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No matter how you slice 'em.

Liars! They're all liars!

Well, maybe that's a little strong. But it's not far from how we felt after we took a stroll down the luncheon meat aisle at our local supermarket.

Just about every product, it seemed, was trying to trick us. And that included some of the ones with the best numbers.

Oh sure, packages gave fat and sodium numbers. But they were almost always ridiculously low, since most were based on a serving size of a single slice. And some of those slices were small enough to be polished off in one bite.

Some products were still trying to con us into believing that "80% fat-free" was good. Know what's 80 percent fat-free (83 percent, actually)? Haagen-Dazs, that's what. And, of course, everything was "healthy" this and "lean" that.

We can't wait until next July, when luncheon meat packages will have to sport the new tell-all food labels. That's when you'll see a uniform (and more realistic) serving size of two ounces--about two regular-size slices of bologna. And that's when you'll see some of the bogus claims disappear. (You still won't be able to trust "lean" and "extra lean," but that's another story.) Until then, anything goes. So here's our little "Luncheon Meat Survival Guide." 1. Forget Fake Meats.

All the "non-meat" bolognas, hams, turkeys, etc., easily met our "Best Bite" criteria (no more than two grams of fat and 500 milli-grams of sodium in a two-ounce serving, and no nitrites).

But if you value your tastebuds, you'll steer clear. Yecch! It didn't matter whether they were made of wheat gluten, soy protein, or tofu. They were awful. "Sour," "bitter," and "off" were among our tasters' more printable comments. Even the vegetarians couldn't stomach them.

2. 11 least 96% Fat Free.

If the package says anything less, leave it on the shelf. That lets you ignore all the "lean" and "healthy" claims and the microscopic serving sizes that are only there to confuse you. It's a guarantee that the luncheon meat contains only about two grams of fat in a two-ounce serving. That's less fat than you'll find in the two slices of bread you wrap around the meat.

Don't worry. You'll still have dozens of turkeys, chickens, roast beefs, hams, and bolognas to choose among. You'll even have a couple of corned beefs and pastramis. Only salami-lovers will be out of luck.

3. 500 mg Sodium, Max.

Poof! Our generous cutoff of 500 milli-grams for a two-ounce serving eliminated about 70 percent of all the products we looked at. Out went everything from Louis Rich...and almost everything from everybody else except Tyson.

(We can't tell you how Eckrich and Butterball would have done. Their manufacturer-Armour Swift-Eckrich--refused to give us nutrition information. If you'd like to call their toll-free consumer hotline and let them know how you feel about that, be our guest: 1-800-325-7424.)

4. No Nitrites.

Easier said than done. Sodium (or potassium) nitrite is a preservative that can prevent the growth of Closlridiurn botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism. It also prevents meat from turning brown or grey--always an advantage when it's going to be sitting on the shelf for a month.

Are nitrites necessary? No. And the last we heard, people weren't getting botulism from their turkey breast, roast beef, or frozen "uncured" chicken bologna. Even so, most bolognas, salamis, pastramis, and their "cured" cousins contain nitrites.

The trouble with nitrites is that they may react with substances in the stomach to form tiny amounts of cancer-causing nitrosamines. Fortunately, most manufacturers now add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or sodium erythorbate, which help keep nitrosamines from forming.

5. Read those Ingredients.

Don't be surprised to see "water" or "broth" listed second or third in any low-fat luncheon meat. More water means less meat...and less fat. Here are some labeling tips:

Poultry: "Chicken breast" or "turkey breast" should have the least fat. "Chicken" or "turkey" could include skin or the fatty wing, thigh, or back.

Ham: "Chopped" ham has anywhere from two to eight times more fat than "boiled," "cooked," "smoked," or "baked" ham.

Corned Beef & Pastrami: Check out Hillshire Farm, Mr. Turkey, and Louis Rich. They have as much as 95 percent less fat than the greasy stuff you're thinking of.

Bologna: Don't assume that turkey, chicken, or "light" pork or beef bolognas are better. Two ounces of Empire Chicken Bologna has 12 grams of fat. Oscar Mayer Healthy Favorites (beef and pork) Bologna has just one gram.
COPYRIGHT 1993 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 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Brand-Name Comparison; Luncheon Meats
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Lifting weight myths.
Next Article:Safe eating quiz.

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