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Feb 28, 2010 06:34 PM

Why is deli meat unhealthy?

I know deli meat isn't great for you...and I was trying to explain the "whys" to my husband,because I don't want my kids eating too much of it. How is it prepared differently than other meats? (I'm a vegetarian, and don't go near the stuff....)

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  1. "deli meat" is a broad category. are we talking bologna? turkey? ham? packaged? fresh-sliced? most of the unhealthy ones contain a lot of additives and preservatives. and rarely are they actually whole cuts - they're typically made from meat that's ground/processed, mixed with seasonings, additives and fillers, and then pressed/molded into blocks or "breasts" that can be sliced.

    1. Nonsense.
      Deli meat may have higher levels of fat, sodium, and things like that than other forms of protein but deli meat (like almost anything you can consume) is only unhealthy if that's all you eat, 7 days a week.
      The trick to enjoying these delicacies without worry involves a simple concept American are unfamiliar with:

      3 Replies
      1. re: The Professor

        I agree. And also, there is such a huge difference between say, Oscar Meyer bologna or that "chopped pressed formed" stuff and nice slices of whole chicken or turkey breast from the deli counter. The latter are not high in fat, and if you get the low sodium kind, while still salty, won't hurt you if they aren't the only thing you eat!

          1. re: Just Visiting

            That's what deli is an abbreviation of (see below). Anyway ask my husband, they are delicacies to him!

            [German Delikatessen, from pl. of Delikatesse, delicacy, from French délicatesse, from Italian delicatezza, from delicato, delicate, dainty, from Latin dlictus, pleasing; see delicate.]

        1. A lot of the stigma surrounding deli meats comes from the use of nitrites in curing.

          Nitrites prevent the growth of deadly stuff like botulism. However, when heated to high temperatures, or under certain other conditions, they can break down to harmful compounds which have been linked to cancer.

          As such (and correct me if I'm wrong, charcuterie experts!) I believe that nitrites are generally used in uncooked cured meats (i.e. sopressata) which are generally not heated.

          Nitrates are a different animal. Nitrates do not form the carcinogenic compounds I mentioned.

          Carcinogens are scary stuff, yes, but deli meat will not kill you. As mentioned... everything in moderation.

          I don't eat a lot of deli meat personally, simply because buying deli turkey costs ten times as much as buying a turkey breast, and you're paying for water, salt, fillers, and often, the most appetizing thing on any ingredient list: "mechanically separated meat." Mmm.

          I'll cook my own sandwich meat, thanks. :D

          8 Replies
          1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

            "you're paying for water, salt, fillers, and often, the most appetizing thing on any ingredient list: "mechanically separated meat.""
            i think it's safe to assume that this is the type of deli meat the OP was talking/inquiring about...not the high quality fresh-carved meats often sold at deli and prepared food counters in delis and high-end markets.

            the concern with sodium nitrite is that when it reacts with stomach acid, it produce nitrosamines, which have been shown to cause cancer *in animals* when consumed in large quantities. but the nitrite content in deli meat isn't extremely high, so moderate consumption by humans has been deemed safe. of course the key there is *moderate* consumption which, as we all know, isn't always the case in this country.

            and as far as nitrates are concerned, while they may not be carcinogenic, i'd still rather not consume an ingredient that's also used in everything from rocket fuel & fireworks to fertilizer.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              ghg, you could also be talking about water, you know...

              1. re: EWSflash

                and oxygen...and nitrogen...yeah, i know. but that's stretching it just to argue for argument's sake, don't you think?

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  just remember, smoking causes carcinogens too... I figure those are probably worse.
                  Do you think celery is carcinogenic?

              2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                "the concern with sodium nitrite is that when it reacts with stomach acid, it produce nitrosamines"

                I beleive that this is incorrect, nitrosamines are formed when nitrites are heated to high temperature, eg frying bacon. Nitrites are natural and in most veggies in great abundance, 100's to 1000's of times more than any processed meat can have by law. Don't even think of eating celery if you worry about nitrites.

                1. re: snowman51


                  "As indicated in the table, nitrosamines can form in the gastric juice of the human stomach. This is commonly referred to as endogenous nitrosation. Bacteria in the mouth chemically reduce nitrate, which is prevalent in many vegetables, to nitrite, which in turn can form nitrosating agents. Many foods contain amines that can react with nitrosating agents in the acidic stomach to form nitrosamines."

                  1. re: snowman51

                    It's not the heat; if it were, microwaving wouldn't prevent nitrosamine formation.

                2. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                  I agree any leftovers, steak, roast beef, pork, chicken etc. are put in the fridge overnight and then sliced super thin and then put in Ziplocks (90g) and frozen for lunch meat. ( I find it easier to slice when it is cold) My daughter is sixteen and won't even touch deli meat. When she gets a sub its veggie because of the meat. She says it tastes gross. And what is that stuff at the deli counter that has macaroni in it? The "experts" say 200g/week of deli meat is okay. I may not have all the science but no thank you. Real meat taste better. And I won't tell you what we call bologne or hotdogs.

                3. I've read some reports that the nitratyes may not be good for forming fetuses.
                  My opinion would be to not eat lunchmeat if I was expecting.

                  Other than that, I don't eat whipped, pressed, and sliced meat like products all that often simplyu because they are "unhealthy," I don't eat them because they are disgusting, and I have no idea what they are made out of. IMO, turkey is not open to interpretation. I have never, ever seen a turkey with a rectangular breast. I have never, ever carved a thanksgiving turkey, and had the meat have a consistency of gelatin. If i want a turkey sandwich, then I'd like it made with turkey, not something that came out of a mold. If subway used real meat, I'd eat there five days a week, easily

                  And don't get me started on bologna. - lol. Once in a while tho, I'll get a craving for some really gros lunchmeat. Once a year, I'll see bologna on sale, and but a1/4 pound of it. Then I'm good for another year or two.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: gordeaux

                    or celery. *snort* "i've heard" is the cowards way out.

                    1. re: Chowrin

                      Clearly you haven't had mayo and pepper-covered slice of olive loaf rolled up and nestled into a nice celery stalk.

                      Once a year, of course.

                    2. re: gordeaux

                      We are like that about "Chinese Food" Once a year, then feel really sick and then remember why we only eat it once/year...until the next year lol

                    3. It all depends on the deli meat. Sausage, broadly speaking, is a millennia-old use of odd cuts and curing materials - to avoid wasting bits of a slaughtered animal. And that's a good thing; I always find it funny when people think that something that is made from odd bits is inherently inferior to, let's say, an integral cut from the breast or the loin. Only a very modern person would be tempted to think that way; it's a perspective that arises from a culture of abundance and waste.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        Karl S, you hit the nail on the head and I agree 100%. Our American culture (or more accurately the lack thereof) is one that has been spoiled by abundance, and as a result turn their noses up that things (delicious things) that other people and cultures have enjoyed and nourished themselves on for hundreds, even thousands of years. People who have to know _every_ single component of what they're eating really do tend to irritate me.

                        I am SO thankful that I live in an area (in NJ) that has a different abundance: one of wide ethnic diversity, and one that allows me to constantly taste and sample "mystery bits" of food.
                        I always try first, and ask questions later.
                        As to the "healthy/not healthy" question...again, in moderation practically everything is healthy.

                        1. re: The Professor

                          "People who have to know _every_ single component of what they're eating really do tend to irritate me."

                          I remember reading in a teacher's companion to the Little House books some period (1800s) advice for dealing with the general store. Women were advised to keep a sharp eye out for flour "stretched" with plaster or sawdust, dyed pebbles in the coffee, and vinegar made with diluted sulfuric acid -- and that to buy from people they trusted was the best insurance against going home with inferior products. That was long before the Pure Food and Drug Act, of course. Now, the "general store owner" (the FDA) kindly tells us that all sorts of additives and adulterants are "fine in moderation" but neglects to tell us that some chemicals don't even have to be listed on ingredient labels because they're considered "manufacturing aids," not ingredients. I think if Ma Ingalls came into one of our modern grocery stores, she'd be just as wary and just as vigilant as some of us are that someone behind the counter (maybe way, WAY behind the counter) not have a chance to put something she didn't bargain for in her family's food.

                          My point is not that we should act like brats at the table and demand the ingredients list before a crumb passes our lips, but that we should be informed consumers, like our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were by necessity.

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            LG and Professor,

                            Thanks for giving a perspective that I never had a chance to know about. I have huge cravings for things like Mortadella, street meat and processed veal sausages once in a while, but am also guilty of reading every label and background-checking all my food sources these days. I wish I could be more adventurous and be able to heartily enjoy all the mystery meats that the world has to offer, but in this day and age with all the news I read about, it is difficult not to be too cautious..

                            In this day and age where information is literally at our fingertips, it is almost a sin not to be informed consumers.

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              As an interesting, perhaps, aside: the Ingalls' house is now a ranch raising "natural" Piedmontese beef.

                                1. re: just_M

                                  Sorry I'm so late to respond, but I had forgotten its name. It's Tallgrass Beef. Apparently they've branched out and contract out to a number of ranches. And it's not Piedmontese anymore - perhaps it wasn't before, but that's how I remembered it. They sent me a sample; I enjoyed it.


                              1. re: LauraGrace

                                so you don't use white sugar because of bone shards?

                                1. re: Chowrin

                                  It's "bone char", and no I don't -- I buy vegan sugar or unrefined sugar. Thanks for asking.

                                2. re: LauraGrace

                                  Generally I agree but there are some people that are required to watch their dietary intake due to medical reasons.

                                3. re: The Professor

                                  Thank you for that first paragraph. I like the second one, too.