with different taste characteristics.

At a closer look, however, it turns out that many of the different products with different product names have great similarities. Based on the processing technologies used and taking into account the treatment of the raw materials and the individual processing steps, it is possible to categorise processed meat products into six broad groups. (See

Fresh processed meat products: hamburgers, sausages, kebab, chicken nuggets. These are meat mixes composed of comminuted (pulverised, or chopped into small parts) muscle meat with varying quantities of animal fat. These products are salted only, curing is not practiced. Non-meat ingredients are added in smaller quantities for improvement of flavour and binding. All meat and non-meat ingredients are added fresh (raw). Heat treatment (frying, cooking) is applied immediately prior to consumption to make the products palatable.

Cured meat pieces: raw cured beef, raw ham, cooked beef, cooked ham, reconstituted products and bacon. These products have entire pieces of muscle meat and reconstituted products. There are two groups:

Cured-raw meats, which do not undergo any heat treatment during their manufacture. They undergo a processing period which comprises curing, fermentation and ripening in controlled climatised conditions, which makes the products palatable.

Cured-cooked meats. After the curing process of the raw muscle meat, these always undergo heat treatment to achieve desired palatability.

Raw-cooked products: frankfurter and meat loaf. The product components (muscle meat, fat and non-meat ingredients) are processed raw (uncooked) by comminuting and mixing. The resultant viscous mix/batter is portioned, and then submitted to heat treatment, ie "cooked".

Pre-cooked-cooked products: Liver pate/sausage, blood sausage and corned beef. These products contain mixes of lower-grade muscle trimmings, fatty tissues, head meat, animal feet and skin, blood, liver and other edible slaughter by-products. There are two heat treatments, the pre-cooking of the raw meat materials and then the cooking of the finished product mix at the end of the processing stage.

Raw-fermented sausages: salami and some traditional Asian products. These are uncooked meat products, and consist of mixtures of lean meats and fatty tissues combined with salts, nitrite (curing agent), sugars and spices and other non-meat ingredients filled into casings. They receive their characteristic properties (flavour, firm texture, red colouring) through fermentation processes.

Dried meat: dried meat strips or flat pieces (biltong, beef jerky etc). These are the result of the simple dehydration, or drying, of lean meat in natural conditions or in an artificially created environment.

Processed Meat Consumption and Mortality

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition looked at meat consumption (red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption) and mortality. Their report on the findings was published by Dr Sabine Rohrmann and colleagues in the BioMedCentral Medicine Journal, 2013, 11:16. Included in the analysis were 448,568 men and women without prevalent cancer, stroke, or myocardial infarction, with complete information on diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, who were between 35 and 59 years old at baseline. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to examine the association of meat consumption with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

The results: a high consumption of red meat was related to higher all-cause mortality , and the association was stronger for processed meat ..

The conclusions: "The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer."

The following is the position statement from the Cancer Council of Australia about meat and Cancer prevention (

"The term 'meat' encompasses a variety of foods, including unprocessed red meat (beef, veal, pork and lamb), processed meat, poultry and fish. Processed meat differs from unprocessed red meat in that it may be cured with addition of preservatives and/or other additives.

Despite the concerns about meat and cancer, Cancer Council recognises that lean red meat is an important contributor to dietary iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein in the Australian diet. Cancer Council recommends:

Moderate consumption of unprocessed lean red meat. A moderate amount of meat is 65-100 g of cooked red meat, 3-4 times per week;

Limiting or avoiding processed meats such as sausages, frankfurter, salami, bacon and ham, which are high in fat and salt;

Limiting consumption of burnt or charred meat; and

Choosing lean cuts of meat and chicken, and eating more fish and plenty of plant based foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals."


For health and disease prevention ... avoid processed and refined foods. The choice is yours.


*Copyright 2015: The Huntly Centre.

Disclaimer: All material in the website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.



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