We are always on the go!
Am I right?
Making a nutritional lunch is time-consuming and we’ve always got a massive to-do list awaiting our attention.
So, without much thought, the classic lunch meat slapped between a bun is a go-to lunch hack! Problem solved!
But what’s lurking between those buns anyway? And is it actually nutritious?
Lets’ break it down, shall we? This post has A LOT of info but stick with me. You will learn so much and benefit from a yummy recipe and some helpful hints!
Here we go!
What is Lunch Meat?
1. Lunch meat is the meat taken off the bone and ground together.
2. It is combined with flavours, additives, binders, colour enhancers, and shelf-life extenders.
3. Once the desired flavour and consistency has been achieved it is cooked, packaged and sent to the store.
4. It is highly processed and doesn’t hold much nutritional value.
But the good news is, there are healthier alternatives to the standard lunch meat. More on that later
The Good, the Great, the Bad and the Ugly
What ingredients are in your typical lunch meat? And what does it do to your body?
I searched for some information on lunch meats, and for one example I found the following ingredient list:
Mechanically separated meats (turkey and/or pork), pork and/or beef; water, modified corn starch, modified milk ingredients, salt, soy protein, potassium lactate, monosodium glutamate, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, sodium diacetate, spices, sodium nitrite, wheat flour, mustard, maltodextrin (corn), potato starch, tapioca starch, glucose solids.
Let’s break down all of these, so you know what’s up!
Mechanically Separated Meats
· OK, but it doesn’t specify precisely what it is “(turkey and/or pork), pork or beef;”? So, is it all, or just one? Shouldn’t they know specifically what is in their lunch meat?? I suppose we are left to guess.
· A great ingredient, my favourite one on the list!
Modified Corn Starch
· Corn can be an inflammatory
· It’s also typically genetically modified unless stated otherwise.
· Corn is also hard to digest - has anyone eaten corn and it just goes right through? (sorry TMI?) If you’re not chewing enough, your body cannot break it down.
· It may also cause mild allergic symptoms if you are sensitive to corn.
Modified Milk Ingredients
· Milk is complex
· Mostly made from water and lactose (the milk sugar) dissolved in along with fat and proteins (caseins).
· Can cause an allergic reaction to those sensitive to dairy. Approximately 70% of people are sensitive to dairy; most are not even aware.
· Causes inflammation and mucous build up.
When the milk ingredients are separated, it is more economical, extending the shelf life of these products as milk has a limited time before going bad.
· When used in excess it may contribute to hypertension, fluid retention, electrolyte imbalance, and complicated pregnancies.
· The body does need salt. But in moderation.
· It is an electrolyte and tied to the movement of water within the body.
· Extracted oil from the soybean
· High protein residue
· Mostly safe but could be genetically modified or processed with chemicals such as formaldehyde.
· Could cause allergy symptoms to those sensitive to soy.
· Not all soy is created equal, I wouldn't mind if this was Organic, non GMO Water washed soy protein to maintain the attributes as to what makes it great.
· Commonly used in meat and poultry to extend the shelf life through an antimicrobial action that inhibits the growth of bacteria.
· It is produced by neutralising lactic acid with a potassium compound. I personally don’t eat this, but from what I’ve read it is generally safe in low doses.
· A flavour enhancer
· Made through the fermentation of corn, sugar beets or sugar cane.
· One of the fermentation products I do not recommend :).
· It is used a lot in Chinese food and other fast food.
· Linked to headaches, agitation, increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, and tingling muscles or skin.
· Glutamic Acid (MSG is the monosodium salt of glutamic acid) is one of the body’s key chemicals for activating the nerves. MSG needs more research, but has proven to be hard on the body, so I try to avoid it where I can.
*Side note on MSG*
Asian/Thai Restaurants generally use MSG. Ask prior to ordering and a lot of the time they can leave it out. When I was in China it was in everything… it is hard to ask when you don’t speak the language!
· A thickener, leavener, used to cure foods and an emulsifier.
· High levels may increase mortality rates for the general public (accelerated ageing and vascular damage).
· Too much sodium phosphate can cause vomiting, headaches, bloating and other gastrointestinal upsets, dizziness, and seizures. I wouldn’t recommend this additive.
According to the FDA, Sodium Phosphate is generally safe to consume. However, studies show otherwise.
Here’s one study that suggests when used as a food additive, Sodium Phosphate reacts differently in the body.
· Used to enhance flavour and extend shelf life.
· A synthetic version of ascorbic acid
· Better known as Vitamin C.
· Increases the rate at which nitrite reduces to nitric oxide, making the meat cure faster and making the “pink” colour.
· Its antioxidant properties help prevent the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.
· You can be sensitive to this chemical and may have side effects like headaches, fatigue, lethargy, and body flushing. All side effects generally are mild.
· May also increase kidney stone risk. I would avoid this chemical as well.
· A flavouring compound and anti-microbial to prevent bacteria growth.
· Could cause allergic reactions, and rashes if one is sensitive to it.
According to this study, it is generally safe when used within the feeding and manufacturing standards.
Spices is a catch-all phrase. There are spices, but you’re not exactly sure what’s in them so, I cannot speak to their safety.
· Nitrates have been used for years to cure meats (ham, bacon, sandwich meat, hot dogs etc.)
· Help maintain the colour of the meat. I guess the theory is to make your meat look more appealing?
· Convert easily to nitrites and can interact with amines in the digestive juices or tissues to form nitrosamines, which are highly carcinogenic chemicals
· Originally thought to be safe, but recent research has shown otherwise.
Companies are going more natural using Celery Seed Extract instead of nitrates in their products. But Celery Seed Extract is a rich nitrate also and does to your body the same thing it is meant to do to the meat.
We went camping last year and I purchased hot dogs for the kids (might have been the first time I bought hot dogs for my kids). I generally don’t like the ingredients in hot dogs so, I was excited when I found a “clean” hot dog.
When I say hot dogs, I mean free range, grass fed beef in the shape of a hot dog. They contained absolutely no nitrates.
We cooked them on the grill, and they did not look like the juicy hot dog you would find at the cart. It was brownish and lifeless-looking. My husband commented on the look of it. We were used to the pink juicy hot dog, and this was just “blah” looking.
Then we bit into it. It was delicious, so juicy on the inside and flavourful. You could actually taste the beef and the spices without all the additives.
Looks are SO deceiving!
Anyways, my suggestion is if you need or want to eat nitrates or celery seed extract follow it with a Vitamin C supplement. You can also eat Vitamin C-rich foods after as well. It will prevent nitrosamine production in your body. But overall, I would avoid this ingredient.
· Can be an allergen to so
· Can cause migraines, gastro-intestinal discomfort, rashes etc.
· Can be made from genetically modified ingredients.
· Could be an allergen, but not a bad ingredient.
· See the reasons not to eat corn above, might be genetically modified.
· High on the glycemic index meaning it will raise your blood sugar.
· Best in small amounts, avoid if you have diabetes.
· Generally considered safe according to the FDA, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
· Used as a filler, preservative and thickener.
· Highly processed.
· Suppresses the growth of good bacteria in the gut
· No nutritional value.
· The starch of a potato.
· Helps regulation of blood sugar, helps increase beneficial bacteria in the gut, and it is gluten-free.
· Little nutritional value and could be genetically modified.
Make sure your source of potato starch is reputable. Unfortunately, it is unknown in most products using this ingredient.
· High in carbohydrates, low in nutrients.
· Gluten-free and easy to incorporate in cooking.
· Used as a thickener agent in products.
· Generally safe.
· Glucose syrup solids are easy-to-digest simple carbohydrates
· Often made from corn, rice, wheat, or potato starch.
· Be careful that the product is GMO-free.
· Glucose is a form of sugar so it will spike your blood sugar level.
Check out my blog post on Sugar. Find it Here.
Still with me folks?
What are your thoughts about lunch meat now? Before?
That was quite the list to digest!
Would you be surprised to know there are several other chemicals found in other
brands? These ingredients are just one example!
So now that I might have scared you remember those alternatives I said there would be?
Making the Better Choice
The best option is to roast your meat or do it in the slow cooker.
Choose a lean cut of Organic Free-Range meat.
If Organic isn’t in the budget always try to buy a lean cut of meat.
Cut the fat off to rid the extra toxins held in it.
When you cook your meat, you know what is in it. Be careful of sauces and marinades because they usually have unwanted chemicals and additives in it.
Here is one of my favourite recipes to make, I would love to say I created it, but I didn’t.
It’s from Danielle Walker – Against All Grain. She has terrific healthy recipes.
This recipe is fantastic because you can just put all the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and forget about it. You come home from work and your dinner and lunch for the next day are made!
Here’s another option:
Some local health food stores either make or produce their own luncheon meat. I know of one in Newmarket that roasts a turkey and then shaves it for their clients as lunch meat to purchase. The ingredients: Organic Turkey and Spices. Pure and simple.
I know a lot of you live in small towns and don’t have access to health food stores that are big enough to have a deli counter.
1. Read the ingredients. If you do not understand them, you probably shouldn’t be consuming them.
2. Look for organic, grass-fed, and free-range meats to purchase whenever you can.
3. I would choose celery seed extract over nitrates, but I try to avoid both if possible as they both have the same effect in the body.
4. Contact local farms - if they do use nitrates, they can tell you how much is in their meat.
5. If you do eat nitrates, follow it by Vitamin C-rich foods or a Vitamin C supplement to help reduce damage.
6. Try to avoid sugar as an ingredient if possible. A lot of times it cannot be avoided as it is used in the curing process as well. Sugar, however, suppresses your immune system and makes you more susceptible to the damage that the chemicals might cause.
I hope this helps you choose the healthiest lunch meat possible.
Let us know any “clean” brands you find! I would love to see other options and help people out!