Lunch meats are a quick and convenient lunch for many, but sometimes it’s difficult to sort through what you should be looking for in order to choose the healthiest possible options. One thing to look out for is saturated fat. We recommend looking for deli meats that have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat in 2 oz. That’s not hard to find in sliced turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef, corned beef, or pastrami. But it’s rare in a bologna or salami. Two ounces of Oscar Mayer Beef Bologna or Hard Salami, for example, have 6 or 7 grams of saturated fat— about a third of a day’s worth.
Instead, try Applegate Uncured Turkey Bologna. It has just 1½ grams of saturated fat, it delivers more protein (9 grams) than most bolognas, and its sodium (400 mg) isn’t off the charts. Applegate Uncured Turkey Salami has more sodium (480 mg), but it’s got less saturated fat (½ gram) than any salami we found.
Additionally, don’t be fooled by “No Nitrites Added” claims.
Many companies cure their turkey, ham, salami and other lunch meats by adding sodium nitrite, a preservative which may raise the risk of colorectal and other cancers. Should you ditch them for lunch meats that say “no nitrites or nitrates added” or “no artificial preservatives,” or that claim to be “natural” or “uncured”? Not necessarily.
Companies that make those claims usually add celery (or some other vegetable) juice or powder that is rich in naturally occurring nitrates, which are converted to nitrites—either in the food or when they react with bacteria in our bodies. (Some companies—like Oscar Mayer—add “cultured” celery juice, in which the nitrates have already been converted to nitrites.)
The take-home message: assume that meats with celery or vegetable juice or powder listed in the ingredients list end up with about as much nitrite as meats with sodium nitrite.
What about the remaining lunch meats that contain neither sodium nitrite nor vegetable juice or powder? They may end up with as much nitrite—from ingredients like sea salt, evaporated cane juice, potato starch, natural flavorings, or seasonings—as meats that are cured with sodium nitrite. Or they may have less. We simply can’t say for sure, and companies wouldn’t tell us.