Food & Recipes

Can Lunch Meat *Actually* Be Healthy? A Veteran Butcher Weighs In on Nitrates

by Rachael Ray Show Staff 3:00 AM, April 5, 2018

Aired April 5, 2018

Sure, lunch meat is convenient when you're planning meals for a family on a budget, but you should always be taking a closer look at what you're buying.

For starters, our show's resident butcher and author of "The Everyday Meat Guide," Ray Venezia, explains that there are two types of cold cuts: fresh-roasted and cured.

Essentially, Venezia says, fresh-roasted means you're getting a fresh piece of meat with fresh seasoning that's roasted right in the store.

RELATED: You Should Be Asking Your Supermarket Butcher These Questions

As for cured meats, he explains, "Curing is just using salt [as] a preservative and to add flavor, mostly done with sodium nitrate."

In fact, the butcher notes that cured meats could have almost 400 times more salt content than fresh-roasted meats.

Yikes! 🙈

Watch the video above to see Venezia show how the two types compare to the naked eye.

(Spoiler: Cured meats tend to look more uniform. Plus, Venezia says nitrates gives lunch meat a pink color.)

And contrary to what you might think, not all pre-packaged cuts are created equal!

According to Venezia, you *can* buy pre-packaged fresh-roasted cuts at certain stores

Just pay attention to labels -- both behind the counter and not!

RELATED: Ray the Butcher's Tips for Buying, Storing & Preparing Meat

"All the information is there," Venezia says.

"Even the big piece comes to the stores with labeling on it," he continues of the pieces sitting behind the deli counter. "So just like talking to your butcher, talk to the deli associate."

(Spoiler: Look for "no nitrate or nitrite added" on labels!)

Oh, and don’t be fooled by "all-natural" labels, either.

"People see 'all-natural' and think ‘that’s great,'" Venezia explains.

BUT he notes that cold cuts could be labeled “all-natural” and still contain something called "cultured celery extract," which is a natural form of sodium nitrate.