Pepperoni is a popular type of sausage that is commonly used as a pizza topping or as an ingredient in pasta dishes, sandwiches, and appetizers. Uncured pepperoni and cured pepperoni are two variations of this sausage that differ in the way they are prepared and preserved. When it comes to your health, it is important to always choose uncured meats, including pepperoni. Choosing Uncured Pepperoni vs Cured Pepperoni is a decision that can even save your life!
In this article, we will discuss the dangers of cured and processed meats, as well as the benefits of choosing uncured when it comes to pepperoni and different types of meat.
When it comes to health and wellness, it is always important to choose foods that are minimally processed. Processing often involves the use of artificial preservatives and chemical additives that can wreak havoc on your health. The health risks associated with cured and processed meat include an increased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer.
Don't worry! You can still enjoy the occasional pepperoni or your favorite type of meat with our helpful guide. Our goal is to help families feel confident in the grocery store while shopping. It is important to be armed with the information needed to make the best choices for your health and future.
Luckily, health-conscious consumers have options, even when it comes to cured vs uncured meat products.
Listening to Your Body
As a holistic nutrition coach, I recommend that when searching for healthy food that is prepared or packaged, the main goal is to choose foods made with natural ingredients.
As you begin to tune in and listen to your body, you may find that certain foods and food additives affect you in different ways. In my experience, I notice increased headaches, neck and back pain, and fatigue when consuming processed foods, especially processed meat.
It may happen right away or a couple of days later, but my body tells me about it when there is something that doesn't agree with me. It takes a while to come back to heal and essentially detox from the inflammation triggers, but it is important to be gentle with yourself.
Everyone's body and experience are different. For me, it is pain, headaches, or GI discomfort. For others, it may present itself differently like indigestion, insomnia, fatigue, or even mood disruption.
The important part is to tune in and pay attention, and of course, do our best. We do what we can until we know better. When we know better we do better! Health is a journey of learning and unlearning and then applying. We find a balance with what works for us!
The curing process for pepperoni typically involves using nitrates or nitrites to preserve the meat and enhance its flavor. Here is an overview of the curing process for pepperoni:
- Meat preparation: The meat used for pepperoni is usually a mixture of pork and beef. Turkey is also commonly used to make pepperoni, for those who wish to avoid red meat. The meat is ground, mixed with a variety of spices and seasonings, and then stuffed into casings.
- Curing: The meat is then cured using a salt mixture, sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, and other curing agents. With cured pepperoni, synthetic nitrates are typically used along with other unnatural ingredients for a longer shelf life and to prevent bacterial growth. The process can take several days to a few weeks. During this time the meat is dried and the curing components help to preserve the meat and enhance its flavor. *Note: unnatural flavor enhancers may also be used and can be detrimental to health!
- Smoking: After the curing process is complete, the pepperoni is often smoked to add additional and unique flavor and aroma.
- Aging: Finally, the pepperoni is aged for several weeks to allow the flavors to develop further and the texture to become firmer. The entire process gives the unique and peppery flavor that pepperoni is famous for.
While the curing process can help preserve the meat and add flavor, the added nitrates and nitrites have been linked to severe health issues. This is one of the reasons we recommend only buying uncured pepperoni. Another critical reason to avoid cured pepperoni is the additional synthetic chemicals that are added in addition to artificial nitrates.
Synthetic Chemicals Used
Cured pepperoni often contains synthetic ingredients in addition to curing agents like nitrates or nitrites. Some common ingredients used in the chemical brine include:
- Sodium erythorbate: This is a synthetic antioxidant that is used to preserve the color of the meat and prevent it from spoiling. This is why cured pepperoni tends to have a more defined pink color than the uncured counterpart. This can cause a variety of side effects including headaches, pain, dizziness, fatigue, and flushing.
- Sodium diacetate: This is a synthetic flavoring agent that is used to alter the taste of the pepperoni. It tends to add a tangy taste to the meat. This, like many other chemical additives, is linked to mood and attention disorders, allergies, and asthma.
- Flavor enhancers: Various synthetic flavor enhancers may be used to enhance the taste of the meat. These can cause thyroid imbalances, allergies, and more.
- Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers like soy lecithin or mono- and diglycerides may be used to help mix the ingredients together and keep them from separating. Studies have shown that emulsifiers negatively affect the gut microbiome. This can contribute to digestive disorders like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. It has also been linked to type 2 diabetes, and heart, and liver diseases.
- Dextrose: Dextrose is a sweetener that is derived from starches. It can be naturally derived or chemically altered. Dextrose is linked to depression and acne in sensitive individuals.
- BHA/BHT: These are synthetic preservatives in a lot of processed meat, especially pepperoni and deli meats. These preservatives are highly carcinogenic. Studies have shown links to liver, kidney, thyroid, lung, and blood clotting functions.
Problem with Chemicals
These chemical preservatives and additives are ingredients that the human body is not designed to digest. We do not have the enzymes necessary to break down these chemicals. If the body cannot digest an ingredient it is processed through the liver.
When the liver is overloaded, the toxins are stored in fat cells. (This makes it hard to lose weight!) During the process, the unnatural ingredients often contribute to inflammation, fatigue, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cancer.
Not to worry, these toxic curing processes are unnecessary. In the uncured version of pepperoni and other similar meats, there are natural curing agents that can produce a similar and even superior product! Uncured pepperoni is a much healthier option.
Natural Curing Ingredients
While sodium nitrite is one of the most common curing agents used in processed meats like pepperoni, there are other curing components that can be used as alternatives or in combination with natural nitrites. Some of these components include:
- Organic sea salt: Salt is an important component of the curing process and is used to help preserve the meat and enhance its flavor. Natural salts are a far better option than processed table salt.
- Organic sugar: Sugar can be added to the curing mixture to balance the high salt levels and taste while adding sweetness to the meat.
- Natural curing agents: Some natural sources can be used as curing agents, such as celery juice or celery powder, which contains natural nitrates.
- Ascorbic acid: Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be used as a curing agent. It helps to convert nitrites into nitric oxide, which can then be used as one of the most common natural preservatives.
- Cultured celery extract: This extract is derived from celery and is a natural source of nitrites. It can be used as a much healthier alternative to synthetic nitrites.
- Lactic acid: Lactic acid is essentially fermented sugar that helps to balance the acidity in pepperoni. It also provides a tangy flavor in a more natural and healthy way. It also helps to extend shelf life preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.
It's important to note that while these alternative curing components may be considered more natural, they can still have health risks associated with them when consumed in large amounts. One of these reasons is that pepperoni is high in sodium. This factor may cause health challenges in sensitive individuals.
As with any food, it's important to consume cured meats like pepperoni in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you can find a product that is ORGANIC or NON-GMO, the more likely you will get a high-quality product. Sugar and ascorbic acid are two ingredients that are often derived from genetically modified sources. GMOs can also cause health issues and should be avoided whenever possible.
If you have the opportunity to naturally curate your own pepperoni, that would be even better. The absolute best would be to ensure you obtain meats and all products from reputable organic ranchers and farmers. These farmers tend to take extra care in raising and processing their livestock and meat. Local ranchers often use organic, free-range, and grass-fed pastures and standards.
Dangers of Processed Meat
Other types of meat that can be uncured include ham, bacon, and hot dogs, among others. Uncured meat products are typically preserved using natural methods, such as smoking or using natural curing agents like celery juice, rather than using synthetic nitrates or nitrites.
Consuming processed meats, including cured meats like pepperoni, has been linked to several health risks. The World Health Organization has classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that there is sufficient evidence to link their consumption to an increased risk of cancer.
The risk is thought to be related to the use of nitrites and nitrates in the curing process, the chemical preservatives and additives as well as the high levels of sodium and hydrogenated fat often found in processed meats.
In addition to the cancer risk, consuming processed meats has also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
Choosing uncured meat products as well as grass-fed organic meat from reputable sources. It is also very important to pay attention to the overall quality of your diet and make sure you're getting a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Benefits of Uncured Pepperoni
As outlined above, the benefits of choosing uncured pepperoni vs cured pepperoni are related to avoiding many unnatural ingredients in favor of more natural ingredients that are far less harmful.
Here is a summary of some of the benefits of uncured pepperoni compared to cured pepperoni:
- No synthetic nitrates or nitrites: Uncured pepperoni does not contain nitrates or nitrites. These are commonly used to preserve and cure meats. Nitrates and nitrites have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health issues. Avoiding them can be beneficial for your health.
- Lower sodium content: Cured pepperoni often contains a high amount of processed sodium. This sodium can be harmful to individuals with high blood pressure or heart disease. Uncured pepperoni typically has a lower sodium content, making it a healthier option for those watching their sodium intake.
- Fresh flavor: Uncured pepperoni has a fresher taste compared to cured pepperoni. It can sometimes have a slightly metallic or artificial flavor due to the curing process. There's a reason for this! Once you start consuming clean, healthier, more natural foods you will even be able to taste the difference.
- No artificial additives: Uncured pepperoni does not contain any artificial additives or flavors. This makes it a more natural and wholesome option for those who prioritize clean eating.
- More transparent labeling: Uncured pepperoni is often labeled with more transparency than cured pepperoni. This allows consumers to make more informed decisions about what they are eating and how it was made.
*However, be sure to consider the company and its values. Some big-name companies that offer an organic or uncured version often do the bare minimum in order to obtain organic labeling.
This is not always the best. It is, however better than conventional and cured. One step at a time! The more you know where your food comes from, the better. Transparency is key!
Overall, uncured pepperoni is definitely a healthier and more natural option compared to cured pepperoni. This is due to its lack of nitrates and nitrites, lower sodium content, fresh flavor, lack of artificial additives, and more transparent labeling.
However, it is important to note that all types of meat should be consumed in moderation for a balanced diet rich in plant-based nutrition. Some people may want to avoid meat altogether. There are plenty of delicious and healthy whole-food options to add to your diet. Check out this list of high-vibrational foods to add to your diet, increase vibrant energy, and abundant wellness!