Deli Meats: Is There a Nutritional Difference between Fresh Cut and Pre-Packaged?

Deli meats, which are also known as cold cuts, are widely available in all groceries and supermarkets all over the world. Varieties include cooked ham, sausages, chicken breast, chicken roll, corned beef, bologna, kielbasa, pastrami, proscuitto, roast beef, salami, pepperoni and turkey breast. Some prefer freshly cut deli meat for its freshness while others go for the convenience of pre-packaged cold cuts that can help one avoid the long lines. As a concerned consumer, you begin to wonder about the nutritional difference between the two choices.

Fat and Sodium

Pre-packaged meats are considered to be less healthy than freshly cut ones, because the former have been found to contain a higher concentration of fat and sodium. Fat and sodium can be detrimental to your health and cause various ailments when consumed in large amounts. Excessive fat can contribute to heart diseases, high blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels and more. Too much sodium in the body can also increase risk for high blood pressure and kidney damage.


Pre-packaged meats contain more preservatives than fresh cold cuts. Preservatives are substances (whether naturally occurring or synthetic) that are added to food to preserve its natural appearance and to avoid easy spoilage. However, they also have adverse effects for your health. Common forms of preservatives include benzoates (can cause brain damage over time), bromates (can cause diarrhea and destroy nutrients) and glutamates (associated with headaches, palpitations and even cancer).

Deli meat, especially pre-packed varieties, contain high levels of preservatives such as nitrites and nitrates, BHA and BHT, and monosodium glutamate. Nitrites, which are commonly found in hot dogs, bologna and other meat products that are reddish in color, are known to be carcinogenic substances. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants. In some studies, these substances were discovered to have caused cancers in rats.

The Verdict

Obviously, pre-packaged deli meats are the less healthy option. However, this does not mean to say that freshly cut deli meats are healthy. Both are unhealthy choices that contain high amounts of fat, sodium and preservatives that can cause various kinds of health problems. It is best to avoid or limit intake of such foods. If you feel the need to indulge in cold cuts once in a while, because they do taste great, it would be a better idea to stick to those that are freshly cut, as they are known to be the “lesser evil” between the two.

At the end of the day, it is still better to stick to natural lean meat found in pork, beef and poultry. Moreover, eat plenty of vegetables and fruits to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to remain healthy.


About Author

Posts By Sequoia