Most people won’t associate sausage sizzle or bangers and mash with healthy food. In fact, many doctors and dietitians tell people to avoid them. But are all sausages bad?
What is a sausage?
According to the dictionary, a sausage (a.k.a. snag in this part of the World) is “a highly seasoned minced meat (such as pork) usually stuffed in casings of prepared animal intestine” (1).
What the World Health Organization says
In their Q&A about consumption of meat and cancer, the WHO includes hot dogs and sausages in the processed meat category. They found convincing evidence from epidemiological studies that links processed meat with a small increase in the risk of colorectal cancer (2).
What the Australian Dietary Guidelines say
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, processed meats belong in the discretionary foods category. Therefore, we should limit their intake, mainly because processed meats are typically high in salt and saturated fat. In addition, the guidelines are informed by the WHO findings (see above) (3).
Are all sausages bad for you?
As always, it depends. The confusion stems from the fact that not all sausages are processed meat. Meat is considered processed when it:
- “has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation” (2)
- is “preserved by smoking, curing, salting or addition of chemical preservatives such as nitrites” (3)
Processed vs not processed sausages
Let’s look at the ingredients lists in different sausages:
- Woolworths beef sausages: Australian beef (72%), water, rice flour, maize flour, salt, potato starch, mineral salts (450, 451, 452), spices, onion powder, hydrolysed vegetable protein (from maize), preservative (223), sugar, yeast extract, natural flavour, spice extracts (including paprika oleoresins), anti-caking agent (341), humectant, edible collagen casing → PROCESSED
- Coles classic pork sausages: Australian sow stall free pork (76%), water, potato starch, salt, mineral salt (451), dextrose, preservative (223), dehydrated vegetables [onion, garlic], herbs & spices [rosemary, ginger, paprika, turmeric, pepper, nutmeg, coriander, caraway, capsicum extract, mace, pimento], natural flavouring, mustard flour, fermented rice, canola oil, orange oil, antioxidant (307b), beef collagen casing → PROCESSED
- Feather and bone lamb & fresh rosemary sausages: Lamb mince, sea salt, freshly-ground pepper, fresh organic garlic, freshly rosemary→ NOT PROCESSED
- Ethical Farmers pork and fennel sausages: Pork mince, pink salt, black pepper, fennel, white rice flour → NOT PROCESSED
- Wing Hong Lup Chong Chinese pork sausage: Pork (85% minimum), Sugar,Soy Sauce (soybeans, wheat flour, salt), Salt, Alcohol, Flavour Enhancer (621), Preservative (250), Spices → PROCESSED
- Tofurky beer brat: Water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed canola oil, organic tofu (water, organic soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride), onions, soy flour, full sail amber ale (water, malted barley, hops, yeast), contains less than 2% of sea salt, cane sugar, spices, dehydrated onion, granulated garlic, garlic puree, carrageenan, dextrose, konjac, potassium chloride → NOT MEAT BUT PROCESSED
Bottom line and recommendations
- Sausages, like many other foods, are not black or white in terms of health. Not all sausages are bad for you.
- Read labels! If the ingredients list contains only minced meat, salt, herbs and/or spices, chances are this is a decent substitute for fresh meat. A little rice flour is often used as a binder, and it’s fine. I like Feather and Bone and The Ethical Farmers.
- One processed sausage here and there won’t kill you. However, make sure 90+% of your food is not highly processed.
- If you’re eating sausages, make sure you’re pairing them with vegetables and/or salad. This is vastly superior than eating it in a bun, a slice of white bread, or, even worse, in a sausage roll.
- Merriam-Webster.com. sausage: Merriam-Webster; 2019 [9 May 2019]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sausage.
- World Health Organization. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. 2015 [Available from: https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/%5D.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013.