Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Hillshire Farm Products Bad For You?



Short answer

Hillshire Farm products, as processed meats, can be concerning due to their high levels of sodium, saturated fats, and potential carcinogenic compounds like nitrates. Moderation is key, as overconsumption is linked to increased health risks like heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. Opting for low-sodium, leaner variations and incorporating them into a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables and whole grains can mitigate some risks.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content Analysis of Hillshire Farm Products

The nutritional content of Hillshire Farm products can vary greatly depending on the specific item in question. Known for a variety of processed meats such as sausages, deli meats, and hot dogs, Hillshire Farm products are convenient and flavorful, but it's important to look beyond taste and assess their impact on your health. This analysis will focus on the common nutritional components found in their products, such as calories, macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Calories: The calorie content of Hillshire Farm products can align with both light and calorie-dense dietary needs. For example, a single serving of Hillshire Farm Deli Select Ultra Thin Roast Beef contains about 70 calories, which is moderate. However, their smoked sausage links can contain around 190 calories per serving, making them a higher calorie option.

Proteins: Proteins are essential for the maintenance and repair of body tissues. Many Hillshire Farm products are rich in protein due to their meat content. The Ultra Thin Sliced Lunchmeats are a good source of lean protein, providing about 10 grams per serving. This macronutrient is vital for those looking to build muscle or maintain lean body mass.

Fats: Fats found in Hillshire Farm products tend to be high, especially in products like sausages and kielbasa, which contain saturated fats. Sausages, for instance, can have up to 17 grams of fat per link, with 6 grams being saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat intake to help prevent heart disease, advising no more than 13 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet.

Carbohydrates: While meats are typically low in carbohydrates, some Hillshire Farm products contain added sugars and fillers that increase their carbohydrate content. For example, their Honey Ham contains added sugars for flavor, providing 3 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Though not excessively high, it's something to consider for those on low-carb diets.

Sodium: A common concern with processed meats is their sodium content. Many Hillshire Farm products are high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues if consumed in excess. A serving of their Hardwood Smoked Summer Sausage can contain upwards of 560 milligrams of sodium, accounting for nearly a quarter of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams per day.

Vitamins and Minerals: Though not a significant source of vitamins and minerals, some Hillshire Farm products can contribute small amounts of iron and potassium. However, the presence of these nutrients does not necessarily outweigh the potential health risks associated with high sodium, fat, and calorie content.

In conclusion, while the protein content in Hillshire Farm products can contribute beneficially to a balanced diet, the potential high levels of saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars in certain items need to be taken into account. Let's take a closer look at how these elements stack up in some popular Hillshire Farm offerings:

Product Calories Protein (g) Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Carbohydrates (g) Sodium (mg)
Ultra Thin Sliced Roast Beef 70 10 3 1 1 520
Smoked Sausage Links 190 7 17 6 2 480
Honey Ham 60 9 1.5 0.5 3 450

When incorporating Hillshire Farm products into your diet, it's crucial to pay attention to these nutritional facts. Moderation, as well as pairing these meats with a variety of vegetables and whole grains, can help balance their high sodium and fat content for a more complete and healthy diet.

Processed Meats: Hillshire Farm and Cancer Risk

When exploring the relationship between processed meats and cancer risk, it's essential to ground our discussion in robust scientific evidence. A significant study published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen. This classification places them in the same category as tobacco smoke and asbestos in terms of their carcinogenic potential to humans, specifically increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Hillshire Farm products, much like other brands offering processed meats, include items such as sausages, deli meats, and hot dogs. These foods undergo processes such as curing, salting, fermentation, and smoking, aimed at enhancing flavor and prolonging shelf life. However, these very processes can also introduce compounds that contribute to health risks.

  • Nitrate and Nitrite Usage: Many Hillshire Farm products contain nitrates and nitrites, which can transform into carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds in the body, especially in the presence of high heat and amino acids.
  • Heme Iron: The heme iron found in red meat, while efficiently used by the body, may also promote the formation of N-nitroso compounds.
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): Smoking meats contributes to the introduction of PAHs, which are formed when organic matter burns. These compounds are known carcinogens.

Several epidemiological studies have investigated the link between processed meat consumption and cancer. For instance, a cohort study published in The BMJ observed an association between processed meat intake and a heightened risk of breast cancer. The dose-response relationship noted in the research implies that the more processed meat consumed, the greater the potential risk.

While direct causality is complex to determine, and factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environmental exposures play significant roles, the cumulative evidence raises substantial concern. Considering the frequency of consumption and portion sizes can be critical in managing this risk. According to the American Cancer Society, it is advisable to limit the intake of processed meats to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

In addressing the specifics of Hillshire Farm products, it's worth noting that some consumers are opting for products labeled as "nitrate-free" or "no artificial preservatives." However, it is essential to read labels carefully, as these products may still contain natural sources of nitrates, such as celery powder, which can have similar effects in the body to synthetic nitrates.

Public health guidelines recommend moderation in the consumption of processed meats and consider dietary patterns that emphasize plant-based nutrition for reducing cancer risk. Those concerned about potential health risks may want to prioritize lean meats, fish, and vegetarian protein sources as alternative choices.

Preservatives and Additives in Hillshire Farm Meats

When considering the health aspects of any packaged meat products, preservatives and additives are critical components to scrutinize. Hillshire Farm, a brand known for its deli meats, sausages, and hot dogs, commonly uses various preservatives and additives to enhance flavor, improve shelf life, and maintain product safety. It's essential for consumers to understand the potential health implications of these ingredients.

Sodium Nitrite: One of the most commonly found preservatives in processed meats, including those from Hillshire Farm, is sodium nitrite. It serves to prevent the growth of bacteria and imparts a characteristic flavor and pink color to the meat. However, when cooked at high temperatures or when the product ages, sodium nitrite can react to form nitrosamines, compounds that have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the USDA regulates the amount of sodium nitrite used in meats to minimize this risk.

Phosphates: Phosphates are added to meat products to increase water retention, which improves texture and prevents drying out during cooking. Research published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition has suggested that excessive phosphate intake may be harmful to individuals with kidney disease, and could also contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, the exact impact on healthy individuals when consumed in the amounts present in processed meats remains uncertain.

Artificial Flavors and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Artificial flavors may be added to enhance the taste profile of the meats. MSG, a flavor enhancer commonly found in processed foods, can cause adverse reactions in some people, such as headaches or flushing, commonly referred to as the "MSG symptom complex", though scientific consensus on these effects is still a matter of debate.

High Sodium Content: Processed meats, including those from Hillshire Farm, tend to have high sodium content due to additives such as salt and sodium nitrite. High sodium intake is associated with increased blood pressure and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, as reported by the American Heart Association. It is recommended that consumers watch their overall daily sodium intake in accordance with dietary guidelines.

In conclusion, while preservatives and additives enable Hillshire Farm products to maintain taste, safety, and longevity, awareness of their potential health impacts is crucial. It's always recommended to consume these products in moderation and be mindful of individual dietary restrictions and health conditions. Staying informed about these components can help you make better dietary choices in line with your health goals.

Sodium Content and Health Implications

When discussing the health implications of any packaged food product, the sodium content is a critical aspect to be examined. Sodium is a necessary nutrient for physiological processes including nerve function and muscle contraction. However, excessive intake has been linked to various health issues, particularly elevated blood pressure, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

Hillshire Farm products include a wide variety of meats such as sausages, deli meats, and hot dogs. These products tend to be processed and are frequently high in sodium content due to the addition of salts used for preservation and flavor enhancement. For instance, a single serving of Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage can contain upwards of 400 to 500 milligrams of sodium, which is approximately 20-25% of the maximum recommended daily intake.

It's important for consumers to be mindful of the potential health implications linked with high sodium intake when consuming these products. Consistent overconsumption can lead to chronic health conditions, such as:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Osteoporosis

Studies have shown that reducing sodium intake can lead to markedly improved blood pressure, and as a consequence, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine has highlighted the potential public health gains of reducing dietary salt intake, including the possibility of preventing tens of thousands of cases of cardiovascular disease and stroke each year.

For individuals with certain health conditions, such as heart failure or hypertension, it is even more crucial to monitor sodium intake strictly. This can pose significant restrictions when it comes to consuming products like those offered by Hillshire Farm, which could otherwise contribute to an excessive daily sodium intake.

While the occasional indulgence in a Hillshire Farm product might be manageable within a balanced diet, habitual consumption without consideration for overall dietary sodium could inadvertently lead to health complications. It is always advisable for consumers to read the nutritional labels carefully and to manage portion sizes to ensure their sodium intake is within the recommended limits.

Those particularly concerned about sodium intake might consider selecting product varieties that are labeled as "low sodium" or "reduced sodium" which are increasingly available in the marketplace. Additionally, pairing these products with a variety of fresh vegetables and whole grains can help balance out a meal and contribute positively to overall healthful eating patterns.

Comparison with Whole Meat Alternatives

When assessing the health impact of procured meats like those offered by Hillshire Farm, it's important to compare them to whole meat alternatives. Whole meats typically refer to unprocessed meats that have not been modified with additives, preservatives, or flavorings. Here, we’ll dive into nutritional content, the presence of additives, and general health considerations when contrasting Hillshire Farm products with their whole meat counterparts.

Nutritional Content:

  • Protein: Whole meats are often praised for their high-quality protein content. Hillshire Farm products, while still protein-rich, may contain slightly less protein per serving compared to unprocessed meats, due to added ingredients.
  • Fats and Carbohydrates: Unprocessed meats usually contain natural fats and virtually no carbohydrates. However, processed meats might include added sugars and fillers that increase their carbohydrate content.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Whole meats come with a blend of essential nutrients such as B-vitamins, iron, and zinc. Processed options may lose some of these during preparation or might be augmented with synthetic versions.


  • Preservatives: Hillshire Farm products often contain additives like sodium nitrate to extend shelf life and maintain color, which are typically absent in fresh whole meats.
  • Sodium: Processed meats are known for high sodium levels needed for preservation, which is less common in fresh, whole meat options.
  • Flavor Enhancers: Processed meats may include artificial flavors or MSG to boost taste, while whole meats rely on their natural flavor profiles and commonly used seasonings.

Health Considerations:

Scientific studies have indicated that consumption of processed meats can be associated with various health concerns. For instance, research has linked processed meat intake to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. These risks are often linked to the high levels of sodium, preservatives, and saturated fat found in processed meats like those from Hillshire Farm.

Expert Opinions:

Many nutritionists and health experts recommend moderation when consuming processed meats and suggest opting for whole meat alternatives whenever possible. The American Heart Association advises limiting intake of processed meats to reduce the risk of heart disease. In parallel, the World Health Organization has classified processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens, which indicates that there is sufficient evidence to say that they can cause cancer.

Ultimately, when considering the health profiles of Hillshire Farm products relative to whole meat alternatives, a discerning eye on ingredients and a commitment to moderation are key. By understanding the differences in nutritional content, additives, and health implications, consumers can make more informed choices about including processed meats in their diets.

Balance and Moderation: Incorporating Processed Meats into a Healthy Diet

The consumption of processed meats, such as those offered by Hillshire Farm, should ideally be approached with an understanding of balance and moderation in a well-rounded diet. While these products can provide a convenient and tasty option, they are often high in sodium, saturated fats, and preservatives, which can pose health risks if consumed in excess. This section will explore how to include processed meats into a healthy dietary pattern without overindulging.

Sodium Intake:

Processed meats, including those from Hillshire Farm, are typically high in sodium, which is used both for flavor and preservation. A high sodium diet can lead to increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. To incorporate these products without exceeding daily sodium limits, consider the following:

  • Check the Nutrition Facts label to choose options with a lower sodium content.
  • Balance meals by pairing processed meats with low-sodium sides, like fresh vegetables or whole grains.
  • Use smaller amounts to add flavor to dishes, rather than making them the main component of a meal.

Saturated Fat Considerations:

Saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, contributing to heart disease. Moderate consumption of saturated fats is crucial, especially when indulging in processed meats. Here are tips for managing saturated fat intake:

  • Choose lean cuts or lower fat versions of Hillshire Farm products when available.
  • Complement with heart-healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, or olive oil to maintain a balanced fat profile in meals.
  • Prepare with cooking methods that reduce fat content, such as grilling or baking, instead of frying.

Preservative Awareness:

Many processed meats contain preservatives like nitrates or nitrites, which have potential health concerns when consumed in high quantities. While the link between these preservatives and health risks such as cancer is still being researched, it's wise to eat these foods in moderation. The American Cancer Society provides information on the relationship between processed meat and cancer risk. Consider choices that are free from added nitrates or nitrites.

Portion Sizes:

Observing portion sizes is another key aspect of incorporating processed meats into a healthy diet. Instead of indulging in large servings, follow these guidelines:

  • Refer to serving sizes on the package and stick to them, resisting the temptation to consume multiple servings in one sitting.
  • Use processed meats as a complement or side to meals centered around plant-based foods or whole grains.
  • Incorporate processed meats into your diet occasionally, rather than every day, to diversify your intake of proteins.

Remember, while processed meats can have a place in a diverse and balanced diet, they should not eclipse the role of fresher, less processed food options. Combining these practices with regular physical activity and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help maintain overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with excessive processed meat consumption.

Frequently asked questions

Hillshire Farm products, being primarily processed meats, are not suitable for a vegetarian diet as they contain animal-based ingredients. Vegetarians should seek alternative protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, and nuts.

While Hillshire Farm products can be part of a varied diet, those aiming to reduce heart disease risk should consume them in moderation, opt for lower-sodium and lower-fat versions, and prioritize a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Individuals with gluten sensitivities should check the ingredient list and packaging of Hillshire Farm products for gluten-containing ingredients or a gluten-free label, as some products may contain gluten due to added fillers or cross-contamination risks.

Consumers looking for lower-sodium Hillshire Farm products should carefully read the nutritional labels, seeking options labeled 'low sodium' or 'reduced sodium,' and compare the sodium content per serving among different choices.

Ask a question about Hillshire Farm Products and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • upset stomach
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • bloating
  • fluid retention

Possible long-term side effects

  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • colorectal cancer
  • breast cancer
  • chronic kidney disease
  • osteoporosis

Ingredients to be aware of


  • convenient
  • source of protein

Healthier alternatives

  • lean meats
  • fish
  • vegetarian protein sources
  • whole grains
  • fresh vegetables

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Applegate Natural Bacon

  • Uncured, thick cut
  • No added hormones
  • Humanely raised
  • No chemical nitrates
  • Gluten and casein free
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

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