When you’re weight lifting, you need to make sure to eat plenty of protein, and that often leads bodybuilders and other athletes to consider all types of sources, including processed meats. But if you’ve paid attention to media reports in recent years, you know that “goodies” like lunchmeat and jerky are probably not all that good for you.

In fact, some would say they’re downright deadly. But are you really more likely to DIE if you eat processed meats?

What Problems Can Processed Meats Cause?

The reports of possible health issues that might be caused by processed meats run the gamut from colon cancer to stroke to heart disease to lung cancer. If that sounds like media hype, you can be assured that at least some of it is.

But the disconcerting thing is that there is at least some scientific evidence to back up these claims.

For instance, a 2008 review from researchers in France looked at available data from epidemiological and clinical studies and concluded that eating processed meat on a regular basis can increase your risk of developing colon cancer between 20 and 50%.

And, in a 2014  literature review, Chinese scientists concluded that both red meat and processed meat consumption represent a statistically significant risk in developing lung cancer.

The news doesn’t get much better when it comes to heart disease.

A 2010  literature review led by researchers at Harvard examined thousands of previous studies encompassing more than 1 million total subjects. After working through  the data, the scientists concluded that processed meat led to a 42% increase in the risk for developing heart disease.

Finally,  in 2013, Chinese scientists examined five studies encompassing more than 200,000 subjects and about 9500 strokes. They, too, found that processed meat increased the risk of stroke, by about 11% for each 50-gram increase in daily processed meat consumption.

What Should You Do?

While much of the available evidence is epidemiological in nature and relies on self-reported behavior by subjects, it’s hard to imagine that chemically-processed foods of any type could actually be GOOD for you.

If you need to eat lunch meat once in awhile to avoid going hungry and starving your muscles of protein, it’s probably not a big deal. You’re not too likely to die from a single turkey sandwich, after all.

Don’t make it a habit, though.

For the best results from your gym efforts, and for the healthiest body you can build, you need to target whole, unprocessed foods most of the time. That means that your staple protein sources should NOT include processed meats but should include quality items like whey protein, eggs, and natural meat.