Jimmy Dean's Legacy: Nitrates, Additives, Sodium

Singer and businessman, Jimmy Dean is shown in Plainview, Texas, in 2003.
AP Photo
Jimmy Dean, whose brand of processed meats made him the bane of health-conscious eaters, died Sunday while eating at his home in Henrico County, Va. He was 81.

Dean's wife, Donna Meade Dean, said he had been doing well despite some recent health problems. She said she had left the room briefly and found him unresponsive when she returned.

"His legacy extends far beyond his development of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand and he will be missed by millions," the Sara Lee Corporation, said of Dean in a posting on the brand's Facebook page. Sara Lee bought the brand from Dean in 1984.

And while the company's products have been popular from the start, experts say the sausages and processed meats Jimmy Dean is famous for are notoriously bad for you - packed with saturated fat, sodium and additives.

Processed meats can increase the risk of heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent, U.S. researchers said Monday in the latest study on dietary health risks.

However, unprocessed lamb, pork or beef did not increase those health risks, according to a Reuters report, suggesting that increased salt and chemical preservatives of processed foods may be the real culprits.

"There is a substantial body of evidence indicating that red meat, and processed meats in particular, are associated with heart attack, diabetes and colorectal cancer," said Walter Willett, MD, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The evidence is very clear that replacing sausage in our diets with some combination of fish, poultry, nuts and beans would be healthier."

By example, a single serving (3 links) of "Jimmy Dean Heat 'N Serve" maple-flavored sausage Links provides 18 grams of fat, or 28 percent of the amount recommended for an entire day. One serving provides 6 grams of saturated fat, or 30 percent of the daily recommendation.

Another product, "Jimmy Dean Country Mild Sausage," provides 21 calories of total fat, or 32% of the amount the government recommends for an entire day.

In recent years, the company has introduced a line of healthier choices, but some of them are only marginally better healthwise.

The "D-Lights Turkey Sausage Croissant" weighs in at 290 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat, that's 30 percent of the suggested daily intake. The product also has 830 milligrams of sodium, about a third of your daily dose.

Jimmy Dean stopped working for the company that bore his name in 2003.

Besides his wife, Dean is survived by three children and two grandchildren, Donna Meade Dean said. Arrangements have not been made, but it will be a private service, she said.