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Deli Meats - Making the Right Choice

In many lunchtime sandwiches across the nation, deli meats are a standard. Fast food chain Subway has built its fortune on the sale of deli meat sandwiches. One brand in particular, Oscar Mayer, has been a beloved namesake for generations of lunch packing moms. There's no doubt, Americans love their bologna. Can these meats be a part of a healthy diet?

The term "deli meat" refers to meats preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives.

In most cases, red meat is used, either pork or beef. As tasty as they are, deli meats are NOT a health food. Multiple studies have demonstrated that increased consumption may lead to heart disease and cancer.

Among the problems associated with cold cuts are high levels of unhealthy fats, high levels of sodium, nitrates, and other additives.

Saturated Fats. Not all fats are created equal and the saturated fats in processed meats may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sodium. Salt is a natural preservative that has been used for ages to preserve meat. Unfortunately, the average American consumes almost twice as much salt as recommended by national health guidelines. This can result in high blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular disease.

Nitrates. Sodium Nitrite and its closely related Sodium Nitrate are food preservatives that help preserve the pinkish red color of the meat, which would otherwise look unappetizingly gray.

Unfortunately, when cooked or broken down in the stomach, nitrites form nitrosamines (also called N-Nitroso Compound), which can cause cancer in young children and pregnant women. The good news is that adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the food product greatly reduces the formation of nitrosamines. USDA meat inspection regulations have limited the use of nitrite to 200 parts per million. Nitrates are naturally present in spinach, beets, lettuce, celery, parsley, and cabbage. Don't stop eating these veggies, many of them also contain vitamin C, naturally limiting the formation of the toxic nitrosamines.

Other additives. Lunch meats are made from low quality meat cuts. Without additives, they would taste bland and look unappealing. The role of the added ingredients is to mask these inherent problems.

Here is an example of a poor choice. Oscar Mayer Bologna lists these ingredients: Mechanically Separated Chicken, Pork, Water, Corn Syrup, Contains Less Than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Flavor, Sodium Phosphates, Autolyzed Yeast, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Dextrose, Extractives of Paprika, Potassium Phosphate, Sugar, Potassium Chloride

A better choice would be Applegate Roasted Turkey Breast: Turkey Breast (Turkey Never Administered Antibiotics or Animal By-Products. Vegetarian Grain-Fed), Water, Contains Less than 2% of the Following: Sodium Lactate (from Beets), Salt, Carrageenan (from Seaweed)

Bottom Line

Deli meats are not a healthy option for daily consumption.

Supermarket tips

  • When possible, choose chicken or turkey meats instead of pork or beef.

  • Try non-meat options such as tuna or hummus.

  • Make your own. Marinate and roast a whole turkey breast and slice it up for sandwiches.

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