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Why I Don’t Buy Deli Meat & How To Decide for Yourself PART II

Why I Don’t Buy Deli Meat & How To Decide for Yourself PART II

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

I talked more about why I choose to rarely buy deli meat in Part I of this post.

Is it Just the Nitrates?

A lot of people ask me if it’s the nitrates that cause cancer. According to the report, they do not fully understand how processed meats cause cancer yet. They suspect it is due to several things:

Heating meat forms the following chemicals (known or suspected to be carcinogenic):

  1. Heterocyclic aromatic amines
  2. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon

Meat Processing

Processing meat forms the following chemicals

  1. N-nitroso compounds (including, but not limited to added nitrate and nitrite)
  2. Polysyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

So, yes, it is a great idea to get nitrate or nitrite-free processed meats if/when you choose to purchase them. It’s also a good idea to get uncured meats. And also a good idea to get non-red meat processed meats such as fish and poultry.

Doing those things is a good idea, but does not change the fact that there still may be compounds in the food that are or may be carcinogenic. The report did not look at how differently processed meats (nitrate-free, free-range, grass-fed, uncured) could have less or greater effect.

Now What?

A lot to think about. Maybe you feel good that you already don’t eat a lot of processed meats. Maybe you feel panicked, because this is the ONLY food your kid will eat. Maybe you don’t care.

All valid feelings. Everyone has different positions on this. I know a lot of people who eat processed meats all the time. I don’t judge. It’s truly your call. I have zero way of telling if processed meats will give YOU cancer. There is no way to tell that. No amount of research can tell you that.

So, deep breaths for everyone.

Let’s talk about what makes sense for “most” people. I say “most,” because there are always exceptions.

Can we add more veggies? 

Can we add more fruits?

Can we add more beans, peas, and lentils for protein?

Can we use unprocessed meats like poultry and fish when we eat animal protein?

All these things have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer for people. If you need ideas for fruits and veggies to add into your diet, I have a free veggie exposure shopping list that I use.

Can you reduce the amount of processed meats or red meat you serve?

If You Want to Make a Change (with Sandwich Ideas)

We used to eat deli meat quite a bit when we first got married. I slowly weaned us down and found different sandwiches to serve instead. Now we don’t rely on processed meat as part of our diet. We enjoy on occasion, but otherwise, it’s not much a part of home cooking for me. That’s the balance I found that works for me. Every person has their own priorities and balance that they find that works for them.

If you want to reduce your processed meat consumption… 

First, think about where you are. Every day? Several times a week? Now and then? Are you happy with that? Where do you want to be in the future?

How much emotional and time energy do you have to put toward this? Is it a priority for you right now?

How extreme do you want to be? Do you want to be vegetarian or have more flexibility in social situations?

Does anyone in your family have medical needs that are helped by meat consumption? Anemia? Diabetes? Extreme picky eating with meat being a preferred food? Sensory processing disorder with meat being a preferred food? Other things? Can you switch from processed to unprocessed?

If picky eating is your issue, I have a free guide, From Picky to Positive, that gives strategies for helping kids try new foods.

If you’re looking for vegetarian sandwich ideas, I have a short post with ideas for how to build vegetarian and non-processed meat sandwiches.

If you still have more questions about the WHO report, they have a Q&A page that you may find helpful.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. This sounds crazy to ask- what about turkey sausage? Not red meat but processed, possibly with or without nitrates/nitrites?

    1. I think of any sort of sausage as processed.

  2. This is tough. How do I give my child protein if she is allergic to all legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.) as well as dairy and nuts and seeds. Do you have any advice?

    1. A great reason to eat eggs and meat! I’m glad she has those as options!

      1. She actually mentions how red meat is a probable carcinogen and does not make a case for eating it but rather recommends increasing vegetables, beans, legumes etc. I don’t think she mentions eggs at all (side note, eggs cannot legally be marketed as “healthy” in the US)

        1. True. For my family, eggs are an important part of our healthy diet.

        2. Why? What is wrong with eggs?

  3. I’m curious as to why you reference vegetarianism as “extreme”. There is significant research that proves that vegetarian and vegan diets have overall lower risk of all cause mortality and lower rates of obesity. It seems strange for a dietitian to call an overall healthier lifestyle extreme. I love that you have offered some great plant based alternatives but find it strange that you would put a negative spin on vegetarianism at the same time. It’s actually not extreme or difficult to be vegetarian or vegan in almost any social (or other) situation.

    1. I think vegetarianism is great for a lot of people! I am happy to support anyone intending to be vegetarian. It is also more “extreme” in the sense that it has a set of rules that must be followed. I mean this in a descriptive non-judgmental sense, and I can now see how other people, like yourself, see this word in a negative sense. Thanks for bringing that to my attention so that I can be more clear in the future.

  4. What about sliced turkey/chicken? Does this count as processed/deli meat?

  5. Interesting perspective, thank you for going into depth about it. Could you please provide the references for the study/studies test you mention? As a scientist, I think it’s really important to provide the original data for people to read for themselves as well. Thanks!

  6. Hi Jennifer,
    thank you for all this information – as a non-American please explain exactly what you mean by deli meat. I get hot dogs and salami but what about roasted and/or grilled slices of turkey? Or cooked ham? Do all of these fall into the deli meat category?
    I can do without hot dogs (though my son loves salami) for all the sodium alone, but turkey?

  7. “I have a free veggie exposure shopping list that I use” – can you link to this? I would love to use it and couldn’t find it by searching your site.

  8. My original goal was to avoid deli meats, but we’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with lunches. My daughter.is allergic to fish, legumes, eggs, and tree nuts, so our options are a bit limited for protein. The only other thing she will occasionally eat is roast chicken. Any suggestions?
    Thank you!

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