Lunch meat: yay or nay?

I grew up eating a bologna and mayonnaise sandwich on soft white bread for lunch. While some traditions are meant to be treasured, lunch meat sandwiches aren’t one of them.

Lunch meat includes deli cold cuts, bologna, pastrami, salami, and slices of whole roasted meats like turkey, chicken, ham and roast beef. Most lunch meats are processed, meaning that they are preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or adding chemical preservatives. The ingredients list for even simple-sounding lunch meat like sliced turkey or ham can contain potassium lactate, brown sugar, sodium tripolyphosphate, dextrose, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, smoke flavor, sodium nitrite, and water.

Nitrites and nitrates are often added to lunch meats as a preservative and also to improve the color and flavor of the meat. While nitrites and nitrates are found naturally in many vegetables, adding them to meat that is processed at high temperatures creates compounds called nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer. Lunch meats that are smoked contain carcinogenic PAHs, substances that are formed at high-heat.

The American Institute of Cancer research notes that eating 3.5 ounces of processed meat every day – the amount in a typical sandwich – increases colorectal cancer risk by 36% when compared to eating no processed meat. A recent review of the scientific literature found that increased consumption of processed meat was also found to be associated with colorectal, esophageal, gastric and bladder cancers. The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating less processed meat as a way to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer because of the high amount of sodium, saturated fat, added sugar and calories.

Use these 4 tips when making a choice about lunch meat:

1. If you love a sliced meat sandwich, ask for sliced turkey or roast beef from the deli counter that has no added sodium, flavorings or preservatives.

2. Slice your own roasted chicken, turkey, or roast beef at home and use it for sandwiches.

3. Skip lunch meat completely and make sandwiches with nut butter or hummus. Or enjoy tuna, chicken or egg salad sandwiches using plain nonfat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.

4. Save deli meats for special occasions that happen less than once per month.

Happy lunching!

lynn_griegerWritten by Rise Coach Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC. Lynn is a foodie, runner, and optimist who lives in Arizona. She is trained as a registered dietitian/nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and running coach/personal trainer. Learn more about Lynn and how to work with her here.