Aisle by Aisle: What To Do at the Deli Counter

by in Grocery Shopping, Healthy Tips, August 3, 2009

deli case by Jackson Chu
To help make for healthier supermarket trips, we’ve filled you in on dos and don’ts for breads, cereals, dairy, bakery goods and frozen foods. Now we’re exploring the best choices when you roll your cart up to the deli counter.

Cold Cuts & Cheeses
There is such a wide variety of choices when it comes to deli meats, and they definitely come in handy for simple lunchtime sandwiches or a no-cook option on a hot weeknight. The most important thing is choosing the ones that are lowest in fat and sodium. Lean meats — turkey, chicken breast and lean cuts of ham or roast beef — are low in fat and a great source of healthy protein. Steer clear of higher-fat options like bologna, liverwurst and salami. Two-ounces of roasted turkey breast has 60 calories, 1 gram of fat and 11 grams of protein; the same amount of bologna has 150 calories, 13 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein.

Cold cuts are famously high in sodium. Ask the counter attendant about any low-sodium versions (especially if you need to watch your salt intake). Sodium content varies brand to brand, but reduced-sodium varieties often are about 50% lower than the regular ones. Either way, look for meats with no more than 300 to 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.

For sliced cheese, low-fat varieties are also your best option to keep fat, calories and cholesterol down — Jarlsberg Lite and Alpine Lace Swiss are some good ones you might ask for.

Of course, knowing how much of what is in each each block of meat or cheese can be tough. You can’t always read the food labels through the glass case. Instead, come prepared by visiting the websites of companies like Boar’s Head and Applegate Farms to get the info before your market trip.

Prepared Foods
Ready-made foods also fill the chilled cases, and you really should proceed with caution when browsing these. The chicken, egg, tuna and macaroni salads may look tempting, but many of these foods are brimming with mayonnaise and saturated fat. A 1/4-pound container of traditional macaroni salad has almost 500 calories and more than 20 grams of fat! Better choices would be salads with vinaigrette dressings and whole grains like brown rice salads or bulgur wheat. Still, you should keep portions to 1/2 cup or so to be on the safe side. While not full of mayo, they’re often drenched with oil instead.

Making it more tricky, prepared foods usually don’t have a food labels either. You can get a general idea of the nutrition info by checking out some online grocery stores; they often provide nutrition information for all their prepared products. It may not be exactly the same as your local store, but it will at least give you a ballpark idea.

Olives, Pickles and Antipasti
Some deli counter sections may also offer an olive bar with marinated vegetables, fresh mozzarella cheeses, pickles and, yes, olives. Many of these foods (especially the olives and pickles) are packed in salty brine, so make sure to drain them well and use small portions to complement a less-salty meal.

[Photo courtesy of Jackson_chu / Flickr]

TELL US: What do you always pick up at the deli counter?

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Comments (11)

  1. jay says:

    I can not even believe an article on choosing healthier deli meats does not even so much as mention nitrates/nitrites! These chemicals are utter poison, and individuals ought to be far more concerned with choosing meats free of these additives than choosing "low fat" or "low salt" meats.

  2. Jess says:

    Procuttio di Parma 1/4 lb Mmm

  3. Chef Diane says:

    When I choose to buy deli meats I opt for the Boar's Head Brand which is healthier then most. Check out their complete booklet for the nutrional info. Admittingly they are more expensive but I have been using their items for many years and I can tell you that I will be 68 this year and my health age (quote my Dr) is 57.

  4. Bob Lipscomb says:

    I`m a personal chef and also 21+ years as a chef in the merchant marines, and granted some of the commercial processing of "deli meats" is not as healthy as could be, but take into the total volume produced with little food bourne illness i have to say it is a healthier alternative to the meats of 25 years ago. I use high quality nitrate free cuts ( mostly italian, cappacolo,proscutti,saproseta, ) in salads and pastas as " seasonings" and in moderation i really can`t see any issues there. I like Boar`s head meats (^5 to Chef Diane), a good example is a craving i have is the reuben, i used to work in a deli in college and i inhaled those things! that and a french dip ( which is still lo-fat),, but i use the turkey pastrami and lo-fat swiss, whole grain mustard, pickles, light mayo and olive oil on the rye.
    i love that with a sam adams!! ( no chips). my point is there are guilty pleasures on the lighter side.
    , i really think the fall/winter trends are gonna be total retro and deli meats are going to see a revolution of sorts by chefs. why? 2 reasons i can think of, 1) the economy ,2) the spoilage rates are so much lower and given the tough times restaurants are having to just stay open, you better believe there are going to be more creative uses we have never seen. I look forward to it. i remember loving the days of a cheese plate and wine with friends, toss some nice cuts of meats on there and bread, i mean how casual is that? simplicity is a great thing especially when it`s a quality simplicity.

  5. Jack says:

    I quit smoking, I wear my seatbelt, I have thinned up and been heading to the gym. Someting has to finally kill me and I have decided that should be a ham sandwich. In fact I will go get one right now; hopefully it will kill me soon so I don't have to be subjected to a bunch of food saftey zealots going on and on about the ills of pastrami.

  6. Bob Lipscomb says:

    Jack i`m not really surprised at all by your response, in fact i hear it everyday, but that is my job.
    I`m 50 years old, eat everything in moderation, exercise in moderation, drink ,etc, although i have out grow my taste for beer these days. I take 2 asprin a day, have great BP and my cholesterol is 190.
    I`m on no meds at all. The reason i`m sure is that i do choose to eat a healthy diet, and thank god i have choices. I work w/people to have a lo-sodium reuben again in their lives is total bliss! and that makes me happy to see there are foods they can enjoy given their health concerns.
    Personally i could care less what you eat, and hope you enjoy it. and Personally I don`t like the gym or need it. Did you know there is Hickory Smoked Spam now? I just don`t like the idea you have about Food Professionals being some types of "food nazi`s" so not true!

  7. Andy says:

    Hartford Reserve Pastrami gets my seal of approval. It is tender, flavorful and just plain delicious.

    It reminds me of a great pastrami I used to get at my local deli restaurant.

    And it is reasonably priced and can be purchased at Great A&P family of banner supermarkets in the North East.

  8. Irene Trube says:

    I am looking for an ingredient list for the Hartford Reserve Lunch meats. Have the brochure which gives all the contents of protein, fat etc. but I need the exact ingredients since I have severe food allergies.

  9. Halley Milks says:

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.Keep working ,great job!

  10. Wow, thanks a bunch m8

  11. That's a very good point, Jay. We've done a past post on sodium nitrates/nitrites and the risks they pose. Folks can read more here and I've added a link above.

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