Lower-Fat Deli Meat Picks for Your Lipid-Lowering Diet

For some of us, meat is the best part of a sandwich or wrap. If you're trying to eat heart-healthy foods, though, adding those layers of meat could sabotage your meal.

Animal meats contain varying amounts of saturated fat, which may increase lipid levels in your blood. Lipids are molecules your body uses for things like building cells and storing energy. Cholesterol and triglycerides are two types of dietary lipids. High levels of these lipids may cause heart problems.

Even though there is some debate as to how much of a negative impact saturated fat can have on your lipid levels, foods higher in saturated fat also tend to be higher in calories.

This article looks at deli meat and the fat content of various types. It also discusses some of the other health problems associated with deli meats.

High angle view of various deli meats seen through glass at store

Sabine Thielemann / Getty Images

Are Deli Meats Healthy?

Most deli meats are processed. This means they've been smoked, salted, or cured. Many also include chemical preservatives. The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as "Group 1," which means there is strong evidence they may cause cancer in humans. Specifically, processed meats have been linked with cancers of the colon and rectum.

Similarly, red meats like beef, pork, and lamb are classified as "Group 2A." This group includes foods that probably increase cancer risk. Research has found a link between red meat and cancer, but it's possible the association might have another explanation.

Generally speaking, there is not enough data available to say whether it's safe to eat any amount of processed meat. There is also some evidence that cooking meat at high temperatures may cause the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. For sandwiches, then, it's best to choose sliced, lean white meat that you have cooked yourself over low heat.

Deli Meats Lower in Fat Content

If your goal is to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, some deli meats are better than others. Deli meats made from ground poultry such as chicken and turkey typically contain lower amounts of saturated fat than other deli meats. Make sure you select meats made from certain parts of the bird to ensure you are getting the leanest cuts.

Dark meat usually includes muscle tissue from the thighs and legs. White meat includes muscles from the breast and wings. It usually has a lower saturated fat content than dark meat. For example:

  • Roasted turkey breast: One slice (28 grams) contains 0 grams of saturated fat and 30 calories
  • Roasted chicken breast: One slice (27 grams) contains 0 grams of saturated fat and 39 calories

When you substitute leaner portions of chicken or turkey for high-saturated fat deli meats, you can reduce your fat and calorie intake. These slices can add up, though. Make sure to keep track of how much you're putting on your plate.

Deli Meats Higher in Fat Content

Some deli meats are higher in saturated fat. These meats include:

  • Salami: One slice (28 grams) contains 0.8 grams of saturated fat and 49 calories
  • Bologna: One slice (28 grams) contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 90 calories
  • Ham: One slice (28 grams) contains 0.5 grams of saturated fat and 40 calories
  • Roast beef: Once slice (26 grams) contains 1 gram of saturated fat and 52 calories

One slice of any of these deli meats won't have much impact on your lipid levels. They can add up to a lot of calories and fat, though, when you put multiple slices on your sandwich or wrap.

Best Practices for Selecting Deli Meats

If you want to include deli meat in your cholesterol-lowering diet, follow these suggestions. They will ensure that you're making the healthiest choices.

  • Consume meat in moderation. Animal meat is often high in fat.
  • Look for fresh roasted meats at the deli counter. Ask if any of the meats sold at the deli counter of your local supermarket are cooked fresh.
  • Select deli meats that are labeled as lean and low in fat. These meats typically have less fat or may be sliced a little bit thinner to reduce fat.
  • Choose poultry products made from white meat instead of dark meat. Dark meat contains significantly more fat and cholesterol than white meat.
  • Use meat substitutes. Meat substitutes like soybean patties or tofu can be used in place of meat. Some of these products will add similar taste and texture without the added saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • When in doubt, check the label. Different deli meats may be higher or lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. It's always a good idea to consult the nutritional label before buying.

Summary

Deli meat can be high in saturated fats that can raise cholesterol. Eating processed meats may also increase your risk of developing cancer of the colon or rectum.

If you choose to eat deli meats, there are certain options that are lower in fat and cholesterol. Look for deli meats made from white meat turkey or chicken. Avoid fattier options like salami, bologna, and roast beef. 

It's always a good idea to eat meat in moderation. Whenever possible, pick fresh meat over meat that has been processed, or use meat substitutes.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. NIH National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer risk

  3. Marangoni F, Corsello G, Cricelli C, et al. Role of poultry meat in a balanced diet aimed at maintaining health and wellbeing: an Italian consensus document. Food Nutr Res. 2015;59:27606. doi:10.3402/fnr.v59.27606

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  5. Eze NM, Okwume UG, Eseadi C, et al. Acceptability and consumption of tofu as a meat alternative among secondary school boarders in Enugu State, Nigeria: implications for nutritional counseling and education. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(45):e13155. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000013155

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.