Processed meat and mass-produced, ultra-processed nuggets are popular with kids, but they are linked with concerning health risks. Here's why unprocessed meat is a healthier, safer ingredient.
Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or by adding the preservatives nitrates and nitrites in order to improve durability and/or colour and taste. This includes ham, bacon, corned beef, salami, frankfurt, prosciutto and some sausages.
High consumption of processed meat, resulting in an increased intake of harmful substances like saturated fats, cholesterol, salt and nitrite, is linked to a range of health risks, including obesity, certain cancers and overall mortality. Here, we look at some of these risks and the healthier options for you and your kids.
Health Risks of Processed Meat
In Australia, around 28% of children are overweight or obese. Diet is a major factor in this, including the consumption of processed meat, which numerous studies have found is directly associated with the risk of obesity and higher body mass index (BMI).
Childhood obesity can profoundly affect children's physical health and well-being, and even academic performance. It is specifically linked with many co-morbid conditions like metabolic, cardiovascular, orthopaedic and renal disorders.
Sodium nitrite and nitrate are common preservatives in cured meats like ham, bacon and salami. When consumed, both nitrites and nitrates can form harmful N-nitroso compounds in the body, which have been associated with increased risk of stomach cancer and childhood acute leukemia.
The Australian Cancer Council recommends avoiding processed meat altogether.
Ultra-processed chicken nuggets – though not technically a 'processed meat' in Australia – are also a concern, with a recent study linking a 10% increase in consumption of such foods with a greater than 10% increase in the risk of cancer.
Several large studies have shown that a high consumption of processed meat is related to increased overall mortality linked to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.
These studies also suggest substituting processed meat with other protein sources to lower mortality risk.
Advantages of Using Unprocessed Meat
The consumption of a wide variety of poultry and lean meats – preferred for their lower fat and cholesterol content – is recommended under the Australian Dietary Guidelines (as well as minimal processed meat intake).
Cooking with unprocessed meat provides a rich source of high-quality protein, minerals such as iron and zinc, and a range of vitamins, in particular B vitamins. Lean red meat is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and niacin.
These important nutrients are vital for optimal health and development through childhood, including for growth, tissue repair and to produce essential hormones and enzymes.
For children, the recommended dietary intake of protein is about 1g/kg body weight per day.
Added Benefits of Free-Range Meat and Grass-Fed Beef
Generally, free-range animals should not be closely confined and should have some kind of outside access. For animal welfare, this is superior to other methods of livestock farming.
Studies have also revealed certain dietary benefits, such as a lower fat and calorie content in free-range chicken, and better meat quality and richer microbial composition. Research in cattle spanning three decades also suggests that a grass-based diet can significantly improve the fatty acid composition and antioxidant content of beef.
What's in Go! Kidz Meals?
We use nothing but all-natural, 100% Australian ingredients, without any preservatives or other additives, across our entire range of healthy children's meals.
We use only free-range meats, and all chicken is hormone-free and all beef is grass-fed.