Is It Paleo? Deli Meat

When it comes to convenience, it’s tough to beat deli meat.

Ham, turkey, salami, prosciutto, roast beef, and dozens of other options are sold in almost every grocery store, and they require no preparation whatsoever to eat.

Traditionally, lunches and sandwiches rely heavily on such cold cuts, but there are a ton of popular news articles that paint these meats as incredibly unhealthy.

Are Deli Meats Healthy?

There are many reasons bandied about as to why deli meats may be unhealthy. I’ll quickly look at them one by one:

  1. Nitrates and Nitrites. Nitrates and nitrites are often used as preservatives in deli meats. And somehow, it’s become “common knowledge” that nitrate contribute to cancer and heart disease. Luckily, that isn’t the case. Check out Chris Kresser’s article for a full explanation as to why, but the short answer is that the science just isn’t there, and most nitrates come from either vegetables or our own bodies anyway.
  2. Oxidized Fats and Heterocyclic Amines. When many foods are exposed to high temperatures, either the fats or the combination of sugars and proteins start to change and create compounds that are harmful to humans. And this is potentially the case for some processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, etc. However, most deli meats are cured rather than cooked, and those that are cooked are usually cooked at a low temperature.
  3. Low-Quality Animals. This is something that can’t be overlooked, particularly in the U.S. Most deli meat is not made from animals that were fed natural diets or taken good care of. Much of the deli meat that you can buy is of a lower quality as a result, but probably no lower than much of the raw meat you could buy at the same grocery stores.
  4. High Sodium. This is another common critique of deli meats, and it’s not completely off-base. The thing is, overall sodium intake is less important than the sodium-to-potassium ratio, but since deli meats are high in sodium and not in potassium, that’s not a good thing, health-wise.
  5. Additives. The worst part about deli meats is often not the meat itself – it’s what’s added to the meat. For instance, many deli types of meat contain things like gluten, processed sugar, artificial flavors, and other additives. Eating foods containing these ingredients may be more than a little risky.

The good news is that some deli meat comes to us free from terrible additives and possibly even from humanely-raised animals. And it’s this sort of meat (which looks more like actual meat) that Paleo experts generally agree can mean the difference between a yucky food and a great snack.

What do other Paleo gurus say?

Nell Stephenson says: “Nix those oh-so-common options that we see in any random grocery store, like good old Oscar Meyer Bologna or Buddig Chicken and investigate which if any meats are available to you that truly do fall within the parameters of Paleo. [Aim for] an ingredient panel such as ‘Ingredient: turkey.’ That’s what you’re going for, and if there’s anything else included, do your best to pass on that brand until you find another.”

Mark Sisson says: “My general recommendations are to stick to the quality stuff, with ingredients you recognize. Eat moderate amounts. Use it as a garnish, trail food, with cheese (if you do dairy), or as a topping on other dishes. Buy from trusted suppliers if it’s cured and in sausage form; if it’s straight up turkey breast or roast beef, make sure it comes from a single slab of real animal.”

So is deli meat Paleo?

Yes, but be cautious.

Make sure to look for meat that does not contain the additives mentioned above. Try not to make deli meat the center of your diet.

The best deli meat has a visible grain or streaks of real fat from the source. It’s even better if your deli meat comes straight from a single animal. If you cannot find this quality deli meat, it may be best to cook your meat at home and slice it yourself. That way, you can guarantee its ingredients.

Issue No. 35

Health Benefits of Turkey and Uses

It’s Turkey time again—time when you sit down with family, watch a football game if you’re so inclined, and pass the food with all the fixings but what are the health benefits of turkey? Front and center in the biggest food celebration of the year is turkey, the nearly ubiquitous Thanksgiving meat. Around 7 billion pounds of turkey (that’s 10 Empire State Buildings!) are produced yearly in the US, so if you’re a fan of the bird, you’re in luck. You can thank Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb, for convincing Abraham Lincoln that America should have an official turkey day.

Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not the tryptophan in turkey that makes you sleepy. This is a widely believed myth. In reality, you get sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal because you simply ate too much. The overindulgence in carbs and sometimes alcohol contribute to blood sugar spikes that tire your body out. But that doesn’t mean that a big serving of turkey is bad for you! In fact, turkey (in moderate portions, of course) is a great source of many nutrients.

Why is Turkey Good for You?

  1. Vitamins. Turkey contains lots of vitamin B6, which improves immune function and supplements the body’s key systems. Vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively common.
  2. Selenium. The selenium found in turkey carries a whole host of health benefits—too many to discuss—but among them are noted improvements in Alzheimer’s patients, better management of diabetes, and less incidence of benign tumors. Many people are deficient in selenium, and if fish (another great source) is not one of your favorite foods, turkey is a great alternative.
  3. Tryptophan. This chemical isn’t responsible for making you sleepy—in fact, it helps to balance blood sugar (which is the actual source of the sleepiness problem; you just don’t get enough turkey compared to everything else you eat on Thanksgiving). Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces serotonin, a mood stabilizer. It improves mental health and immune function.

Those are just a few of the great things about turkey. But before you go out and buy packages and packages of turkey meat to snack on every day, there are a few things you should know. Buying packing turkey deli meat isn’t a good choice—it’s often loaded with sodium and is extremely processed, so there are many things besides actual turkey meat hiding in there. Slow-cooking or baking a fresh turkey is the way to go. But how do you know that your turkey is fresh?

How Do You Choose Good Turkeys?

  1. Don’t believe your grocery store’s “fresh” label without asking the butcher when the turkey was actually prepared. Many stores label their turkeys as “fresh” even though they were packaged 9 months or more ago!
  2. Turkeys that are raised and then sold the same day or the day after they are harvested have a more intense flavor and better texture than frozen turkeys, so if you have a local butcher or meat shop, that will likely be your best bet. Local turkeys are also much less likely to have been given antibiotics and a grain-based diet.
  3. Choose turkey meat that is supple. Grainy or excessively firm meat should be avoided.

Turkeys are a great, nutritious meal anytime, but they really shine during the fall season. Remember that on average, you can plan for about a pound of turkey per person. This season, make sure turkey is on the menu and share it around!

Article by: Carrie Ott

Photo by Mike_fleming