Presliced and ready to use from the package, cold cuts are convenient lunch choices. They include deli meats, such as turkey breast, ham, salami, roast beef and corned beef, as well as sliced cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss. A healthy lunch with cold cuts includes a variety of additional healthy foods to provide you with a range of essential nutrients.
Getting Essential Nutrients
Deli meats provide protein, an essential nutrient for building muscle mass and maintaining a strong immune system. Turkey breast provides 29 calories and 5 grams of protein per ounce. Bologna and pepperoni provide 4 grams of protein per ounce but have 87 to 138 calories per ounce. Cheese is also a source of protein, as well as calcium, an essential nutrient for building strong bones. Meat and cheese provide vitamin B-12 and iron.
Make a Calorie-Controlled Lunch
The calories in fatty processed meats and full-fat cheese can quickly add up, making your lunch high-calorie if you are not careful. Consuming more calories than you expend causes weight gain, and a healthy lunch will provide nutrients your body needs without excessive calories. Limit the calorie content of your lunch by choosing lower-calorie cold cuts, such as turkey and low-fat ham. Skip or take only small portions of high-calorie components, such as bread, and minimize high-calorie condiments, such as mayonnaise on sandwiches.
Choose Lower-Fat Varieties
Many cold cuts, such as turkey breast and chicken breast, are low-fat. Some kinds of cold cuts, including pepperoni, salami, bologna and full-fat cheese, are high in fat and in saturated fat. Selecting higher-fat cold cuts frequently can cause weight gain. In contrast, avocados and nuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Add avocados to a turkey and low-fat cheese sandwich or to a green salad with ham, or bring some nuts to eat with your lunch.
Watch Your Sodium Intake
Cheese is naturally high in sodium due to the salt added during the cheese-making process, and processed meats, such as cold cuts, are also high-sodium. A high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure and a greater risk for stroke and kidney disease. Choose low-sodium cold cuts, and be aware that bread is a higher-sodium grain option. If you are concerned about your sodium intake, eat your cold cuts with an unsalted cooked grain instead of making a sandwich. Try cooked quinoa with chopped ham and red peppers or whole-grain pasta with diced tomatoes, grilled zucchini and turkey breast. Include some low-sodium snacks, such as fresh fruit and baby carrots, in your lunch.
Be Cautious of Nitrates and Nitrites
Many processed meats contain preservatives called nitrates and nitrites. These chemicals add the pink color to processed meats and prevent bacterial growth to extend the shelf life, but consumption of processed meats containing nitrates and nitrites can increase your risk of certain cancers, such as bladder, pancreatic and colorectal cancer. To avoid nitrates and nitrites, read the list of ingredients on packages of processed meat, and choose meats without such ingredients.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- University of Michigan: Healthy Fats
- University of Michigan: Dairy
- University of Michigan: Lean Meats
- National Archives and Records Administration: 21 Code of Federal Regulations 101.62 Nutrition Labeling of Food
- American Journal of Epidemiology: Pancreatic Cancer and Exposure to Dietary Nitrate and Nitrite in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study
- International Journal of Cancer: Dietary Nitrate and Nitrite Intake and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the Shanghai Women's Health Study
- International Journal of Cancer: Dietary Sources of N-Nitroso Compounds and Bladder Cancer Risk: Findings from the Los Angeles Bladder Cancer Study
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Ham and Food Safety
Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.