Harvard Health Letter

Q&A about the Healthy Eating Plate

Note: The Healthy Eating Plate was developed by Harvard Health Publications and the Harvard School of Public Health's nutrition department as an alternative to MyPlate, the federal government's eating guide based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Check out the Healthy Eating Plate at www.health.harvard.edu/plate/healthy-eating-plate. Send a question to health_letter@hms.harvard.edu.

Q. The Healthy Eating Plate says to eat small quantities of meat and to avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats. But what if you buy only very small quantities of good-quality ham or roast beef and therefore less unprocessed meat?

A. There's pretty convincing evidence that even small amounts of cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, and other processed meats increase the risk for colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The sodium and nitrate content may be partly responsible. Some brands of cold cuts may be less harmful than others because of their lower sodium and nitrate content. It's possible that small portions of those healthier products would be better for you than larger portions of unprocessed red meat. But the surer bet is to simply steer clear of processed meat and, if you eat red meat, to limit your intake.

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