The deli sandwich is a classic lunchtime choice but it could be hurting your health! This post will share the Top 10 Best Packaged Deli Meats and you’ll learn what to avoid when making a great sandwich.
Let’s face it, just about everyone goes for a deli meat sandwich now and then.
They taste good, are a quick protein fix, and a thrifty choice for lunch. If you buy one of the top-rated brands, you’ll likely be pretty pleased with your sandwich or wrap.
Deli meats are just fine to eat in moderation but it’s super important to make healthy choices. There are lots of things to take into consideration (including added sugars and stuff like nitrites and nitrates). But we’ll explore that a little further down.
So, grab a sandwich and we’ll learn more together!
What is deli meat?
According to the World Health Organization, deli meat (processed meat) is “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood.
Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.”
Is Boar’s Head the best deli meat?
Boar’s Head products definitely have the reputation out there as the best, for many reasons.
- Lower sodium
- Milk-free (some meats and dressing) and lactose-free (cheeses)
- No artificial colors or flavors
- No by-products or fillers
- Zero trans-fat from hydrogenated oils
While Boar’s Head is healthier deli meat, I’ll list more excellent choices below. It’s important to remember that all processed meats should only be eaten on occasion, due to the increased risk of colorectal cancer as implicated in various studies. Always follow the tips I’ll go over as you read along when choosing deli meat.
What is the healthiest deli meat?
The best deli meat is from an animal that has been grass-fed and is certified organic. Animals eating grains (that could have been treated with pesticides) or an otherwise poor diet won’t be as healthy as an animal raised in a natural pasture setting. Out of all the meats, turkey breast the healthiest due to its lean and low fat characteristics.
In my opinion, as long as the majority of your food intake weekly is vegetables, fruits, good-for-you grains, healthy fats, and proteins, eating deli meat on occasion is fine. But you may want to avoid eating a deli meat sandwich every day. If you do, you risk health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers (particularly colorectal).
What options are bad/ the unhealthiest?
The unhealthiest deli meats out there include bologna, hot dogs, sausages, and bacon. Bologna and hot dogs are typically a combo of meat and cured beef and pork…and some brands will have trimmings and organ pieces. Yes, you can buy products that say they are pure beef, but don’t forget they still contain nitrates, sodium, and fat. Excess sodium is a danger for many reasons, one of them being the link to gastric cancer.
My advice? In general, avoid these meats. Eat these foods as a once-in-a-while meal only. They won’t exactly make the cut in your healthy eating regimen.
Three health concerns with deli meat
The three key health concerns that arise when eating too much deli meat (or deli meat that is high in nitrates and sodium) include the following:
Diabetes and heart disease
Eating deli meats daily has its risks. A study in 2010 remarked that people who consumed 50 grams of processed meat a day may have an increased risk of diabetes (19%) and coronary heart disease (42%) compared to those who eat deli meats once a month or less.
The sodium content of processed meats is something you have to watch out for. Making a thick sandwich for lunch? You may be looking at a sodium count of as much as 1200mg. Even a thinly packed sandwich can have a tally of 500 to 700mg. What’s the daily recommendation? Less than 2300mg is ideal.
*If you have a health condition like hypertension, 1500mg of sodium is the max.
Studies do show a link between colorectal cancer and deli meats, but it is important to know that excessive consumption of red meat, in general, is also causative of the disease. It’s essential to limit both red meat and deli meat.
What deli meats are not processed?
Buy meat sliced fresh from a cooked cut of beef or ham, or slices of turkey meat from the deli . This is the best way to avoid processed meats. What you want to do is avoid ingredients commonly found in packaged deli meats like caramel color, which is often added to give a more appealing color to the meat.
As mentioned before, nitrates and nitrites (and excess sodium) are big red flags when it comes to packaged meat. Buying slices at the deli can get you better results.
How to pick healthy deli meat
When I shop for deli meat, I always do two things…
- Choose fresh deli meat when available: If a grocery store has a meat slicing counter, buy your lunch meat there.
- Read labels: Always read the package label! Look for these ingredients and avoid them…
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) may be a carcinogen
- BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) may be a carcinogen
- Sodium nitrate/sodium nitrite may increase heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. May also place strain on the kidneys
- Aspartame (see my post on sweeteners)
- Corn syrup can be inflammatory and is high in fructose
- Smoked/naturally smoked/smoke flavor is a possible carcinogen
- Sodium excess brings lots of risks, such as high blood pressure
Top 10 Best Packaged Deli Meats
When shopping for deli meats, here are my top 10 recommended options. These are based on stellar nutrition labels and simple ingredients.
1. 365 Whole Foods Market | Black Forest Uncured Ham: The animals raised for this ham are given vegetarian feed. Plus, the ingredients used to cure the meat are minimal like vinegar powder and cultured celery powder.
2. 365 Whole Foods Market | Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast: No hormones or antibiotics were given to the animals raised for this product. A simple blend of vinegar powder and sea salt are used as curing ingredients.
3. Gusto | Uncured Pepperoni: 100% vegetarian pork makes up this artisanal meat. There are also no added nitrates or nitrites.
4. Naturalissima | Uncured Hard Salami: This salami is minimally processed, and does not contain added nitrates or nitrites (other than what occurs naturally in the celery powder).
5. 365 Whole Foods Market | Uncured Pepperoni: This pepperoni is casein-free (casein can cause inflammation) and is made from pork fed a vegetarian diet.
6. Applegate | Organics Black Forest Uncured Ham: The pork used to make this deli meat is never given antibiotics or fed animal by-products.
7. Applegate | Black Forest Uncured Ham: Like many other of the best deli meats, this product is uncured so it has NO added nitrates or nitrites (except those naturally occurring with the celery powder).
8. Diestel | Oven Roasted Turkey Breast: “Thoughtfully Raised” is the motto here and it’s true. This meat is also organic, sugar free, and does not contain carrageenan or MSG.
9. North Country | Organic Uncured Black Forest Ham: This deli meat is cooked in small batches and has no GMO ingredients. Bravo! The only sweeteners you’ll find are maple syrup and turbinado sugar (which is minimally processed).
10. Applegate | Organic Oven Roasted Turkey Breast: The turkey raised to make this deli meat was humanely raised, and the final product is casein free, gluten free, and verified non-GMO.
To summarize, the best deli meats I have highlighted here are all good choices. I’ve only mentioned a few things about each one, although typical good points are no added nitrates and nitrites. It’s also great to see that each product has minimal ingredients. This also applies to beef jerk, FYI!
How to incorporate the best deli meats into your diet
The main moral of this story is that you can still eat processed meat (yay!) as long as you purchase healthy options and practice moderation. After all, meat is a great source of protein, which is an ESSENTIAL part of our diet.
Here’s a few ways to make this manageable:
- Think about your entire diet. Make swaps to allow for the occasional deli meats sandwich but be aware of sodium intake. Looking forward to bacon and eggs on the weekend? Consider skipping your deli meat sandwich this week.
- If you always eat sandwiches for lunch, mix it up! Make a veggie wrap one day, or pack an easy to transport salad.
- Make your meat at home: Cook a chicken and slice that for sandwiches throughout the week.
- Buy nitrate and nitrite free: The packaging usually says “uncured”.
- Watch for additives: Buy low sugar and low sodium deli meats.
Healthy Alternatives to Deli Meats
A great sandwich is an enjoyable thing, isn’t it? There are tons of ways to make a tasty sandwich without deli meat. These options are healthy, easy to prep, and delicious.
- Canned salmon
- Canned tuna
- Homemade roast beef (enjoy my French dip with homemade au jus)
- Nut butter (try my easy recipe!)
- Veggies and hummus in a homemade tortilla<–yum!
- Roasted chicken
- Chicken breasts cooked and used in a chicken and hummus wrap
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