Pepperoni pizza, a ham and cheese sandwich or bacon-wrapped anything—Canadians love their processed meats and many consume them on a daily basis. Cured meats had their rightful place in the world diet until about a century ago when refrigerators became commonplace. Before that, most people relied on curing meats to avoid spoilage due to large volumes from hunting or slaughtering farm animals. But now we have refrigerators and purchase meat frequently. Also most people don’t hunt or slaughter animals. So do we still need to cure and process meats when we can easily eat it fresh or keep it frozen?

Recently the World Health Organization proclaimed processed deli meats a carcinogen (meaning cancer-causing), along the lines of tobacco. They are highly linked to colorectal cancer, with daily consumption of a 50 gram serving increasing risk by 18%.

The reason for this is not fully understood as of yet, but it likely concerns preservatives. In the old days salt was used to preserve meat. Today industry uses sodium nitrites, nitrates and other chemicals to preserve and prepare meat.

How do you cut out these foods if they are a staple in your diet? Well, it’s not necessarily about abandoning bacon forever—it’s about moderation. Bacon is not an everyday food, and it’s not even a Sunday thing. It should be a holiday breakfast item, consumed a few times a year. And if you’re not buying it very often, you can afford to buy a higher quality, European-style cured meat like you’d find on the charcuterie platter at a nice restaurant.

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Here are a few suggestions to replace the processed deli meats in your diet:

  • Opt for canned fish (preferably without salt or BPA added) or leftover roasted chicken or turkey in your sandwiches. Go ahead and add in a bit of mayo or ideally use avocado for creaminess.
  • Eggs are enough protein during brunch. Make a stunning vegetable side dish like roasted roots or stuffed tomatoes or sautéed greens.
  • Even veggie pizza is a delicious treat and most of us pile on way too many toppings anyway. True pizza should be pure with just one to two toppings after the sauce and cheese. Think wild mushrooms or experiment with other amazing veggies, like thinly sliced zucchini or potatoes.
  • Stick to the boiled eggs and cheese when ordering or making Cobb or Chef salads. Opt out of ham or bacon
  • Save hot dogs for the occasional campfire or summer barbecue. Or look for a butcher-made sausage that is fresh and without preservatives.

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