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Are your cold cuts nitrite-free?

July 2nd, 2012 | no comments

From Boston to Beverly Hills, the beloved lunchmeat sandwich has graced the interior of lunchboxes and picnic baskets for decades. I can remember as a child, my mother would send me off to school with my little Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox filled with a bologna, cheese and mustard sandwich on Wonder Bread (what else?), a package of Ho-Ho’s (what was she thinking?!) and a perfectly sectioned orange. Although that was thirty years ago, cold cut sandwiches (and unfortunately Ho-Ho’s) are still mainstays. Sure they’re convenient…but are they the best choice? I’m afraid not.

Not only is it next to impossible to find a low sodium lunchmeat (some have upwards of 1000 milligrams per serving), in addition, many contain harmful substances— specifically sodium nitrates and sodium nitrites. Both are used as preservatives and add color and flavor to processed meats such as: Bacon, ham, hotdogs, luncheon meats, smoked fish and corned beef.

Why exactly are they so harmful?

Sodium nitrites and nitrates may cause certain cancers in children and adults. A more recent study uncovered the possibility that these preservatives could interact with medication to damage DNA (your genetic material) and increase cancer risk.

According to Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Martha Grogan, M.D., sodium nitrate may harm your heart. It’s thought that sodium nitrate may damage your blood vessels, making your arteries more likely to harden and narrow, leading to heart disease. Nitrates may also affect the way your body uses sugar, making you more likely to develop diabetes.

Build a better sandwich:

  • Tuna salad: Mix together a 3 ounce can of low sodium light tuna, olive oil mayonnaise and black beans. Serve on whole grain bread
  • Egg salad: Mash 1 hard-boiled egg and mix with olive oil mayonnaise and 1/4 cup chopped red pepper. Serve on whole grain bread or whole wheat crackers.
  • Leftover chicken: Slice up 2-3 ounces of baked chicken from yesterday’s dinner and top with a couple slices of avocado, fresh spinach and hummus. Serve in a whole wheat pita.
  • Hummus and veggies: Line a whole what pita with two tablespoons of your favorite hummus. Stuff with sliced cucumbers, bell pepper strips and tomatoes, shaved carrots, alfalfa sprouts and a handful of mesclun salad greens.

On your next grocery trip, why not bypass the deli counter and head for the produce and fresh meat department instead? Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a dozen eggs on your way. Get creative! Be healthy! YOU are worth it.

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