February 6th

theresa albert - my friend in food


The Dirt on Deli Meats

Maple Leaf Natural Selection Baked Ham

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.

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert

I love food, try to watch my weight, know more than I want to about healthy living (sometimes I wish I knew less so I wouldn’t feel so guilty when I stumble), am a daughter, sister, friend, mom and wife who worries and scurries the meals onto the table. It is for all these reasons that I completed my nutrition, RNCP designation, wrote my book, hosted my Food Network show, consult with food companies to urge them to get it right (or at least better), constantly write about it, research it, all of this so I can cut through the nutrition and food “news” clutter. Happy to share with friends!


17 Responses

    February 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm Reply

    Ok, can I just say “Phew”. Glad to hear you have them in your fridge as well. I buy them, and I like them. I even let my kids enjoy an occasional hot dog since they came out with their hot dog line. BUT it’s still a rare thing. Like once a month rare. Prior to these coming out deli meats/hot dogs were once a year rare. I’d still rather cook a whole chicken though.

    February 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm Reply

    My understanding is that yes, vegetables contain about 9 times more nitrates than meats. However, that isn’t the point is it? The point is that cooking meats at high temperatures (esp bacon) converts some of the nitrates to nitrites. Some of those nitrites are then converted, along with amines in the meat, into nitrosamines. There is a *possible” correlation between nitrosamines from cooked red meat and colorectal cancer. That cancer risk can be mitigated by lower temp cooking and by consumption of antioxidants contained in those very same fruits and veggies.

    The whole nitrate/nitrite thing is obviously misunderstood in the public mind. Missteps like this by Maple Leaf do nothing to clarify it. Their bacon packaging has a statement: “No Nitrites Added” That is misleading, it is disingenuous.
    To my mind this isn’t about the additives it is all about the labelling. How do we now trust that their product doesn’t have other processes and contents that are contentious or even unsafe? I think their marketing department overrode their scientists on this one.

    Marcus Torbacke
    February 4, 2012 at 10:44 am Reply

    Hi, I have one small thing to ask what about the total amount of carbo per grams in your spec of the ham,and no the calories do not count only carbo.I know a great deal of what the food industries put into the food stuff they are selling to consumers.

      February 4, 2012 at 11:33 am Reply

      Hi Marcus,
      The label says zero carbs, does that help?

    Mary Fabiano
    February 4, 2012 at 11:58 am Reply

    From the beginning, I’ve found this whole thing confusing. I love deli meats, and because we can’t send peanut butter to school, they’ve always been an easy solution for our picky eater.

    I try hard to keep my family’s diet as healthy and balanced as possible, so I’m just trying to make sense of it all. Is this as dire as it seems or is this another egg scandal, where everyone will tell you not to have more than 1 a week, then 5 years later turn around and say eat as much as you want?

      Theresa Albert
      February 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm Reply

      Hi Mary,
      You will never hear me say “eat more deli meats” because I think, as I said in Ace Your Health, that we need to reduce our reliance upon animal protein overall. That said, I’m not convinced of all the hype saying that the nitrites are that bad. There is a lot of science saying the opposite (which came as a shocker to me too!) and I am working on another post attempting to explain that. The crux of it for most parents is that they are at a lost for what to send in the lunchbox. Tuna has mercury, pb is banned, even cooked leftover chicken needs to be VERY cooked and kept VERY cold to make it safely, bacteria free all the way to lunch. We are left with hummus (lucky u if your kid likes it), cheese (high fat, low protein) and deli meats. All three have been solutions for their own reasons. Moderation (sorry, but its true!) is the key.

        Chris Gordon
        February 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm Reply

        I think you have to be careful saying that there is a lot of science saying the opposite. But at best, the case is only that some studies think they have found a correlative link to cancer. As we all now, correlation does not equal causation. There is certainly nothing definitive out there. The strongest statements I can find come from the Canadian Cancer Society and World Cancer Research Fund. I also found this from Health Canada: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/nitrate_nitrite/index-eng.php
        Nothing definitive there, but lots of subjective words like “may” and “thought to”. There seems to be a lot of self referential linkage here. Nobody has done the science, they’re all referring back to each other’s statements.

        BTW, Why are you restricted to deli meats (which implies processed and/or packaged. What about preparing a roast at home (beef, pork) and packing them off with slices? Even properly prepared chicken will certainly survive several nights in the fridge and a morning in a lunch box! No need for preservatives in any of these!

    Carol Ring
    February 6, 2012 at 11:03 am Reply

    I also have been using Natural Selections , and will probably continue , but less often. I try to buy all my chicken, pork, and beef from a store that sells only locally “grown” . The animals are not fed antibiotics or hormones and are all “free run”.

    If you slice up a chicken breast , saute till done(same with pork) , makes a great sandwich.

    I do have a question: I use a lot of Splenda; have you done any research on that product and is there anything I should know about it??

      March 4, 2012 at 5:55 am Reply

      Hi Carol, I am a Holistic Nutritionist– Splenda is proven to cause a number of illnesses, even sudden death because of the way it’s processed. It is highly dangerous, as well as all other artificial sweeteners, which is why it is banned in several countries. I recommend using natural sweet stuff, my favourite being raw honey. If you have any other questions let me know- hope this helps!

    February 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm Reply

    Thank you for posting this! I had bought these products to use in moderation, and once I heard about the whole “nitrate” controversery, I kinda started freaking out! Glad to hear there is some difference between ‘natural’ nitrates and ‘artificial’ nitrates. I’m totally with you…lunch meat will never be health food, but lets be realistic….we aren’t gonna die if we have it a couple times a week!

    February 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm Reply

    Thank you Theresa for this post! I just was having a discussion with a friend about these deli products this weekend and was wondering if naturally occurring nitrates weren’t as bad as sodium nitrate. I know that nitrates occur naturally in many plant products and remember dumping the cooking water when making carrot purée for baby food in an attempt to reduce the nitrates. You have put my lunch boxes in perspective. I will attempt to not rely as much on these lunch meats.

      February 7, 2012 at 10:07 am Reply

      More to come on this topic too Lisa. Watch this space! It is important to back up and take a big picture view sometimes, hey?

    February 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm Reply

    This is a great video explaining why nitrates in vegetables are not harmful while nitrates in meats are.


    In great health,
    Clinical Nutritionist

      Theresa Albert
      March 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm Reply

      Thanks Josh,
      It’s a good video, I agree. Missing piece according to the scientist that I have spoken with on both sides of the issue is that the addition of vitamin C prevents the formation of nitrosamines. It is my understanding that these formulations contain vitamin C or ascorbic acid for exactly that reason. As an added safety, I do always suggest that IF you are going to consume these foods, you err on the side of caution and load up on fruits and veggies. (As we should be doing anyway)

    March 4, 2012 at 5:56 am Reply

    Quick question- Are you financially supported in any way by Natural Selections?

      Theresa Albert
      March 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm Reply

      Hi Makenzie,
      (great name, by the way! love the spelling)

      As I mentioned in the blog, I do consult with Maple Leaf foods as well as many other food manufacturers. I believe that, if we are going to move the needle in our food system and make a dent in our obesity crisis, everyone needs to be in on that conversation. Working with these companies means that the communication continues in all directions.

    Catherine Millard
    June 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm Reply

    I don’t have kids, don’t really like much in the way of deli meats and luckily never had to take my lunch to school as a kid but I do eat. I rarely buy deli meats as I’ve never really liked them but I do on occasion. I get that pb is banned and cheese is not a great protein replacement and not everone likes humus and everyone gets tired of chicken, but boy you need to expand your thoughts cause there are so many things that have not been mentioned, like soup. Soup in a thermos stays hot can be hearty won’t have allergy things and then of course there is stew, which would not have to be heated. There are beans and rice and most kids love beans which are healthy and everything can be made ahead of time. There are tiny thermoses that could hold a hot portion of meat easily and you could put that on salad. I myself am not a sandwich fan and never have been but 1/2 a sandwich and a small bowel of soup is a great healthy lunch. Everything can be made ahead of time and packed up in the morning, and yes that takes time but most people who take enough time to make breakfast then have enough time to heat up soup or stew or make a sandwich. I don’t eat breakfast and don’t make coffee and bascially feed the cat and shower and leave and that is my routine (yes I brush my teeth) but when motivated I can fix something and heat something and I don’t own a microwave, never have, and oddly a stove will re-heat anything I want, or an oven, an amazing thing to use. Healthy food does not have to include deli meats, speak to vegan’s they don’t eat any meat and I bet their kids are well fed and not just on pb and tofu!! Just saying… and just my thoughts.

Leave a Comment


To keep your mind sharp, answer this question to post your comment!

What is 2 multiplied by 8?


Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved.