Like many Americans, I love a good sandwich. There’s just something about meat and cheese and lettuce packed between two slices of bread, or wedged into a roll, that is a pleasure to devour. But sandwiches can take a toll on health. If we’re not mindful of what we put in them, eventually heart disease, migraine headaches, weight gain and general malaise may be sandwiched between those slices.
Still, with a bit of understanding on how to make a healthier sandwich, we can enjoy the meal and maintain or even improve our health.
The Sandwich Situation
The first thing to realize is that even when a sandwich is made with care, age-old recipes, fresh spices and love, the processed meats it may contain are damaging to health. In the long run, processed meats can even be lethal.
Many cold cuts or lunch meats are made from some combination of formed turkey, beef and pork. And that includes the nasty parts of the animals. They are laden with fat, gelatins and preservatives not fit for consumption. This type of cold cut includes generic bologna, ham, turkey, roast beef and other meats that are processed into the shape of sandwich filling and have a uniform color and texture throughout. These slabs of meat are high in fat, cholesterol, salt, fillers and preservatives like sodium nitrate. None of this is healthy food.
Sandwiches made from commonly processed meats are, in reality, high-calorie junk passed off as food. Eaten as a daily staple, these items can increase your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, obesity and diabetes. The harmful fats in these sandwich fillings can lead to high cholesterol. The sodium nitrates used to preserve their “freshness,” color and texture are among the leading causes of migraine headaches and undifferentiated body pain. Added to that, a recent study reveals that processed meats are associated with increased mortality or early death.
Sandwiches To Die For
Dietary research published the online edition of BMC Medicine journal shows that those who eat large amounts of processed meats increase their likelihood of dying sooner by 44 percent.
For this study, scientists analyzed data on the health and diet of 450,000 men and women. Prior to the study, none of these people had cancer or had suffered heart attacks or strokes. By study’s end, 26,000 of them had died. While the study cannot prove causation, it does show that eating more than 40 grams a day of processed meat was linked to the risk of premature death. The researchers suspected the saturated fats, high sodium levels and carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites in the processed food as likely contributors to these health issues.
Build A Better Sandwich
The results of this study are scary. Moreover, they reflect poorly not only on cold cuts but on all processed meats, including sausages and bacon. The good news: You don’t have to give up sandwiches to reduce your risk of ill health and premature death. You just have to make better sandwich filling choices:
- Do not eat any cold cut that has uniform color, texture and shape. It is processed and fake.
- Eat only cold cuts that look like actual meat. You should be able to see the grain of the meat, the slices should not be uniform and the texture should vary. Beef slices should have visible lines of fat.
- Pick cuts of meat that are less fatty overall like turkey, chicken and lean roast beef.
- Pick meats that don’t contain fillers, omit additives, are gluten-free and have no chemicals or preservatives.
Making a better sandwich may initially seem difficult, but it’s easier when you know what brands to purchase. I have two brands I favor. My first choice is Applegate Farms. Its products are certified organic, have no artificial colors, flavors or ingredients and are nitrate- and nitrite-free. In addition, its animals are fed a diet that is 100 percent organic. My second choice is Boar’s Head, whose products are gluten-free, have lower sodium than mainstream brands, and contain no fillers, artificial colors, flavors or trans fats. (Applegate’s advantage is the fact its products are organic, and it feeds its animals a better diet.)
Along with avoiding unhealthy cold cuts, you should not eat high-fat mayonnaise and overly processed white breads that contribute to weight gain and other health risks. Instead, make your sandwiches on organic whole grain bread, with baby spinach or arugula for extra vitamins and organic whole grain mustard.
In any case, limit your consumption of processed meats and cold cuts. But when you simply must have a sandwich, make the better choice that can keep you healthier and help you maintain a respectable life expectancy.