Healthy Living

Lunch Break: Healthy Alternatives to Deli Meats

Nov. 2, 2015

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report that reaffirms the link between processed meats and cancer risk. It also suggests that red meat, including beef, pork and lamb, may raise your risk of colorectal and other cancers, too.

deli sandwichesWhile many of us enjoy deli meats in a sandwich every day, eating less processed meat may have cancer-risk reducing benefits. Wilmot Cancer Institute dietitians Joanna Lipp and Sue Czap share a few ideas for reducing or eliminating the processed meats you eat.

First, it’s important to understand what processed meat is. It’s any kind of red or white meat that’s been salted, smoked, cured, fermented or taken through another process to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Examples include hot dogs, sausages, ham, bacon, corned beef, beef jerky, or deli meats.  Even processed meats that contain turkey or chicken are considered carcinogenic (having the potential to cause cancer) because they are processed. And “low-fat” or “fat-free” deli meats are no better, as it’s the processing of the meat that makes it a risk factor.

If you’re stuck on the idea of having a sandwich for lunch but want to avoid deli and other types of processed meats, consider these healthier choices:

  • Chicken, tuna or hard-boiled egg salad using plain Greek yogurt or avocado instead of mayo
  • Get creative with ingredients like tofu, tempeh or legumes (like chickpeas) to fill your sandwich (Check out this egg-less egg salad recipe or this curried chicken-less salad.)
  • Hummus with or without fresh or roasted veggies
  • Roasted or fresh veggies on their own—load them up!
  • Peanut butter and honey (instead of jelly)
  • Veggie, bean or lentil burger

If you’re willing to look outside the sandwich box, the options are more plentiful. Here are some tasty, plant-based ideas to try:

  • Green salad: Top lettuce, spinach or your favorite leafy greens with a variety of vegetables, cooked whole grains and beans (black beans, chick peas or kidney beans are great choices).
  • Grain salads: Use quinoa, barley, wild rice, cracked wheat, farro, or another ingredient to make a cold salad you can prepare ahead, keep in the refrigerator for several days and eat throughout the week. Tabbouleh is the traditional Mediterranean cracked wheat and parsley salad many are familiar with or you could try this zesty quinoa salad .
  • Plant-based soups: Minestrone, lentil, split pea (without ham), chili (vegetarian or cut back on the meat and increase the beans and veggies)
  • Leftovers: Make a couple extra portions of your healthy dinner and enjoy it for lunches during the rest of the week.
  • Yogurt: It has lots of protein and pairs well with a salad, fruit or another side dish.

Notice we didn’t suggest cheese as an alternative.  While a small amount of cheese on occasion is OK, the goal is to replace the meats and cheeses with plant proteins as a plant-based diet is most likely to reduce your risk of getting cancer or having a cancer recurrence.


Sue Czap, RD

Sue Czap, MS, RD, CSO, CDN, is a registered dietitian and a board certified specialist in Oncology Nutrition. She teaches a monthly wellness cooking class for cancer survivors and works primarily from Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Pluta location.


Joanne Lipp, RD

Joanna Lipp, MS, RD, CNSC, CSO, is a clinical nutrition specialist with UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute. She’s board-certified in oncology nutrition and counsels cancer patients and survivors on nutrition and eating healthfully.