Processed Meats: Trading in Nutrition for Convenience?

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

For many, lunch meat is a regular ingredient in bagged lunches. It’s admirable to pack a lunch for ourselves and our family members rather than eating out for every lunch, but are we trading nutritional value for the convenience of processed luncheon meats?

Processed Meat: A Closer Look

Processed food means just that: the food has been subject to a special process or treatment, altering the food from its natural state. Most luncheon meats contain nitrites and nitrates, which are preservatives, coloring, and flavoring additives, and can lead to the formation of nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic. In 2007, a study of processed meat intake in relation to cancer risk concluded that individuals in the highest group of processed meat intake had an elevated risk for colorectal and lung cancers.

Processed Luncheon Meat: Quick Comparison

Let’s take a look at some of the popular packaged processed lunch meats we often layer between our sandwich bread.

The following table compares the nutritional values of some processed meats:

Luncheon meat
(3 oz serving)
Total Fat
Beef, Slow Roasted, 95% fat free
(Oscar Mayer’s)
100 4.2 867
Bologna, Beef 267 24.0 919
Chicken Breast, 97% fat free,
oven roasted (Oscar Mayer’s)
90 2.2 1059
Chicken Breast, Oven Roasted
(Oscar Mayer’s)
92 2.6 1060
Corned Beef, Saval, Brisket 106 3.0 759
Ham, Honey 137 6.8 714
Ham, Black Forest 106 3.8 440
Ham, Extra Lean 5% Fat 94 2.5 941
Pepperoni 396 34.3 1521
Salami, Cold Cuts, Hard
(Oscar Mayer’s)
315 25.2 1607
Turkey Breast, Smoked
(Oscar Mayer’s)
90 1.5 940
Tuna, Canned in Water 109 2.6 321

The Bottom Line

Compared to their fresh, whole-cut meat counterparts, processed meats are typically higher in sodium, calories, and fats. Pepperoni, salami, and bologna are among the highest in sodium and fat content.

Processed meats are not the only quick and easy solutions for lunchtime ingredients. Try using leftover slices of roast beef, ham, turkey, or chicken breast from your dinner table for a healthier alternative to processed lunch meat. Tuna, canned in water, is another healthier option for your bagged lunch and offers reduced sodium and fat content. If you enjoy the convenience of processed lunch meats, look for those with lower sodium and fat content, such as turkey and chicken breast.


luncheon meat, meat, sandwiches


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