Deli meats, lunch meats, or cold cuts all refer to cooked, ready-to-eat sliced meat that we love to stack in our sandwiches and serve up as party appetizers.  They serve as a much-needed source of protein for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack and require no utensils or messy cleanups.

Everyone has a go-to meat in their deli sandwich or a favorite brand that they buy at the grocery store, but it’s rare that we actually consider where our deli meats come from. Ever wonder what’s in your fave BMT from Subway or your homemade turkey sandwich? We got you covered.

Types of Deli Meat

Whole Cuts

No caption needed.

A photo posted by Katz's Delicatessen (@katzsdeli) on

Whole cuts of meat have been freshly cooked and sliced. They have most likely been flavored with salts, sugars, and spices. Examples of these meats include fresh turkey, roast beef, and corn beef. Snag these whenever possible.

Sectioned and Formed Meat Products

I sand-wish I could eat this everyday

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These are chunks of excess meat removed from the bone and ground together to form a single piece. The ground meat is held together by non meat additives, meat emulsions, and extracted myofibrillar proteins. Think packaged turkey, chicken, bologna, etc.

Processed Meats

Similar to moderately processed meats, these meats are ground together, blended, vacuumed, emulsified, and cased into shape after adding preservatives and sugars. Later, the meat is either aged (like salami) in the dripping room, cooked and smoked to be eaten hot or cold (mortadella), or cooked to be only eaten when cooked again (hot dogs). If you’re going for fresh, this is not your move.

Shopping Tips

Go Organic and Fresh

deli meat

Photo courtesy of Ambiente Group

In order to avoid growth hormones, antibiotics, or any other chemicals, buy certified organic, grass-fed lunch meats when possible. They typically cost 10-40% more but are much safer for your health. Since these products do not contain preservatives, be sure to store them properly and consume within 1 or 2 days of purchase.

Go Lean

Photo by Jennifer Cao

Photo by Jennifer Cao

Meats with less fat content are the best option for maintaining a healthy diet. Turkey, chicken, lean ham, and lean roast beef are excellent choices.

Go Salt-Free

Photo by Christina Langmack

Photo by Christina Langmack

Always choose the low-sodium option.  The average sodium in 4 slices of deli turkey is 1152 mg which is just under half the daily recommended amount of 2400 mg.  It is important to pay attention to your sodium intake because it can really add up in just one sandwich.

Limit Yourself

deli meat

Photo by Sara Tane

Always remember to ask for a sample if you are unfamiliar with a type of meat.  The texture or flavor may surprise you so it’s always wise to test it out.  Don’t be afraid to try something new instead of sticking to your average sliced turkey.