5 Delicious Alternatives to Deli Meat You Will Love  

Have you been told to avoid deli meat, but not sure why?

Or perhaps you are looking for alternatives to deli meat to fill your sandwich?

If so, then keep on reading!

This article defines the differences between processed and non processed meat. It explains why you should avoid processed meats, and provides examples of delicious sandwich fillings that are a good idea to use instead.

Top Takeaways

  • Processed meats, including deli meats, have been modified to improve taste or extend shelf life and often contain additives like excessive sodium and nitrates.
  • Unprocessed meats and whole foods are encouraged for better health, as they are higher in essential nutrients and can help regulate energy intake, reducing the risk of weight gain and chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
  • Healthy alternatives to deli meat and meat products for sandwiches include canned fish (preferably low-sodium), nut butter and avocado, roasted vegetables, black bean and avocado spread, falafel, and tofu options.
  • Whole-grain bread, pita, wraps, or crackers are recommended as alternatives to complete the sandwich, and other non-bread options like whole grains, bento boxes, or pasta can be used.

Check Out My Video Summary Of This Post!

What is the Difference Between Processed and Non Processed Meats

What are Processed Meats?

According to the American Heart Association, processed meat is considered to be any meat that has been modified in order to either improve its taste or extend its shelf life (1).

Are Deli Meats Processed?

Yes, deli meats (aka cold cuts) are processed because they are usually precooked, salted, smoked, or cured with additional chemical preservatives in order to improve flavor or preservation (2).

Why Should You Eat Unprocessed Meats?

The American Heart Association encourages eating more unprocessed foods higher in essential nutrients (1). These foods are more effective for regulating energy intake which can protect against weight gain and prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and lowers cancer risk.  

Make the Switch to Healthy Lunch Meat Sandwiches   

The Past: Processed Meats

Food industry marketing has heavily promoted low-fat processed meats as a healthy choice. Now I know you are asking, but isn’t low-fat meat heart healthy?

Technically yes, meat that is low in saturated fat manages cholesterol levels; however, processed meats often contain preservatives with high sodium content and other additives such as sodium nitrates that can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, that carry health risks. This actually increases your risk of developing heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

So instead of choosing low-fat processed meats, try sticking to low-fat unprocessed meats for overall health.

The Future: Healthy Lunch Meat Options

Instead of focusing on limiting certain nutrients for health, let’s try eating more unprocessed foods like whole grains, plant proteins, vegetables, and fish, shall we? This reframe is a great way to help you apply healthy eating to your every day because we eat food, not nutrients.  

Eating more whole foods higher in essential nutrients will keep us full longer which can protect against weight gain, chronic illness, and the dreaded afternoon energy slump.  

There is absolutely no harm in consuming sandwiches. Especially when choosing non processed, whole foods like whole-grain bread, plant-based options and vegetables, and fish. Horay! This classic lunch option that is easy to pack and consume can continue to occupy lunch boxes everywhere.

Choosing Healthy Sandwich Meat Can be Heart Healthy 

Heart Health Research Encourages Non Processed Meats

In fact, the 2021 American Heart Association guidelines recommend replacing processed meats with non processed, whole, plant foods to lower your risk of death from heart disease (1).

Why are Non Processed Lunch Meats Heart Healthy?

Non processed sandwich fillings are a great option as they are naturally low in sodium, and high in fiber.  Fibre keeps us full longer, and therefore can aid in weight management. 

Some examples of non processed lunch meats are fish that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids to manage inflammation or plant proteins like legumes that are rich in potassium and magnesium to help manage blood pressure.   

Now that we know non processed meats are healthy, are there any convenient sandwich fillings to consider?  

Image of Veronica Rouse with Free 7 day heart healthy meal plan freebie.

5 Deli Meat Alternatives and Other Sandwich Ideas

1. Classic Canned Tuna Sandwich

Canned fish is a fantastic alternative to deli meat.  Mix it with your choice of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt. Yes, I said mayonnaise! Contrary to popular belief, mayonnaise is heart-healthy as it is rich in monounsaturated fats that can actually lower cholesterol levels.

You may also be thinking, isn’t canned tuna processed? Well technically yes. Canned tuna is a processed meat because it has been modified to extend its shelf life through the canning process and some canned fish have added salt for preservation. However, selecting a food label with a “low sodium” or “no salt added” claim makes it less processed, and a healthier selection.   

Need inspiration? Check out this easy heart-healthy tuna melt.

2. Peanut Butter and Avocado Sandwich

Plant-based proteins include nuts and seeds.  Luckily, there are many different kinds of nut butter to choose from these days, so have some fun mixing and matching them with your favorite fruit.

Be sure to try this twist; next time instead of the classic peanut butter and banana sandwich, try a peanut butter and avocado combination.

3. Roasted Vegetable Sandwich

Hopefully, you’ve got the hint that I’m encouraging plant-based alternatives.  Well, can you find a better plant-based sandwich than a vegetable sandwich?

Roasting vegetables aid in the caramelization process which enhances sweetness. Try peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant roasted in heart-healthy olive oil to make any sandwich burst with flavor. Bonus, sprinkle your roasted vegetables with hemp seeds to add protein and further increase satiety. 

4. Black Bean And Avocado

Try a less traditional sandwich by mashing black beans with avocado for a protein-rich spread. This pair is a knock-out combination that is not only delicious but easy to make when you are in a hurry.

5. Falafel

Another plant-based protein to try is falafel. A baked chickpea patty can be a filling lunch with tons of flavor thanks to the addition of onion and garlic, and a perfect addition to a plant-based diet. Yum!  

6. (Bonus) Tofu On Toast

As a bonus, I wanted to encourage you to try adding tofu to your bread with this tofu toast or tofu cream cheese recipe that are packed with protein and healthy fats.

Alternatives to Sandwiches

Now that we’ve conquered the sandwich fillings as an alternative to deli meat, be sure to choose whole-grain alternatives to complete the sandwich. This could be whole grain bread,  pita, wraps, or crackers.

Not into bread? Try adding these sandwich fillings to a whole grain like barley or pasta. Or feature it in a trendy bento box.

Graphic Summarizing 5 Alternatives to Deli Meat; Avocado, Tuna, Roasted Vegetable, Falafel, Apple and Nut Butter

Final Thoughts

Try to avoid processed meats, like deli meat, to prevent heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

But remember, a classic sandwich can still be a healthy lunch option. Just replace processed meat with healthier options including non processed alternatives like fish or plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts, and vegetables.

Happy eating!

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