How Can I Choose a Healthier Lunch Meat?

The short answer from a registered dietitian
man cutting sub sandwich in half containing lunch meat and cheeses

Q: My kids like lunch meat for sandwiches and it’s very convenient, so is there a way to pick a healthier lunch meat option?

A: Processed meat, like lunch meat, hot dogs and sausage, are generally considered unhealthy. These types of meat have large amounts of saturated fat and sodium, both of which have been linked to cancer, obesity and heart disease

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But lunch meat is also incredibly convenient and many times kids prefer lunch meat over other types of meat. So if you’re searching for a healthier lunch meat option, consider these tips:

  • Always choose fresh deli meat over prepackaged lunch meat. Deli meat that is sliced fresh off the bone or slab contain natural nitrates and is minimally processed.
  • Look for a low-sodium deli meat. Fresh deli meat still has sodium because it’s used for preservation, so look for options that say low-sodium to help cut down on the salt. 
  • Choose the leanest cut of deli meat possible such as turkey, chicken breast, lean ham or roast beef. These type of deli meat have the highest nutritional value compared to others.    

If your only option is prepackaged lunch meat, you’ll want to read the food label carefully, specifically the ingredients and what’s been added. Look for nitrate-free and low-sodium options and make sure you understand the serving size.

You can also buy a roast, ham or chicken breast and cook it yourself, then slice it off into lunch meat size portions. This helps to ensure you know what’s in the meat you’re eating.

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– Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD.

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