The Dirt on Deli Meats
Let’s face it, in the real world we are rushed, time strapped and stressed. We could spend hours debating whether or not life should be this way or could be another. We could wish it weren’t true but it is. I have never met a parent who doesn’t wish the best for their child but I have met countless who are doing what they can to provide care, love and a decent meal. Do I wish every child would embrace organic kale and quinoa salad? You bet! Do I encourage every parent to try and facilitate the way? Um, ya. But the truth is what most parents want to know is “How bad is it? Really?”
With very few exceptions, we humans are not able to take the highest food road possible. (I’d even be hard pressed to define what that road looks like, or, if it is even navigable) Most people I know are making the best choices they can with the time, taste buds and tots that they are up against. That leaves us with the category that I spend most of my time trying to understand and explain. “Best in Class”
If you are going to eat crackers, which one? If you are going to serve packaged granola bars, which one? If you are going to lean on a frozen pizza or a slice of ham in those endless, demanding lunch boxes, which one will you choose? Such a tough place to be because I am only too aware that this is a child’s health I am making recommendations for (and, I want them all choosing collards in college, recall). But, I am also helping a parent navigate through time and truth to the table.
So, when the new natural deli meats products such as Maple Leaf foods Natural Selections and Schneider’s Country Naturals appeared 2 years ago I wanted to know more. I went straight to the source and started to dig and then I went to the science and verified. The confusion around nitrites is valid because there are two opposing and convincing reports on their value/impact. Parents are worried and they want to know a definitive answer but the answer is still unclear. Anyone who gives you a definitive in either direction hasn’t really looked at the other side of the story.
Knowing that parents are still buying deli meats for their kids and want to, I want to know what to recommend. Here is what I have come up with: If you are going to choose these foods, do so wisely by buying the best in its class and managing how often you serve it. Is deli meat health food? Nope. Will it ever be? Not likely. But it is a quick and easy solution that kids love. It is fine to eat in moderation as part of a balanced diet. The reality is that nitrite is contained in a variety of foods and mostly in green vegetables.
I have worked with the good people (and they ARE dedicated, informed, good people who want to do the best by you) and discussed the current label confusion as well as the product itself. I have said (bravely and boldly) that I found the current statement “no preservatives added” and the asterisk that says “except those naturally occurring” unclear. I knew all along that “cultured celery seed extract” was a preservative contains naturally occurring nitrites and that the consumer would also want to know. I also know that you can’t make a lunchmeat without a preservative, it just wouldn’t be safe. I don’t believe that anyone was ever trying to trick or fool anyone. I learned that the CFIA regulates these labels and has to see and approve all meat products before they go to market. There are a lot of legislative eyeballs on a product like this before it gets to market. There is an opportunity for improvement, for sure, and, I understand that it is in the process of being clarified.
We can debate the benefits of celery seed extract vs artificial nitrates later, for now, we need to decide what to eat. When I am home to create lunch that doesn’t contain sliced meat, I do. I bake off a bunch of chicken breasts and chop them into salads or cook whole grain tortellini. Sometimes it’s all we can do to throw together cheese, crackers and an apple. When we choose packaged food, we choose the best products we can find that support our busy lives.
I can tell you that Natural Selections products are in my fridge and that my daughter loves her ham and cheese sandwich the way I did (before we even cared if it was “healthy”). I’m OK with the this as a lunch option a couple of times a week. I compared regular ham with the Natural Selections and here is what I came up with:
Regular Ham: 70 calories, 2.5 g fat 11 g protein, 770 mg sodium
NS Ham: 60 Calories, 1 g fat, 13 grams of protein, 570 mg sodium
It’s preservatives coming from natural sources have replaced some of the other ingredients that I was worried about. The lunch time solutions in our home are quick and easy and surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables each and every day. Everyone gets fed, everyone is happy.