We need to talk about traditional charcuterie (pronounced “shar-ku-trie”) boards since they are all the rage. In case you spend more time off-grid then on (like me), charcuterie is the art of taking cured meats, cheese, artisan breads, crackers, fruit and nuts and creatively displaying them on a board. They are quite popular for date night, get togethers including football parties. but what's lurking in the deli meats is can be a total nightmare.
But first, let me share a story with you. When I was kid, one of my favorite things to eat was a bologna sandwich. It would start with fresh Wonder bread, margarine thickly spread on both sides of the bread, 2 pieces of bologna and 2 slices of Kraft single cheese and iceberg lettuce. I would squish the bread until it was a dense doughy mess, eat it and then wash it down with a glass of cow’s milk. Man, how things have changed! In fact, this memory seems like it is someone else’s memory, it is that foreign to me. I couldn’t imagine eating this way today.
What is so wrong with the way I used to eat? everything! But, first, let me ask you, are you still eating deli meats? What about cured meats? Even the healthy ones? Should you?
Whether it is a charcuterie or a sandwich, let’s explore how eating deli meat, cured meat, bacon, hotdogs and other prepared processed meat may potentially be affecting your health and the ramifications.
Deli meats, sometimes called luncheon meats , cold cuts and cured meats, can have some potential ingredients that can cause problems. When I was growing up, deli meats were meat you got at the deli counter and luncheon meats were what you shopped for in the prepared meats isle of the grocers.
So, what the heck is a cold cut?
Deli meat is what you would get at the deli market. It would be large pieces of meat, individually sliced by the butcher to the specifications of the customer. My mum used to get 100g of shaved black forest ham. Honestly, it was the best tasting ham.
Luncheon meats are sealed prepackaged meats hanging off of a peg in the refrigerated section of the grocers’ store. Cold cuts, are a slang term for the slang term “luncheon meats” (which is the slang term for deli meats). Essentially, they are refrigerated prepackaged luncheon meats. Cold cuts and luncheon meats mean the same thing, it just depends on where you are from.
What is the problem with Deli and luncheon meats?
Whether it is deli, luncheon or cold cuts (and for the rest of this article I will combine the term into deli meats) and cured meats contain some seedy ingredients that seem harmless, however, when they mix with our bodily fluids may be deadly.
It all has to do with how deli meats are cured. Conventional methods use nitrates and nitrites. According to WebMD Nitrate is an inorganic, water-soluble chemical. Your body makes around 62 milligrams (mg) of nitrites a day, but the majority of nitrates come from your diet.
Did you know regularly eating even small amounts of cured processed meats increases cancer and heart disease risk? Maybe you have heard of this in the past. I know I have covered it a time or two in past emails.
So, you upgraded to the healthiest you could find and, guess what? Even healthy, including 'uncured' products have the same effect. How can this be?
According to 2019 JNCI Cancer Spectrum statistics ;
The reason why deli meats including bacon and hotdogs are questionable is because they are loaded with nitrites and nitrates. Nitrites and Nitrates are similar in that these compounds are inorganic composed of nitrogen and oxygen.
Nitrites and nitrates are anti microbial preservatives used to stop the growth of microbes and they also help keep the pinker tones in the meat. There have been numerous studies indicating nitrites and nitrates on their own are safe.
Like all research, it is what I call, “narrowed research” and it is up to the consumer to read the broad scope. Research has indicated that nitrites and nitrates are safe. Indeed, they are. But, the research, which is typical with most research, they look at a very narrow approach. Indeed, these chemicals are safe, however, what happens, when they are ingested? How do they interact in our body? This sometimes is overlooked.
In this instance, when nitrates combine with saliva and stomach acid, the proteins create a compound called nitrosamine which studies show have been linked to causing cancer.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in Atlanta, Georgia, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  released a patient education care instruction sheet “Nitrates/Nitrates Poisoning” looking at nitrites in drinking water reported the following;
“Usually nitrates that enter the body by eating or drinking leave the body without harm. Sometimes, though, conditions such as diarrhea and dehydration (not enough fluids in the body) can make nitrates change to nitrites in greater amounts. These nitrites in the blood cause changes in hemoglobin, or the molecules that help move oxygen in the body. Nitrates can make it so that less oxygen is available for the body to function properly."
When looking at shallow rural domestic wells not tested properly, may cause problems for infants. The same paper states; 
"Infants younger than 4 months of age are the highest risk group for harm from exposure to nitrates."
Infants with diarrhea and vomiting form more nitrites inside the body that place them at higher risk for health effects with or without nitrate exposure.
A pregnant woman and her fetus might be more sensitive to toxicity from nitrites or nitrates at or near the 30th week of pregnancy.”
It is not just rural areas, it is also our municipal tap water. According to
it is also our municipal tap water. According to Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), What Are U.S. Standards and Regulations for Nitrates and Nitrites Exposure?  Looking at recommended limit for nitrates and nitrites in drinking water concluded;
Although we are not talking about nitrites and nitrates in drinking water, could these same concerns spill over into our meats?
An article from THE CONVERSATION, Academic rigor, journalistic flair; “Why nitrates and nitrites in processed meats are harmful – but those in vegetables aren’t”  talks about nitrites and cancer;
“…cancer risk likely comes from when the sodium nitrites react with other molecules in the body. So it isn’t necessarily the nitrates and nitrites themselves that cause health issues – including cancer. Rather, it’s what form they are converted into that can increase risk – and what these converted molecules interact with in our bodies.
The main concern is when sodium nitrite reacts with degraded bits of amino acids – protein fragments our body produces during the digestion of proteins – forming molecules called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). These NOCs have been shown to cause cancer.
Cancer-causing NOCs can form either during the preparation of nitrite-containing processed meats or during their digestion in the gut. This is because both the preparation and digestion of processed meats generate plenty of protein fragments for the nitrites to react with. Research shows that the NOCs already present in the processed meats we eat (known as “preformed NOCs”) are linked with a greater risk of developing rectal cancer than from NOCs that are subsequently formed in the body. By contrast, given that there are far fewer protein fragments in vegetables, these aren’t a significant source of preformed NOCs.
Haem reacts with nitrites, resulting in a molecule called nitrosylated-haem. It’s this molecule – rather than the nitrite itself – that likely reacts with protein fragments to form NOCs.
The reason NOCs cause cancer is because they damage DNA. This is the first step in cancer, which is why NOCs are sometimes referred to as “tumour initiators”. But other agents, called tumour promoters, are then needed to drive the cancer process forwards. Tumour promoters are produced in high amounts when meat is fried. So it may be that processed meats that are fried – such as bacon and sausages – contain more initiators and tumour promoters and may be more of a cancer risk than non-fried types such as hams."
If you are thinking…well, Karen, there are nitrites in our veggies, how come they do not affect us?
Approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption. we, along with our saliva and bacteria also produce nitrites. But, because there are no protein compounds mixing with stomach acid, plus these veggies will contain naturally occurring vitamin C  and E, (antioxidants) and and polyphenols, which prevents the conversion, thus, they are a safer choice. Another win-win for the plant based versus meat argument.
However, with this said, we do not know the long-term effects of genetically engineered “plant-based” foods such as burgers that bleed,[9,10]
Back to processed meats; it only takes a little bit. Harvard researchers  found increasing processed red meat intake by just half a serving a day (½ ounce deli meat, ½ hot dog, or 1 slice bacon) raised the risk of dying over the next eight years by 13 percent. I am a little freaked out because I do eat bacon..I love my bacon! Cold cuts; not-so-much, hotdogs? I have not eaten those in over 25 years.
What about “uncured’ processed meats?
There is a big hot mess going on when it comes to properly labeling processed meats. There are two methods to curing meats; there are the synthetic “sodium nitrate and nitrite” and the natural, coming from celery or other natural sources. By USDA standards, the label “uncured” simply means the manufacturer did not use chemicals, instead used natural sources for the curing process.
When I was healing from Crohn’s disease, part of the healing process was an upgrade in my diet. I would eat gluten free bread, lavishly buttered with butter from pasture-raised cows, organic cheese and organic deli meat with naturally occurring nitrite from celery.” In my mind, my upgrade was healthier, was it?
According to Joseph Sebranek, Ph.D., Morrison Endowed Chair in meat science at Iowa State University whether synthetic or natural [nitrites and nitrates] the composition are the same along with the negative health effects.
Consumer’s Reports tested 31 packaged deli meats from nine companies for nitrites and nitrates. They found on average the levels of nitrites and nitrates were almost the same for cured and uncured meats.
If you are still eating conventional processed meats, it is not just the nitrites and nitrates that are problem, but the injections of sodium and other additives to plump up the the meat and make it look good enough to eat. Not to mention fake skins on sausage, and other bloating chemicals and synthetic flavorings. Oh why oh why would you want to eat this?
Why do we have to cure meat?
Meat is cured to keep bacteria from growing which can literally kill you. Some of the top concerns include;
On average, deli meats should only be kept in the refrigerator 3-5 days once opened. This is one example where the smell test will fail you. Listeria does not have an odour and you can’t see it, but it sits there quietly growing because the cold does not kill it. If you have purchased prepackaged luncheon meats or cold cuts there should be an expiration date, follow it. And, the best advice I can give you, and I live by, when in doubt, throw it out.
These are just 3 examples of the numerous microbes which can make their way in to our guts wreaking havoc and the argument for why deli meats need to be cured.
Can we eat ‘uncured’ processed meats?
I still believe you should opt for the healthier version of processed meats, hotdogs, deli meats and bacon. Why? Because typically when you look at the package you know what is in there.
Take a look at the difference between these two labels. The left is Applegate organic, humane raised, uncured and the other is Great Value, black forest ham, conventionally raised. Which one do you think is healthier?
I hope you said the left one. Remember, healthier processed meats are going to have better ingredients over conventional products. There will be naturally occurring nitrites, in this case using cultured celery powder, however, the conversion in the gut, may just be something your body can better utilize versus the synthetic ingredients. Not only this, take a look at the other ingredients, on both packages, which one do you think is the better choice?
Natural or organic deli, meat products typically use celery juice or powder to “cure” the meat because it can produce the similar coloring and flavor like conventional cured meats.
Any processed meats labeled “natural” or “organic” cannot be prepared with nitrites because “preservatives” are not allowed in those products.
Confusion between cured and uncured meat?
Have you seen “uncured” on the label of natural and organic products, such as deli meat, ham, bacon and hot dogs? How about “No nitrates or nitrites added”? They are cured, but with celery juice or powder. Celery contains naturally occurring nitrites.
Celery, along with other vegetables, including green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Bok Choy, and carrots and beets, do contain naturally occurring nitrites.
In fact, it is estimated 80% of dietary nitrites come from vegetables. There are studies showing nitrites from vegetables sources can help lower blood pressure and protect against cancer. Not to mention the amount of nitrites consumed is negligible. And, our body knows what to do with naturally occurring ingredients from foods that organically grow from the ground.
Nitrates and nitrites are also found in our drinking water mainly due to nitrogen-based fertilizers and animal waste getting into the water source, which happens quite often. Our own intestinal bacteria also produces nitrites.
Nitrites are produced endogenously through the oxidation of nitric oxide and through a reduction of nitrate by commensal bacteria in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.
In our mouth, commensal gram negative bacteria on the tongue reduce salivary nitrates. Approximately 25% of ingested nitrate is secreted in saliva, where some 20% is converted to nitrite by commensal bacteria on the tongue. The metabolic activity of commensal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and probiotic bacteria also provide nitric oxide from nitrite, and to a lesser extent, from nitrate.
Can you cure your own meat?
If you want to take this one step further and avoid the whole delusion of processed meats and bacon you can cure your own meat. If you want to get adventurous check out Amazon, there are numerous books on naturally curing, drying and smoking your own meat, poultry and fish.
What if I don’t want to cure my own meat?
If you are less adventurous like me (yes, I am admitting “ain’t no body got time for that”) get quality meat like Butcherbox and make your own sort of. Hear me out.
I have been getting Butcherbox sent right to my door wherever I am parked. They have several boxes to choose from however, I get the ‘surprise me box’ ( I coined the name) better known as the Beef, pork, chicken box. Because I do not not order what I want, I get whatever they give me; hence the ‘surprise me.’ It’s about as on-the-edge-living the dangerous-side-of-life as I get! Well, that and living and driving a 45 foot motorcoach in city traffic. Butcherbox does offer boxes where you can pick out your own cuts of meat, poultry, pork and sea food as well as ready to heat-and-serve meals.
I do not cure the meat. Here, is what I do. I typically end up with big cuts of pork and beef roast. Since we are a family of two; I cook it up, and then slice it thin, wrap it up in non-bleached waxed paper and freeze into meal or lunch size. When I want to make a sandwich or add to a salad, I take what I need out of the freezer, It thaws super-quick. I believe it tastes way better than store-bought cured meat.
Before we sold our home and decided to live full time in a motorcoach, my daughter would come over to go “meat shopping” in my freezer. Gotta love the collage student! She would take “lunch meat” along with some other frozen goodies. Now that is she out in the working world, she has her own Butcher Box of goodies delivered right to her door.
One of my email subscribers in Alabama asked if they could get it there-Yes, you can. All across the USA. You can find out by going here to see if Butcherbox is servicing your area. In case you are wondering about bacon. I am not willing to give up my bacon. I love bacon. Bacon just makes everything tastes better, do you agree? Butcherbox bacon does not contain any of the synthetic ingredients or synthetic nitrites, just clean ingredients from humane raised pork and is uncured.
Guess what? Butcherbox has allowed me to give you $30.00 off of your first box plus free shipping (always) Check it out right now— all I can say is this deal has me shouting “Winner, winner, organic pastured-raised chicken dinner.”
What should I look for on the label?
Let’ get back to nitrates and nitrates. If the deli meat, hotdogs or bacon have nitrates, nitrites, sodium nitrites listed on the label, slowly, put the package back and walk away quickly and look for “uncured,” or “naturally occurring nitrites” on the package. Oh, and be sure to read the other ingredients. You want the one that is organic, from pastured-raised, and contains the least amount of ingredients on the label.
To recap, nitrites and nitrates are similar in that these compounds are inorganic composed of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrites are found in water, vegetables and meat.
Regularly eating even small amounts of cured processed meats increases cancer and heart disease risk. If you are gong to consume deli or cured meats, look for “uncured,” “natural”, or “contains naturally occurring nitrites from celery juice or powder”.
Be sure to read the other ingredients on the label.
Make your own “deli meats” from pastured-raised meat such as Butcherbox, and thinly slice for sandwiches and such.
You have control of what happens in your body, by what you put in your mouth. What are you going to choose?