Deli Meat—Um, What’s in it?

Muffuletta SandwichLook at that sammie… Doesn’t it look yum-o, as my girl, Rachael Ray would say? I made that sandwich & took that photo. That’s my famous Muffuletta. It’s loaded with mortadella, soppressata, genoa salami, capicola ham, sliced mozzarella, provolone and slathered with homemade olive spread, all stuffed into a nice Sicilian round loaf.

Yah! It’s a heart attack waiting for the bus and that bus is you!

So, you figure let’s just stick with some nice, fresh, low-fat turkey on wheat–hold the mayo–I’ll use mustard, sammie! Nice & healthy, right?

Umm, think again… The first thing I always ask when people argue that turkey deli-meat is healthy is: What kind of turkey grows into that nice, big shape that delicatessens slice it from? They usually look at me with a dumbfounded look on their faces like when Steve Harvey realized he’d announced the wrong beauty pageant contestant winner.

The proof is in the picture that I love a good deli-sandwhich more than the next person, but I refuse to fool myself. Marketing & advertising (because we let it) have pounded ads and campaigns into our heads using all kinds of friendly scenarios to give us a false sense of healthy education. (Think Phillip Morris Tobacco ads marketing to children.)


Not all deli meat is bad. Let’s first take a look at the 3 different kinds of deli meat.

  1. WHOLE CUTS: It’s exactly what it sounds like. Whole sections of meat & poultry that are cooked, salted & seasoned and/or sugared and packaged for the delicatessen. This type of deli meat is generally more expensive, obviously, because they’re using real, unprocessed (chemically) chunks of whole meats or poultry. (Eat this, if at all.)
  2. SECTIONED & FORMED: These are restructured meat products, such as multi part turkey breasts or cooked hams. They are prepared from chunks or pieces of meat and are bonded together to form a single piece. The substances that bind these together are non meat additivesmeat emulsions and extracted myofibrillar proteinsSounds attractive, huh? Typically they are produced by extracting the meat proteins (by adding salt and massaging or tumbling the meat which brings these “sticky” proteins to the surface) or by adding non meat proteins. Myosin is the major protein that is extracted. The meat becomes soft and pliable and is then shaped through the application of force using different molds or casings. It is then cooked to coagulate the proteins which bind the chunks of meat together in its new shape. If this isn’t enough to ween you off deli meat, read on… (Avoid this, at a minimum.)
  3. PROCESSED MEATSProcessed meats (sausages) are the majority of what we call cold cuts. About 15% of all meat produced in the U.S. is used to make these which number at over 200 varieties. Sausage manufacturing includes any type of meat that is chopped, seasoned and formed into a symmetrical shape – for example, bologna. There are two methods for preparing the ingredients: emulsion prepared where the meat is finely chopped and the hydrophobic proteins react witSnoopy Blechh fat, the opposite protein, and the hydrophilic will react with water to hold fat in the solution (bologna, Vienna sausages, hot dogs) … and non emulsion which typically are coarser grinds. The same basic technology is used for sectioned and formed meat products but with no tumbling and massaging required. There are several meat sources for sausages including beef, pork, mutton, veal, and poultry; meat by-products are also used some times like lips, tripe, pork stomachs and heart. Hungry still? (Avoid these, like the plague.)

Now that I’ve got your appetite going…

Let’s talk Sodium Nitrite. Sodium Nitrite is often used alone or along with Sodium Nitrate as a color fixative in cured meats & poultry products. These compounds are known carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.


Research in Sweden found that Swedes who ate on average 3 ounces of processed meat each day had a 15 percent greater chance of developing stomach cancer than those who consumed 2 ounces or less. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the University of Southern California reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2005;97:1458-65) that they studied 190,000 people, ages 45 to 75, for seven years. Those who ate the most processed meat (bacon, ham, cold cuts) had a 68% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least. “Most” was defined as at least 0.6 ounce processed meat, 1 ounce beef or 0.3 ounce pork per 1,000 calories consumed.

Dietitians suggest that you can help reduce the possible cancer-causing effects of sodium nitrite by consuming protective antioxidants before meals, such as vitamin C and vitamin E. But, remember, no vitamin offers 100% protection. This information was found here.

Those are just a couple of “additives” that can be found in deli meat products. I’ll save you the boring listing of them because if the above information isn’t enough to get you to quit deli meat or at least cut back, nothing will.

My Advice To You…

Let’s face it: deli meat is delicious! Regardless of all the BLECH factor. There is one rule WE SHOULD ALL LIVE BY: Moderation. It’s truly the key to just about everything. Eat deli meat sparingly or only on special occasions. And when you do eat it, take the advice of the dietitians that I mentioned. Before hand, take antioxidant-rich supplements such as vitamin C & vitamin E. Or…Eat a healthy dose of fresh antioxidants like broccoli or for a more complete list look here.

Never—should a healthy diet eliminate the things we love to eat. That just makes you crave (and eat) them more. Practice a lifestyle combination of moderate exercise, healthy eating & proper, positive social interaction (more than just Facebook) and above all: GET SOME FRESH AIR!


One comment

  1. Great info! Things we don’t think too much about! I’m a board head ham fan, but I do love an occasional hot dog! I love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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