Processed, Cured and Smoked Meats: Definitely Not Paleo!

As more and more people adopt the Paleo Diet, controversy has arisen as to which dietary elements actually comprise a contemporary “Paleo Diet”.  Or more precisely, which current foods, food groups or food additives should be included or excluded in modern day diets as we try to emulate the nutritional characteristics of our pre-agricultural ancestors?  

A number of popular-day and charismatic bloggers suggest that processed meats such as bacon and other cured, processed and smoked meats should be part of contemporary Paleo Diets on a daily basis (1-3).  

Surprisingly, one of the contested elements that charismatic bloggers advocate (via their recommendation to eat processed meats and bacon) is salt (1-3).  Look no further than Paleo Diet websites, blogs and cookbooks (1-3, 4-8) to find salt included in virtually all meal plans, menus and dietary recommendations given to the Paleo Diet community by so-called “experts” consisting of charismatic bloggers (1-3) and non-scientific authors (1-3, 4-8).   

One of the primary sources of salt in the U.S. Diet comes from processed meats (9).  I have previously spoken about the multitude of health problems associated with salt consumption. Please review my blogs showing the harmful effects of salt (10-16).

It is inconceivable how any rational person, much less leaders (1-3) in the Paleo Diet community could advocate the use of salt laden processed meats in contemporary Paleo Diets.  High sodium diets are unequivocally recognized to promote high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease (9, 17-19).  Further, more recent research shows that high salt diets increase the likelihood of autoimmune disease (20-23), immune dysfunction (24-29) and create a cellular environment that encourages cancer growth of all types (30-35).



Listed below is a table of the salt content (both Na+ and K+ concentrations) of processed meats and their fresh unsalted counterparts.  A potassium (K+) concentration greater than a Na+ (sodium) concentration of (>1.00) is healthful of which no processed meats exhibit, including bacon. Without being a nutritional scientist, you can see for yourself from the table below, that virtually all processed, cured and smoked meats represent a hazardous food which far exceed the human daily recommendation for sodium of 2300 mg (9, 17-19).  

Cured Meats Na+ mg/1000 kcal K+ mg/1000 kcal K+/Na+
Prosciutto Ham 13821 2615 0.19
Ham, cured 10313 2524 0.24
Smoked Beef Sliced 10166 2387 0.23
Beef Lunch Meat 9547 2632 0.28
Canadian Bacon, cured 8975 2191 0.24
Smoked Ham Sliced 8472 2086 0.25
Turkey Salami Cotto 7072 1477 0.21
Smoked Turkey Sliced 6850 2056 0.30
Turkey Salami 6830 1469 0.22
Beef Cotto Salami 6354 1006 0.16
Olive Loaf 6315 1264 0.20
Pastrami 6020 1429 0.24
Smoked Chicken Sliced 5782 1552 0.27
Chicken Lunch Meat 5554 920 0.17
Spam 5403 2414 0.45
Headcheese, Pork 5287 197 0.04
Salami Dry Sausage 5221 982 0.19
Beerwurst Sausage 5210 1063 0.20
Turkey Drumstick smoked 4980 1400 0.28
Genoa Salami 4706 861 0.18
Corned Beef 4518 578 0.13
Turkey Wing smoked 4507 1204 0.27
Beef Salami 4368 711 0.16
Bacon 4270 1044 0.24
Ham Lunch Meat 4222 1298 0.31
Vienna Sausage 4213 439 0.10
Mortadella   4006 524 0.13
Hot Dog Wiener 3759 524 0.14
Thuringer Sausage 3591 718 0.20
Braunschweiger 3547 609 0.17
Italian Sausage 3509 884 0.25
Summer Sausage 3481 484 0.14
Mettwurst Sausage 3471 874 0.25
Pepperoni Sausage 3346 565 0.17
Smokie links sausage Oscar Mayer 3334 596 0.18
Scrapple, Pork 3094 742 0.24
Knockwurst Sausage 3029 648 0.21
Kielbasa Sausage 2926 971 0.33
Chicken wings Barbequed 2915 900 0.31
Bratwurst 2855 953 0.33
Chorizo 2714 875 0.32
Pork link sausage 2694 1573 0.58
Liverwurst 2638 521 0.20
Turkey link sausage 2489 974 0.39
Bologna 2391 1023 0.43
Salt Pork, cured 1904 88 0.05
Blood sausage 1794 100 0.06
Bockwurst Sausage 1680 897 0.53
Pate de Foie Gras 1509 299 0.20
Goose liver pate, smoked 1509 299 0.20


Fresh, Unsalted Meats  Na+ mg/1000 kcal K+ mg/1000 kcal K+/Na+
Fresh, unsalted lamb loin 272 1430 5.25
Fresh, unsalted Beef Sirloin   324 1954 6.04
Fresh, unsalted Pork Sirloin   275 1778 6.47



Although, virtually all non-scientific, Paleo Diet bloggers (1-3, 4-8) advocate the use of added, mined salt to their recipes, menus and meals, there is absolutely no evolutionary data to support this viewpoint (36-39).    

Indeed, the best available evidence supports the notion that elevated salt intake is directly responsible for increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease (9, 17-19), increased risk for autoimmune disease (20-23), increased risk for immune dysfunction (24-29) and increased risk for cancer (30-35).  This information is perhaps the most important issue where the Paleo Diet community is lost, confused and in error via the misinformation provided by non-scientific, ill-informed Paleo Diet Blogger (1-3, 4-8).













9.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vital signs: food categories contributing the most to sodium consumption – United States, 2007-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012 Feb 10;61(5):92-8.








17.McDonough AA, Veiras LC, Guevara CA, Ralph DL. Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K+ vs. lower dietary Na+: evidence from population and mechanistic studies. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Apr 1;312(4): E348-E356.

18.Mozaffarian D, Fahimi S, Singh GM, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Engell RE, Lim S, Danaei G, Ezzati M, Powles J, et al.  Global burden of diseases nutrition and chronic diseases expert group.

Global sodium consumption and death from cardiovascular causes. N Engl J Med. 2014 Aug 14;371(7):624-34

19.He FJ, Li J, Macgregor GA. Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Apr 30;(4):CD004937

20.Wu C, Yosef N, Thalhamer T, Zhu C, Xiao S, Kishi Y, Regev A, Kuchroo VK. Induction of pathogenic TH17 cells by inducible salt-sensing kinase SGK1. Nature. 2013 Apr 25;496(7446):513-7.

21.Kleinewietfeld M, Manzel A, Titze J, Kvakan H, Yosef N, Linker RA, Muller DN, Hafler DA.  Sodium chloride drives autoimmune disease by the induction of pathogenic TH17 cells. Nature. 2013 Apr 25;496(7446):518-22

22.Hucke S, Eschborn M, Liebmann M, Herold M, Freise N, Engbers A, Ehling P, Meuth SG, Roth J, Kuhlmann T, Wiendl H, Klotz L. Sodium chloride promotes pro-inflammatory macrophage polarization thereby aggravating CNS autoimmunity. J Autoimmun. 2016 Feb;67:90-101.

23.Zostawa J, Adamczyk J, Sowa P, Adamczyk-Sowa M. The influence of sodium on pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):389-398.

24.Schatz V, Neubert P, Schröder A, Binger K, Gebhard M, Müller DN, Luft FC, Titze J, Jantsch J. Elementary immunology: Na+ as a regulator of immunity. Pediatr Nephrol. 2017 Feb;32(2):201-210.

25.Hernandez AL, Kitz A, Wu C, Lowther DE, Rodriguez DM, Vudattu N, Deng S, Herold KC, Kuchroo VK, Kleinewietfeld M, Hafler DA. Sodium chloride inhibits the suppressive function of FOXP3+ regulatory T cells. J Clin Invest. 2015 Nov 2;125(11):4212-22.

26.Yi B, Titze J, Rykova M, Feuerecker M, Vassilieva G, Nichiporuk I, Schelling G, Morukov B, Choukèr A. Effects of dietary salt levels on monocytic cells and immune responses in healthy human subjects: a longitudinal study. Transl Res. 2015 Jul;166(1):103-10.

27.Zhou X, Zhang L, Ji WJ, Yuan F, Guo ZZ, Pang B, Luo T, Liu X, Zhang WC, Jiang TM, Zhang Z, Li YM. Variation in dietary salt intake induces coordinated dynamics of monocyte subsets and monocyte-platelet aggregates in humans: implications in end organ inflammation. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 4;8(4):e60332.

28.Zhou X, Yuan F, Ji WJ, Guo ZZ, Zhang L, Lu RY, Liu X, Liu HM, Zhang WC, Jiang TM, Zhang Z, Li YM. High-salt intake induced visceral adipose tissue hypoxia and its association with circulating monocyte subsets in humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Jun;22(6):1470-6.

29.Min B, Fairchild RL. Over-salting ruins the balance of the immune menu.  J Clin Invest. 2015 Nov 2;125(11):4002-4.

30.Amara S, Tiriveedhi V. Inflammatory role of high salt level in tumor microenvironment (Review).  Int J Oncol. 2017 May;50(5):1477-1481

31.Amara S, Alotaibi D, Tiriveedhi V. NFAT5/STAT3 interaction mediates synergism of high salt with IL-17 towards induction of VEGF-A expression in breast cancer cells. Oncol Lett. 2016 Aug;12(2):933-943

32.Amara S, Zheng M, Tiriveedhi V. Oleanolic acid inhibits high salt-induced exaggeration of warburg-like metabolism in breast cancer cells. Cell Biochem Biophys. 2016 Sep;74(3):427-34.

33.Amara S, Whalen M, Tiriveedhi V. High salt induces anti-inflammatory MΦ2-like phenotype in peripheral macrophages. Biochem Biophys Rep. 2016 Sep; 7:1-9

34.Amara S, Ivy MT, Myles EL, Tiriveedhi V. Sodium channel γENaC mediates IL-17 synergized high salt induced inflammatory stress in breast cancer cells. Cell Immunol. 2016 Apr; 302:1-10

35.Amara S, Majors C, Roy B, Hill S, Rose KL, Myles EL, Tiriveedhi. Critical role of SIK3 in mediating high salt and IL-17 synergy leading to breast cancer cell proliferation. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 28;12(6):e0180097. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180097

36.Eaton SB, Konner M. Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 31;312(5):283-9

37.Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):341-54.

38.Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.

39 .Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr, Sellmeyer DE, Todd K, Sebastian A. Diet, evolution and aging–the pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet. Eur J Nutr. 2001 Oct;40(5):200-13

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“4” Comments

  1. Dr. Cordain has always got tons of references instead of other “experts” that do cherry picking of 2 or 3 ambiguous studies.
    Folks when you read articles, please double check the references.
    Cordain says to limit salt as much as possible, and when it’s not doable to integrate potassium.
    There’s no dogma here.
    I understood that the “against dogma” campaign is most times a disguised marketing campaign.
    Everytime I try to give credit to a “second” voice, cause I want to remain unbiased, I remain really disappointed to see what I read, especially when you stumble on an advertising campaign every to lines of an article.
    The only science based Paleo diet is the original version from the giant Cordain.
    The others are just business driven campaigns.
    I opened my eyes and I hope people will do the same.

  2. Loren, did you bother to actually read the articles you linked to? All three of them make reference to the importance to not over eat salt. But that is not really what you are saying… You are telling people not to eat salt at all. This is pure dogma, from the same origins as the pseudoscience that claims red meat causes cancer.

  3. Yes! In Germany we have the same problem with the so-called “experts” and Paleo-Bloggers. It is crazy!!! And now I understand why Loren Cordain does not speak at paleo-symposia.

    Greetings from Germany,

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