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No baloney: sandwich stuffers that go beyond low-fat.

If you've got three minutes to pack lunch, nothing's quicker than ham on rye, roast beef on a roll, or turkey on whole wheat.

And you can easily dodge the saturated fat that ordinary bologna or salami can slide into your sandwich. Any well-stocked meat aisle is crammed with packages sporting claims like "97% fat-free," "lean," and "light."

The catch: most lunch meats are saturated with salt. A two-ounce serving packs anywhere from 500 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium. And that doesn't include the sodium in the bread, mustard, mayo, pickle, etc. With experts now recommending no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day, cold cuts can put a major dent in your daily quota.

Our chart ignores most meats with more than 480 mg of sodium in two ounces. (That's usually just two slices. Many restaurants stuff five ounces into their sandwiches.)

That meant we snubbed just about every cold cut made by heavyweights like Oscar Mayer and Louis Rich, not to mention Butterball, Hormel, Carl Buddig, Hillshire Farm, Gwaltney, Dak, Plumrose, and Land O' Frost.

While dozens of their lunch meats met our cut-off for saturated fat (no more than two grams in two ounces), few kept sodium low enough to earn a Best Bite (300 mg) or Honorable Mention (480 mg).

What's a shopper to do?

To keep your blood pressure from rising, look for meats that are labeled "healthy" or that carry either the American Heart Association's "heart check" or a government-approved health claim about heart disease. But to really slash the sodium, look for products that are uncured or nitrite-free (the most common preservative is sodium nitrite).

The good news: your taste buds won't notice the missing salt. But you still need to stay on your toes to keep your arteries in good shape. Here are some things to look for ... and to avoid.


"While many factors affect heart disease, a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease," says the small print on some Dietz & Watson packages.

It's not hard to tell which words reach a label via Madison Avenue and which are eloquently crafted by the federal government.

If you have a magnifying glass handy, you'll find the same words on most Healthy Choice cold cuts and Celebrity Healthy Hams. Apparently, both companies would rather highlight the (larger) American Heart Association's logo than the government's catchy prose. Dietz & Watson has its own heart symbol ("dedicated to your healthier lifestyle"), which may mean that it didn't want to pay the Heart Association's fees.

Any individual food that carries a government-approved heart-disease claim can't have more than one gram of saturated fat and 480 mg of sodium. It also has to contain at least 10 percent of a day's worth of protein, fiber, vitamins A or C, calcium, or iron. But there's a catch.

Dietz & Watson, for example, uses a one-ounce serving for many of its lunch meats. That's legal, but sneaky. Consumers who eat a more-realistic two ounces of Dietz's Tavern or Cooked Ham, for example, will get 580 mg of sodium, despite the heart-disease claim. It just goes to show: no matter how tightly the rules are written, you still have to read the fine print.


"South Beach Diet Recommended," announces the front of Oscar Mayer's Dell Style Thin Smoked Ham. With nary a carb and just 50 calories and 1/2 gram of saturated fat, who could argue?

Of course, you'd be hard-pressed to find a ham that has more than one or two grams of carbohydrates. And several brands--like Celebrity Healthy Ham and Dietz & Watson Black Forest Deep Smoked Ham--match Oscar's zero carbs. The difference: Oscar will cost you 720 mg of sodium--roughly twice as much as Celebrity (360 mg) or Dietz (400 mg).


Companies can't slap the word "healthy" on any old food. A serving has to be low in saturated fat (no more than one gram), it can't exceed 480 mg of sodium, and it has to supply at least 10 percent of a day's worth of protein, fiber, vitamins A or C, calcium, or iron.

That's why you can depend on Healthy Choice lunch meats to keep the sodium in check. The "healthy" rules also explain why the company uses a two-ounce serving size for its thin-sliced cuts. At one ounce, many don't reach the 10 percent nutrient minimum. But at two ounces, they have enough of one (protein).

Three of Celebrity's sliced hams--Healthy, Honey Cured Healthy, and Black Forest Smoked Healthy--knock the sodium down to 360 mg in two ounces. Their secret: the company replaces some of the sodium with potassium chloride, which can be a decent stand-in for salt (sodium chloride) in some foods.

And the Celebrity Healthy Hams excel in the taste department.

So, Oscar. So, Louis. So, Butterball. Maybe someone in Research & Development could give Celebrity a call?


One glance at the front labels and you'd think that the 60 calories in Oscar Mayer Chopped Honey Ham beats the 70 calories in Oscar's Honey Ham. Not so fast.

The chopped uses a one-ounce serving, while the non-chopped uses two ounces. So that means a typical two-ounce serving of the chopped ham has twice as many twice as much sodium (640 mg) as a harried label reader might think.

It's not just Oscar Mayer. Healthy Choice Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & White Turkey has 240 mg of sodium, according to the package. That sounds lower than the 460 mg in Healthy Choice's Deluxe Thin-Sliced Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & White Turkey. That's only because the Deluxe's numbers apply to two ounces (seven thin slices), while the non-Deluxe's numbers are for a single, one-ounce slice.


Thanks largely to their soy and wheat gluten, most companies' veggie meats supply as much protein as real meat. And most brands keep the sodium in the mid-300 mg range. Yves Veggie Cuisine's The Good Deli line even adds the vitamins and minerals that you'd get from meat.

But meatless lunch meats haven't cracked their real problem: taste. Yves leads the pack in flavor, while Tofurky Dell Slices have the texture--but not the taste--of meat. Lightlife Smart Dell misfires in both departments.

Try a flavorful cut like salami and make sure you've got plenty of lettuce, tomato, onions, a whole-grain roll, and a good imagination.


"No nitrite or nitrate added. Not preserved. Keep refrigerated below 40[degrees] F at all times," say labels on Wellshire Farms All Natural Uncured meats.

Uncured meats are lower in sodium because they're missing the preservative sodium nitrite (or nitrate), which also adds flavor and color to most lunch meats. They may have a shorter expiration date (35 to 50 days, instead of 100 days for cured lunch meats), but they're no shorter on taste. In fact, they taste more fresh-cooked than most other packaged meats.

* Wellshire Farms, available at natural foods stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, puts other lunch meats to shame. They're low in saturated fat and they keep the sodium to around 160 mg for the ham, chicken breast, and turkey breast. Most impressive: the corned beef and pastrami get away with just 250 mg, and the salami and bologna with just 340 mg.

* Applegate Farms, sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, also trims the sodium in its uncured meats. Like Wellshire Farms, the turkey salami and bologna hover around 350 mg (so does the fabulous Herb Turkey Breast). And the Roast Beef clocks in at 230 mg--less than most other brands.

Bonus: both companies raise their animals without antibiotics. Farmers often feed antibiotics to livestock and poultry--whether the animals are sick or not--to accelerate growth. But the overuse of antibiotics can make bacteria resistant to those drugs when they're used to treat disease in humans.

Just beware: Wellshire's Primo Natural Italian and Applegate's traditional Italian cold cuts are no lower in sodium or saturated fat than anyone else's.

The information for this article was compiled by Emily Poole, with help from Tamara Goldis.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:BRAND-NAME RATING
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Previous Article:Gain weight, lose marbles.
Next Article:The kindest cuts.

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