A guide for safe meat buying

Will bacon, salami and hot dogs make cancer patients out of us? Since the World health organization (WHO) classified processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to people’ many ask themselves if there are any healthy meats left? Here is a comprehensive guide that will teach you what you should be looking for when buying processed meats and meat products.

Read food labels

It is very important to read meat labels. Even when you’re in the deli shop and can’t see the declarations because the products are in a meat display case. Ask the seller to show it to you. Often when you think you’re just buying a piece of e.g. smoked meat, you can be surprised which ingredients are listed on the label.

can of ham

Don’t buy meat labeled MSM

Don’t buy any processed meat if the label lists MSM or mechanically separated meat. MSM is an unappetizing mass that is made when bones of animals with attached edible meat are ground into a paste, which is then forced through a sieve, under high pressure, to separate meat from bones.

The bones contain all the residues of antibiotics, hormones and heavy metals the animals were fed during life. All those residues end up in MSM as well, therefore in your meat.

msm meat in production

Just avoid all products that are labeled with the following:

  • MSM
  • Mechanically separated meat
  • Mechanically separated chicken
  • Mechanically recovered/reclaimed meat (MRM)
  • Mechanically deboned meat (MDM)

Avoid nitrites and nitrates

Don’t buy meat products labeled with E249, E 250, E 251, E252. These are nitrites and nitrates that are precursors of nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogenic compounds that are formed in the reaction of nitrites and aminoacids from proteins in our stomach. Nitrosamines have been linked to cancer formation in humans especially gastric cancer.

E249 and E250

E249 (Potassium nitrite) and E250 (Sodium nitrite) are both nitrites and are used as an antibacterial preservative in processed meats. They are specifically effective against Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can cause botulism in humans. E 250 is also used as a color fixative to make products more attractive, vibrant and fresh-looking.

Next to forming carcinogenic nitrosamines in the stomach, high concentrations of these nitrites can reduce the ability of hemoglobin in red blood cells to absorb oxygen. This results in less oxygen in the body which can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath and even headaches.

On the label they are commonly listed as:

E 249E 250
Potassium nitriteSodium nitrite

nitrites and nitrates in food

E 251 i E252

E 251 (Sodium nitrate) and E 252 (Potassium nitrate) are both nitrates that are used as preservatives in meat products. They both inhibit microbial growth. This way products are microbiologically safe with prolonged shelf life. They are also used as agents to prevent color fading so that meat products don’t get unappetizing colors.

Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the stomach, which form nitrosamines with aminoacids from meat, making them carcinogenic as well.

Look out for these symbols and terms on the label:

E251E 252
  • Sodium Nitrate
  • Nitrate de sodium
  • Chile Saltpeter
  • Cubic Niter
  • Soda Niter
  • Potassium Nitrate
  • Nitrate de potassium
  • Saltpeter
  • Niter

A good advice is to look out for products that contain vitamin C (E 300 and E301) since it decreases nitrate to nitrite conversion in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract reducing the formation of carcinogenic agents. The best thing to do though is avoid nitrates and nitrites all together.

Avoid kidney harming polyphosphates – E 451, E 452, E 453

polyphosphates E 450, E451, E 452

A team led by  Prof.Dr. med. Eberhard Ritz studied the impact phosphates from food additives have on human health. Phosphates occur naturally in protein rich foods such as dairy products, fish, meat, sausages and eggs. Phosphates from food are slowly hydrolyzed by the GI tract and then absorbed from the intestine.
Inorganic phosphates from additives are chemically different than organic phosphates. They are completely absorbed and drastically elevate levels of phosphate concentration in the body. The excess phosphates are then excreted by the kidneys through urine.
Constant high levels of phosphates can damage kidneys, which is especially harming for people who already have chronic kidney disease. Phosphates also contribute to vascular damage through vascular calcification. Dr.Ritz and his team believe that the potential impact of added phosphates on human health may well have been under appreciated and that food with added phosphates should be visibly labeled as such.

Phosphate additives added to meat products are most often E 451, E 452. E 450 is used as well but less often.

E 451 and E 452

The most used phosphates in meat processing are E451 (Potassium and sodium tri-phosphates) and E 452 (Polyphosphates). They are both used for water retention in meat products. This way water stays in the meat, making it heavier, basically allowing the industry to sell you water for meat prices. They are also used as buffers to control the pH value of products. With the right pH value meat products last longer and look more appealing.

E 451E 452
  • Potassium tri-phosphates
  • Sodium tri-phosphates
  • Polyphosphates
  • Sodium polyphosphate
  • Potassium polyphosphate
  • Sodium calcium polyphosphate
  • Calcium polyphosphate
  • Ammonium polyphosphate


Avoid Carrageenan E 407

carrageenan and colon cancer

Carrageenan or E 407 has gelling and thickening  properties and is used as a thickening agent. It is often used in the meat industry to retain water and increase volume in processed meat products. It is also used as a substitute for fat in meat.

It is a controversial additive because officials claim it to be completely safe for human consumption without any side effects. On the other hand a series of independent studies linked carrageenan to gastrointestinal inflammation, leaky gut and even higher rates of colon cancer in rats. To make it even more controversial it is found in many organic health products as well.

Carregeenan is produced from seaweed and has been considered a healthy food additive, because of its natural origin. There are two forms of E 407 – degraded carrageenan which is known to cause inflammation and cancer, and undegraded carrageenan. Degraded carrageenen is declared as a possible human carcinogen and is not allowed for human consumption. On the other hand undegraded carrageenan is considered safe and it is used as a food additive.

Although the industry still uses it in many food products studies have shown that undegraded carrageen can degrade in the digestive tract into the carcinogenic degraded form. As such he can cause inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal malignancies. It has also been reported that food grade carregeenan can be polluted with degraded carrageenan with up to 25% during the production process of the additive.

Although evidence shows that carrageenan is harmful in either form, the food industry still considers it as safe and uses it in many products including meat products. If there is even a glimpse of evidence that a food item is carcinogenic it should be avoided, and in this case it is not a glimpse but a mountain of evidence linking carageenan to gastrointestinal inflammation and higher cancer rates. So it’s better to avoid it if you want to be on the safe side.

When avoiding carrageenan read labels and be aware that if carrageenan has been used as an aid during processing and is not directly added as an ingredient to the food, it may be present in small amounts in the product but not be listed in the ingredient list. When shopping look out for these terms. They are all synonyms for E 407.

E 407

  • Carrageenan
  • Carrageen
  • Eucheuman
  • Irish Moss Gelose

Don’t buy glutamate better known as MSG

the names of msg

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the toughest one to avoid. MSG is almost in every processed food and it is very hard to find products without it. Chemically MSG or E 621 is free glutamic acid combined with sodium. It is used as a flavor enhancer to make food products taste richer and more like meat. MSG by itself doesn’t have a strong taste but when you add it to other food it enhances the taste of the food tricking you into believing that your eating products that are richer than they really are. When added to meat products you have the impression that you’re eating products full of meat when they actually only have a fraction of meat.

The real danger of MSG lies in the fact that glutamate is a neurotransmitter used by the brain and other organs to start processes in your body. When eating a lot of food with MSG your brain cells are constantly targeted, they get overexcited and they die, resulting in brain damage. The neurosurgeon Dr. Russel Blaylock explains that MSG is an excitotoxin and is responsible for destroying brain tissue and causing serious neurological disorders.

After MSG got a bad reputation the food industry has decided to confuse consumers by using labeling tactics. However when MSG is used during production it must be declared in the ingredient list. On the other hand if an ingredient that contains MSG is used during production only the ingredients name has to be listed and not the fact that it contains MSG as well. This way there are numerous products whose main component is MSG but you would never guess it by their name. MSG i widely used since it makes production much cheaper and is hard to find a product without it.

Some people are highly sensitive to MSG and only small amounts can cause health issues and symptoms like these:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

Here are only some of the most common ingredients that contain MSG. Look out for these terms when searching for MSG:

Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid

  • Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
  • Glutamic acid (E 620)
  • Mono potassium glutamate ( E621)
  • Calcium glutamate (E 622)
  • Ammonium glutamate E 623
  • Magnesium glutamate E 624
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Anything “hydrolyzed”
  • Any “hydrolyzed protein”
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Yeast extract
  • Torula yeast
  • Yeast food
  • Yeast nutrient
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured protein
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Soy protein
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Anything “protein”
  • Anything “protein fortified”
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Anything “enzyme modified”
  • Anything containing “enzymes”
  • Anything “fermented”
  • Anything containing “protease”
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto
  • Umami

Source: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html


Obviously it’s very hard to remember all these additives and all their possible names. At the end this is the goal of massive meat producers. They want to make it difficult and exhausting for you to read and understand labels and trick you into buying their food. The best decision is to eat a rich whole food diet with lots of fruit and vegetables with the least amount of processed food possible.

Of course that you’re going to buy processed meat from time to time but try to make it as little as possible since consummation of these products increases chances of colorectal cancer significantly with people who have genetic predispositions. When buying processed meat try to buy organic versions and avoid the additives listed in this guide. At the end healthy lunch meats and pates can be made by yourself at home.

Photo credit: Joelogon, 20120106-OC-AMW-0288 by usda gov, Oriental food isn’t oriental without MSG, 20120106-OC-AMW-0287 by usda gov, Kidney Disease, Sydney Food Blog Review