Lunch Meats: What To Buy and What To Avoid

It’s lunch time, and you want a sandwich that’s going to be high quality, satiate your hunger, and hold you over until dinner. No filler, all thriller right? The problem is that many deli meats are full of terrible ingredients: super bad low quality proteins pumped with sugar, salt, and preservatives. 

I’m going to walk you through what to look for and what to avoid. Let’s start with the bad stuff:

What To Avoid:

There’s a lot of cheap lunch meat in the deli aisle - when you flip over the label you see a laundry list of additives and preservatives. The longer the list, the worse it is.


  • Sodium erythorbate: This is an additive typically used in deli meats like ham, as well as hot dogs and beef sticks, to cure the meat quickly and give it that “pink” color we all expect.
  • Maltodextrin: This is a highly processed, hydrolyzed additive is used as a filler to bulk up the volume of processed food. It has a higher glycemic index than table sugar, which means it’s going to spike your blood sugar.
  • Sodium phosphate: Phosphates are another class of preservative that are serious bad news for your body. Too many phosphates can cause heart disease and kidney issues.
  • Autolyzed yeast extract: This “flavor enhancer” is the same as MSG for all intents and purposes and should always be avoided.

“When you flip over the label you see a laundry list of additives and preservatives. The longer the list, the worse it is.”

Other Additives To Avoid:

  • Added sugar: Whether this is sugar, corn syrup, or another sugar-like additive, you really want to minimize the amount of added sugars in your deli meat. They spike your blood sugar, increase inflammation, and add empty calories you don’t need.
  • Caramel color: This gets added to the edges of the ham and turkey to make it look like it’s oven roasted - but it’s not. Instead, this known carcinogen is just there for decoration.
  • Emulsifiers: Many deli meats have emulsifiers like carrageenan - the problem is it’s really bad for your gut. It can decimate your gut bacteria and wreak havoc in your intestines. Avoid this when possible.

Now, let’s talk about what you’re looking for instead:

What To Buy Instead:

You want to buy a high quality organic deli meat full of real protein, without all the fillers, preservatives, and additives. The ingredient list on the package should be short, and everything on there should be straightforward. Here’s an example of a brand I really like:

Why do I like Dietz & Watson Organic Turkey Breast? There’s a number of reasons:

  • The ingredient list is very short. Organic Turkey Breast, Water, and Sea Salt.
  • No Antibiotics, no GMO
  • They are committed to humanely raising and caring for their animals. This is in contrast to processors that coop up the animals in horrible living conditions. I think that matters.

The bottom line: look for organic meats with a short ingredient list, no preservatives or fillers, and no added sugar.