Picture of deli sandwich with post title: Low sodium deli meat: a dietitian weighs in

Low Sodium Deli Meat: A Dietitian Weighs In

Is there such a thing a low sodium deli meat? Can low sodium deli meat be part of a low sodium diet? No matter what reason you are trying to avoid too much sodium, learn more about low sodium deli meat options.

Low Sodium Nutrition

There are many reasons why someone might want to limit how much sodium they eat. A low sodium diet is important for nearly everyone. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that everyone eat no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day. Most of us are eating nearly double that amount of salt.

A low sodium diet is especially important for people with many health conditions. Cutting back on the salt can help control Chronic Kidney Disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease and kidney stones. It is also recommended that older adults reduce their sodium to 1,500 mg per day.

Is Low Sodium Deli Meat Healthy?

“Reduced Sodium” Does Not Mean Low Sodium Deli Meat

As you can see from the table below, deli meat that marketed as “low sodium” does not necessarily mean that the meat is low in salt. For a product to be labeled as “reduced sodium”, the food must have at least 25% less sodium than the regular version.(1) Because regular deli meat is so high in sodium, a 25% reduction doesn’t really make it healthy option for a low sodium diet.

As always, the best way to make sure a food is really low in sodium is to look at the Nutrition Facts label.

A Warning About Low Sodium Deli Meat Additives

Even if a deli meat is low in sodium, there are many other factors to consider before calling it “healthy”. Unfortunately, many processed meats (including deli meat) have food additives that are harmful to some people.

Increased Cancer Risk

Multiple studies have linked eating processed meat with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.(2, 3) Of note, these studies have also connected too much eating red meat with cancer.

Specifically, nitrite and nitrate additives are suspected to be the major cancer-causing component of processed meat.(4) Nitrates and nitrites are found in many processed meats such as deli meat, sausage and bacon. They are added to make food products last longer.

Good news! Not all deli meats have nitrates or nitrites added to them. Look at the ingredients on the food label to make sure your deli meat is free of nitrates and nitrites. For example, you may find “sodium nitrate” as an ingredient.

It is important to remember that even low sodium deli meat can have nitrite and nitrate additives.

Phosphorus & Potassium Additives

Phosphorus and potassium additives are especially important to look out for if you have kidney disease. When your kidneys are not working as well as they should, they cannot get rid of extra potassium and phosphorus. Potassium and phosphorus can build up in the blood and cause many complications including heart arrhythmias, bone disease and faster progression of kidney disease.

Unfortunately, many processed foods have potassium and phosphorus added to them. Deli meat is a common culprit of added potassium and phosphorus.

To make sure deli meat does not have these additives in it, check out the ingredients on the Nutrition Facts label. For phosphorus, look for any ingredient that has “PHOS” in it. To see if potassium is added, simply look for the word “potassium”.

Low sodium products are more likely to have potassium food additives. Potassium chloride is commonly used as a salt substitute, and has very large amounts of potassium in it.

Learn more about potassium and phosphorus in kidney disease.

Purines & Gout

Gout is a common condition characterized by high levels of uric acid. Purines are found in many processed foods, including deli meat. Purines metabolize to uric acid and can make gout worse.

If you have gout, I recommend avoiding foods high in purines including deli meat, other processed meats like sausage & bacon, and beer.

Sodium in Deli Meat

Here is a table of many common deli meats from the most popular brands across the country. Note that the nutrition content and ingredients used in deli meat change all the time. This table should only be used as a guide. Always check the label of the specific product you buy to check for sodium and additives.

 SodiumNitrate or Nitrite AdditivesPotassium AdditivesPhosphorus Additives
Turkey (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Honey Smoked Turkey480NoCheck labelYes
Boar's Head 46% Lower Sodium Turkey Breast360NoCheck labelYes
Boar's Head No Salt Added Turkey Breast55NoCheck labelYes
Butterball Oven Roasted Turkey Breast450YesYesYes
Butterball Rotisserie Seasoned Turkey Breast460NoYesYes
Hillshire Farms Ultra Thin Oven Roasted Turkey Breast490NoNoYes
Hillshire Farms Premium Carved Oven Roasted Turkey Breast450NoNoNo
Hillshire Farms Lower Sodium Oven Roasted Turkey Breast340NoYesYes
Hillshire Farms All Natural Slow Roasted Turkey Breast350NoNoNo
Oscar Mayer Smoked Turkey Breast480YesYesYes
Oscar Mayer Natural Slow Roasted Turkey Breast510NoNoNo
Applegate Organics Oven Roasted Turkey Breast380NoNoNo
Applegate Naturals Oven Roasted Turkey Breast250NoNoNo
Ham (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Virginia Ham590NoCheck labelYes
Boar's Head Simplicity All Natural Uncured Ham390NoCheck labelCheck label
Boar's Head 42% Lower Sodium Ham480NoCheck labelYes
Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin Black Forest Ham610NoNoYes
Hillshire Farm Honey Ham570NoNoYes
Hillshire Farm All Natural Honey Roasted Ham360NoNoNo
Hillshire Farm Premium Carbed Slow Roasted Seasoned Ham420NoNoNo
Hillshire Farm Lower Sodium Honey Ham370NoYesYes
Hillshire Farm Lower Sodium Smoked Uncured Ham390NoYesYes
Oscar Mayer Natural Applewood Smoked Uncured Ham460NoNoNo
Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh Honey Uncured Ham460NoNoYes
Applegate Organics Black Forest Ham410NoNoNo
Applegate Naturals Slow Cooked Ham440NoNoNo
Beef (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Broil Top Round Roast Beef310NoCheck labelYes
Boar's Head No Salt Added Roast Beef Round40NoCheck labelYes
Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin Roast Beef490NoYesYes
Oscar Mayer DeliFresh Slow Roasted Roast Beef410YesYesYes
Oscar Mayer Natural Slow Roasted Roast Beef390NoNoNo
Applegate Organics Roast Beef400NoNoNo
Chicken (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Everroast Oven Roasted Chicken Breast440NoCheck labelYes
Boar's Head Golden Classic Oven Roasted Chicken Breast - 42% Lower Sodium350NoCheck labelYes
Hillshire Farm Oven Ultra Thin Oven Roasted Chicken Breast520NoNoYes
Hillshire Farm Premium Carved Rotisserie Seasoned Chicken Breast530NoNoNo
Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin Sliced Rotisserie Seasoned Chicken Breast540NoNoYes
Oscar Mayer DeliFresh Rotisserie Seasoned Chicken Breast520NoYesYes
Oscar Mayer Natural Slow Roasted Chicken Breast460NoNoNo
Applegate Organics Smoked Chicken Breast450NoNoNo
Salami (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Roasted Salami590NoCheck labelYes
Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin Hard Salami920NoNoNo
Oscar Mayer Hard Salami1020YesNoNo
Applegate Genoa Salami Trio960NoNoNo
Bologna (per 2oz)
Boar's Head Pork & Beef Bologna530NoCheck labelYes
Oscar Mayer Bologna500YesYesYes
Oscar Mayer Turkey Bologna360YesYesYes

Tips For Building a Better Sandwich

Watch Meat Portion Size

All of the nutrition information in the table is for only 2 ounces of meat. This is only about 2 slices of deli meat. Large sandwiches packed with deli meat could easily have 6 ounces (or more!) of meat. Six ounces of deli meat could easily have 1500mg of sodium – which is the amount some people should have in an entire day!

Use just a few slices of deli meat and bulk up your sandwich with other healthy and tasty ingredients!

Consider Using Unprocessed Meat

You don’t necessarily need to use deli meat to make a delicious sandwich. Use leftover meat or chicken for sandwiches. Or, cook a few chicken breasts weekly to have leftovers to use on sandwiches and salads for a quick, easy and low sodium lunch!

Add Veggies!

Don’t miss an opportunity to add veggies to your meal! Lettuce, onion, bell pepper or cucumber adds a satisfying crunch to nearly any sandwich. I also love to add tomato or avocado to make sandwiches a bit more interesting.

You could even make a sandwich made completely of vegetables. Try grilled eggplant, zucchini, red onion and bell pepper with hummus and a slice of cheese. Yum!

Avoid Processed Cheese

Not all cheese is created equal. Processed cheeses like American or nacho cheese tend to have much more sodium compared to “natural” cheeses like cheddar or colby.

Generally Swiss and mozzarella cheese are great low sodium options. However, sodium amount can vary quite a bit depending on the brand. Always check the Nutrition Facts label for sodium on whatever kind of cheese you buy.

Watch Our For Pickled Toppings

Remember that it is not just the deli meat that can make a sandwich a high sodium option. Pickled toppings like pickles, picked banana pepper or jalapenos can add a surprising amount of sodium. Three small dill pickle slices has about 170mg of sodium!

If you love that pickled flavor, try making your own quick pickled vegetables as a sandwich topper!

Be Choosy with Your Bread

Bread can add a surprising amount of sodium to your sandwich! Some breads pack nearly 450mg of sodium per slice!

I recommend looking for a bread that has less than 175mg of sodium per slice. Also, make sure to choose a healthy whole grain bread so you don’t miss out on fiber. Make sure your bread has at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.

My personal favorite bread is Brownberry Oatnut Bread – which has 150mg of sodium and 3 grams of fiber per slice.

Be Mindful of Condiments

Loading up on condiments can quickly turn your low sodium sandwich into a salty meal. A little is absolutely okay! But, be mindful of how much of any condiment you add to your sandwich. The sodium can add up quickly!

Sodium amount in 1 teaspoon*:

  • Yellow Mustard: 55mg
  • Dijon Mustard: 115mg
  • Ketchup: 45mg
  • Mayonnaise: 30mg
  • Italian Dressing: 50mg
  • Pesto: 50mg
  • Guacamole: 17mg
  • Hummus: 21mg

*Sodium amount varies based on brand. Use these sodium amounts as a general guide. Note that this is the sodium amount in only 1 teaspoon; many portion sizes are much larger.

Add Healthy Sides!

I like to think of every meal as an opportunity to eat more fruits and vegetables. Most of us should be eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Instead of salty traditional sandwich sides like potato chips or French fries, try a side salad or fruit. Or, simple carrot and celery sticks are quick and easy!

Happy Eating!

Melanie

4 thoughts on “Low Sodium Deli Meat: A Dietitian Weighs In”

  1. Melanie, thank you so much for this informative information. I now know which brand of deli meats to steer clear of and to look for potassium levels as well. Thank you!

    Nancy Bennett

  2. Thank you very much for this healthy,information.lt will help me how to prepare foods which low in sodium.
    Low sodium,healthy kidney.

    1. Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG

      You are so welcome! Thank you for your comment. Best of luck to you on your journey to kidney health!

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