Deli Meat Nutrition: Which Is the Healthiest Lunch Meat?

Sliced chicken breast is full of protein and low in saturated fat.
Image Credit: HandmadePictures/iStock/GettyImages

If you enjoy a deli meat sandwich, you may be wondering what type of lunch meat is the healthiest choice for your meal. Not all cold cuts are created equally, and certain choices are significantly better for your health than others.

Advertisement

Video of the Day

Once you know the nutritional differences between your different deli meat choices, you'll be able to prepare a healthier sandwich.

Meat Types

Calories

Carbs

Total Fat

Sat. Fat

Protein

Sodium

Turkey Breast

12

0.5 g

0.3 g

0.1 g

2.2 g

105 mg

Chicken Breast

12

0.4 g

0.2 g

0.1 g

2.1 g

124 mg

Ham

15

0.3 g

0.4 g

0.1 g

2.5 g

130 mg

Pastrami

45

0 g

1.5 g

0.5 g

8 g

215 mg

Bologna

69

0.2 g

5.6 g

1.9 g

4.3 g

254 mg

Salami

119

0.3 g

10.4 g

3.7 g

6.1 g

529 mg

Source: USDA: MyFoodData

Tip

If you're looking for the healthiest deli meat, consider sliced turkey breast, which is low in calories, fat and sodium.

What to Look for in the Healthiest Deli Meat

  • Calories:​ Eating more calories than you're able to burn off through physical activity and exercise will lead to weight gain and excess body fat, according to the USDA. If you want to maintain or lose weight, the calorie count of your deli meat is important because you must plan meals that don't have more calories than you're able to burn during the day.
  • Fat:​ When choosing the healthiest deli meat, fat is another consideration. If your diet includes too much fat, particularly saturated fat, you may be at an increased risk for weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, per the USDA.
  • Protein:​ The body needs protein to build new cellular tissue, restore damaged tissue and prevent tissue breakdown during physical activity, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). All meat products have protein. The amount of protein in lunch meat varies based on the type of meat and how it is prepared.
  • Sodium:​ Most deli meat is high in sodium. You should not eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, per the USDA. Eating a deli sandwich may put you close to this number, depending on how many slices you pile on your bread.

Advertisement

Turkey Breast

Turkey breast cold cuts are low in calories and high in protein. They are also particularly lean, making them a healthy sandwich meat option. In one slice of turkey breast deli meat, you'll get:

  • Calories​:​ 12
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 0.3 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 0.1 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 5 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 105 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0.5 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0.1 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0.3 g
  • Protein​:​ 2.2 g

Advertisement

Chicken Breast

Deli sliced chicken breast is also very low in calories, high in protein and low in saturated fat. In one slice of chicken breast deli meat, you'll get:

  • Calories​:​ 12
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 0.2 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 0.1 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 6.1 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 123.8 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0.4 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0.1 g
  • Protein​:​ 2.1 g

Advertisement

Ham

There is a significant amount of protein in deli ham, and it's still low in calories. That being said, it might not be one of the healthiest deli meats, as it has more fat and dietary cholesterol than its white meat counterparts.

In one slice of ham, you'll get:

Advertisement

  • Calories​:​ 15
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 0.4 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 0.1 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 7.6 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 130.1 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0.3 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0.3 g
  • Protein​:​ 2.5 g

Pastrami

Pastrami, which is made from beef brisket, is brined and dried then seasoned with herbs and spices before it is smoked and steamed, per the USDA.

Advertisement

Because it is cured, pastrami can be high in sodium, but when it comes to high-protein cold cuts, this deli meat surpasses the rest.

In one slice of pastrami, you'll get:

  • Calories​:​ 45
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 1.5 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 0.5 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 19.9 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 215 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • Protein​:​ 8 g

Advertisement

Bologna

Bologna can be made exclusively with one type of meat (usually pork), or it can include a mixture of pork, beef, chicken and turkey.

Bologna has more fat (both total and saturated fat) than the previously mentioned deli meats, and it is also particularly high in cholesterol and sodium, per the USDA.

Advertisement

In a slice of bologna, you'll get:

  • Calories​:​ 69
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 5.6 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 1.9 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 16.5 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 254 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0.2 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • Protein​:​ 4.3 g

Salami

Salami is a type of cured sausage made with fermented and air-dried pork meat. Because it is cured, salami is very high in sodium, accounting for about 23 percent of your daily value in one slice, per the USDA.

It is also high in calories, fat and cholesterol, though it boasts a decent amount of protein. In a slice of salami, you'll get:

  • Calories​:​ 119
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 10.4 g
    • Saturated fat​:​ 3.7 g​
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • Cholesterol​:​ 22.4 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 529 mg
  • Total carbs​:​ 0.3 g
    • ​​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​:​ 0.3 g
  • Protein​:​ 6.1 g

Tip

The current USDA dietary guidelines suggest limiting saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of your total calories per day.

What Is the Healthiest Deli Meat?

As for which of these is the healthiest deli meat, your best bet might be to go with lean cuts of turkey, chicken breast, lean ham or roast beef. When you can, choose fresh deli meat over prepackaged lunch meat, as suggested by the Cleveland Clinic.

While pastrami is the lunch meat with the most protein, it's high in fat, dietary cholesterol and sodium. Salami is the second lunch meat with the most protein, but it also contains the most fat, cholesterol and sodium of all the deli meats.

Tip

When choosing deli meat, look for low-sodium options to reduce the negative effects of added salt, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Healthier Sandwich Alternatives

There are ways to eliminate or reduce the amount of processed meat you eat. If you're intent on having a sandwich for lunch but want to avoid deli meats, consider a few suggestions from the University of Rochester Medical Center:

  • Chicken, tuna or hard-boiled egg salad — you can replace the mayo with a mixture of plain Greek yogurt and avocado
  • Fresh or roasted vegetables, such as peppers, shredded carrot or sprouts, with hummus
  • Roasted or fresh veggies on their own — load up!
  • Peanut butter and honey (instead of jelly) or banana or apple slices
  • Bean, veggie or lentil burger

Advertisement

references

Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...