Think deli meats are healthy alternative? Studies suggest limiting consumption for health reasons

SAN ANTONIO – If your lunch routine includes cold cuts such as ham, bologna, roast beef or even turkey, a new Consumer Reports analysis of deli meats may have you rethinking your sandwiches.

Regularly eating even small amounts of processed meats, such as hot dogs and bacon, increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, according to numerous studies.

But if you think buying “uncured” deli meats is a healthier choice, Consumer Reports' study says that’s not necessarily the case.

“It’s the same for any cold cuts — roast beef, ham, salami, turkey, even organic,” said Sana Mujahid, Ph.D., food safety expert for Consumer Reports. “It’s all processed meat.”

Food scientists at Consumer Reports tested 31 varieties of deli meat for nitrates and nitrites, which are used to prevent bacterial growth and add flavor but may be linked to cancer.

Consumer Reports' testing found among the meats labeled “cured” and “uncured,” the nitrate and nitrite levels were essentially the same. Testing also found even meat labeled to indicate no nitrites actually contained some.

“Government rules for labeling cold cuts are obsolete,” Mujahid said. “No nitrites doesn’t actually mean no nitrites. It means no synthetic nitrites.”

Synthetic nitrites are made in a lab, and natural ones come from vegetables, such as celery.

Consumer Reports’ scientists said the chemical composition of natural and synthetic nitrates and nitrites are exactly the same and so are their potential health effects.

While the North American Meat Institute said that most nitrites in our diets come from vegetables, the industry group says many meat processors think all deli meat should be labeled “cured” no matter which curing process is used.

Also of concern is that some cold cuts Consumer Reports tested contained coloring agents that may also pose health risks, and many of the samples had high levels of sodium.

So do you have to give up deli meat completely? Consumer Reports say not necessarily, but it suggests limiting how much you and your family eat.

Instead of packing your child ham and salami, think outside the box with sandwiches made with tomatoes and mozzarella, roasted or fresh vegetables with avocado or hummus and nut butters with apples or banana slices instead of jam.

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