Don’t Buy Deli Meat Until You Know These 5 Shopping Tips

Hey there, lunch-packers and DIY hoagie builders. We’ve got a question for you. Do you have a particular approach when choosing your cold cuts? We want to know if you go ham or turkey for something more than what is on sale or brand loyalty.

In all likelihood you’ve noticed the sparkly and somewhat confusing descriptors being slapped on food labels today. It is happening with deli meat too! For some, the labels are a quick and reliable way to tell if something is organic— or they’re an unreliable way to tell if a food is “natural”. Marketing at its finest, right?

As you probably know, there are certain additives that can affect the taste, texture, and overall quality of processed meats like sliced ham or turkey. There are also ingredients that can adversely affect your health. If you want to rely on more than your taste buds to pick a winning cold cut, then deciphering labels is your best bet. Check out the info below before eating your next sandwich!

  1. “Natural”

    This term is probably one that fools people the most. Ambiguous and misleading, the “natural” mark pretty much means nothing. There’s not a formal definition sanctioned by the USDA nor the FDA, but both agencies consider it to mean nothing artificial has been added to a product, such as coloring, preservatives, or flavors.

    But the definition leaves open to interpretation manufacturing processes, pesticide use, and/or what is considered “artificial”.

  2. Organic

    This label is your best bet as this means your deli slices have been processed without antibiotics, hormones, or additives. Typically, you will see only a couple ingredients listed on the label like turkey and salt.

  3. Sodium Phosphate

    It’s used as a thickener and stabilizer, but it is considered an unhealthy ingredient, as it can contribute to high blood pressure and bloating. Sodium phosphate has also been linked to kidney damage. You’ll find this in many cured meats.

  4. Nitrite/Nitrate Free

    When you see this it is often accompanied with the word “uncured”. That means the meat was preserved without the use of chemicals or additives. Uncured lunch meats are usually preserved with something like celery powder, which contains natural nitrates. Nitrates turn into nitrites in the body.

    Sodium nitrate is a concerning chemical additive that turns into a harmful substance, and has been found to cause cancer in children and pregnant women. People who are allergic to nitrites or are concerned about their connection to diabetes, heart disease, or cancer should lean towards nitrate-free meats.

  5. Dextrose

    This is a sugar (typically sourced from corn) and is counted as an extra carb and source of calories. If you’re watching your weight or sugar intake, avoid this.

  6. Corn Syrup or Fructose

    Like dextrose, this is added sugar that can contribute to calorie overload or pose an issue for those who need to avoid starch or corn.

With deli meats, you also want to be on the lookout for sodium. Some of these meats tend to be higher on the sodium side, increasing your chances of having high blood pressure and other health issues. Check before ordering at the deli counter or grabbing a pre-packaged brand!

Are you a regular consumer of cold cuts? What do you watch out for when buying them? Do you find some of the label markings to be confusing?