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DELI FOOD
How Does It Affect Your Weight Loss Program?

This chapter covers deli foods - including meats, seafood, cheeses, etc - with regards to their calorie content and impact on a weight control diet. As a ground rule, when choosing deli foods (as well as any other foods) for a weight loss program, the criteria to look for are as follows:

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  1. A reasonably low calorie content (i.e., below 200 calories per serving)
  2. An acceptable composition, which means:
    • low content of saturated fat (preferably below 3 gram per serving)
    • zero trans fats
    • low content of cholesterol (preferably below 40 mg per serving)

Note: Sugars are generally not a concern in the deli aisle – since meats, cheeses and seafood are naturally low in carbohydrates. A major exception are deli products with creamy sauces and shortenings in their composition. These may contain significant amounts of sugars, as well as saturated fats, and should be therefore regarded with caution.

Whenever considering a prepackaged deli product, the best way to ensure adequate calorie content and acceptable composition is to check the Nutrition Facts Label on the package. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to reinforce this point. All the above-mentioned food facts are included in the nutrition label, along with the recommended serving size. In the modern world, it's the ideal way to keep track of your food intake.

We will now proceed to review the most common deli food items:


Deli Food
Cheeses:

Cheeses are nutritious foods and good sources of protein and calcium. The problem with cheeses is that most of them contain a fair amount of fat, especially saturated fat. Some of the more exotic cheese brands can be fairly caloric (meaning that a small serving size contains a rather high number of calories). Caution needs to be exercised, since the nutrition labels on these products can be misleading. This is especially true for deli cheeses - as opposed to cheeses in the regular dairy aisle. The nutrition labels on deli cheeses may be difficult to interpret due to the following factors:
  • The number of servings in the package is often given as "variable".
  • The serving size is indicated in grams, whereas the total weight of the package is given in ounces - making it difficult to calculate the number of servings at a glance.
In order to deduce how many servings are in the package, one must first convert the serving size from grams to ounces, and then divide the total package weight by this number. When performing this calculation, it often becomes obvious the package contains 10 or more servings. Only then do you realize how small a serving really is! On average, most cheeses that are not reduced in fat bring in about 90 – 120 calories per serving. Multiply this times 10 servings, and you realize that this small glob of cheese (the package you were considering to buy) contains about 1,000 calories. This being said, it is crucial to respect the recommended serving size when consuming such products.

Generally speaking, moist cheeses (such as Cottage Cheese) are less caloric than dry cheeses (such as Swiss Cheese, American Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, etc) or cream cheeses (such as Philadelphia Cheese). Thus, one can eat about 4 times more Cottage Cheese (volume-wise) than Philadelphia Cheese or American Cheese, for the same amount of calories.

To illustrate: One slice (1oz) of American Cheese, Swiss Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, or Romano Cheese brings in 90 – 120 calories, and 1 oz of Philadelphia Cream Cheese brings in 100 calories. Comparatively, a 4 oz serving of Cottage Cheese brings in about the same amount (114 calories).

Note: All calorie counts above are given for cheese products that are not reduced in fat. Switching to reduced-fat cheese products saves one quarter to one third the calories, which is a definite advantage in a weight loss program. By the way, the taste of reduced fat dairy products is fairly similar to that of regular dairy products. I have often encountered the opinion that eliminating fat in dairy products somehow diminishes the taste experience. In my opinion, however, this is simply not the case.


Deli Food
Spreads:

You may find a large variety of spreads scattered throughout the deli section, and some of these products may contain unacceptably high amounts of saturated fats and/or sugars. Again, the best way to protect yourself is to read the nutrition labels. Here's what you should be looking for:
  • zero saturated fats
  • zero trans fats
  • sugars up to 2 gram per serving (which is usually 2 tablespoons)
Anything more than that is a source of unnecessary calories. By the way, 'Salsa' satisfies the above conditions and is an acceptable item for weight control.

Light versions (with reduced fat and/or sugar content) are oftentimes available for various brands of spreads. However, don't base your decision solely on the 'Lite' sticker. Check out the nutrition label to ensure the above-mentioned nutritional criteria are met.


Deli Food
Antipasto Bar:

This deli service is becoming more and more popular, and many grocery stores nowadays are offering one. The problem with it is, most of the products available are literally swimming in oil. One may presume this is olive oil, which in small amounts is beneficial to health and weight control, but in reality, there's no way of telling for sure.
This being said, here's the deal: Antipasto items, of themselves, are not contraindicated in a weight control program. However, be aware that these items may bring a hefty amount of calories for a relatively small serving size (which in part is due to the oil they contain). As such, portion sizes should be carefully watched. A reasonable portion would be 1-2 tablespoons of one item (which doesn't mean 1-2 tablespoons of each item at the same time).


Deli Food
Processed Meat Products:

  • Salami and Pepperoni: Beef and Pork Salami brings about 70 - 110 calories per 1 oz serving, with Hard Salami (or Dry Salami) being at the high end of this range (105 calories for 3 slices or 1 oz of Hard Salami).
    Turkey Salami contains about half this calorie amount (43 calories per 1 oz serving), and a considerably lower amount of total fat and saturated fat. As such, turkey products are a smart choice for weight control.
  • Bacon: Bacon brings a sizable calorie amount (154 calories per oz), which is largely due to the fats it contains. Moreover, a large part of the fats in bacon are saturated fats. Therefore, bacon is definitely not the ideal product for a weight control diet.
  • Ham: Ham is typically a low calorie meat product, with overall low fat content. The calorie count ranges from 30 to 50 calories per ounce, with lean ham being at the low end of this range (70 calories for 2 oz or 3 slices of lean ham). Ham is also an excellent source of protein. All in all, it's a great choice for a weight control diet.
  • Bologna: Bologna brings in a higher calorie amount than ham, and has a higher content of total and saturated fat. One slice or 1 oz of beef bologna brings in about 88 calories, one slice or 1 oz of pork bologna about 70 calories, and one slice or 1 oz of turkey bologna about 60 calories. (Notice once again the calorie advantage of turkey bologna.) In summary, as long as portions are reasonable, bologna is an acceptable food for weight control.
  • Turkey Breast: Turkey Breast is an extremely low calorie, low fat meat product. One ounce of turkey breast contains less than 30 calories, and a negligible fat content. As such, turkey breast is a prime choice for any weight loss program.
  • Sushi: Most sushi varieties contain about 30 - 60 calories per piece (with Nigiri Sushi at the high end of this range). Due to the fish it contains, Sushi is a good source of protein and unsaturated (healthy) fats. The rice in Sushi, which is usually steamed white rice, brings in complex carbs of intermediate glycemic index. The ginger seasoning commonly included with Sushi is practically devoid of calories. Soy sauce can be added, since it contains a negligible calorie amount (10 calories per tablespoon). As such, Sushi with or without soy sauce is a great food for weight control.


Deli Food
Pre-cooked Deli Dishes:

Browsing the deli counter, one can observe a large variety of prepared or pre-cooked dishes, which can be ordered by the pound. Among these, many creamy salads and other dishes containing creamy sauces catch the eye (e.g., Hawaiian Salad, Creamy Coleslaw, Potato Salads, etc). Needless to say, these foods are detrimental for a weight control program. Almost assuredly, they contain high amounts of saturated fats and sugars. Moreover, their real calorie content is difficult to assess. These foods should be consumed infrequently and in small amounts, if at all.


Deli Food
Pre-packaged Deli Products:

The deli section also contains a fair selection of prepackaged ready-to-eat foods, including entrees, sides, sandwiches, green salads, creamy salads, etc. Again, the problem is that most of them contain large amounts of fats and sugars. Many of these products lack a nutrition label, so there is no way to gauge their calorie content. On the whole, I would advise avoiding these items - especially dishes that contain fatty sauces or shortenings (e.g. General Tso's Chicken, Barbeque Wings, Macaroni and Cheese, etc).

As far as the pre-made sandwiches in the deli section - many of them look worrisomely big, so they are best avoided. Due to their sheer size, the calorie content in these sandwiches is bound to be high, and since they come as one helping, there's nothing to warn you when to stop eating.

I would also advise staying away from creamy salads (such as potato salad, macaroni salad, creamy coleslaw, etc), or at least choosing the reduced-fat versions whenever available.

As for the green premixed salads, beware of added items such as cheese, croutons, bacon, fried chicken bits, and salad dressings which are not necessarily low-fat. With due caution, however, prepackaged green salads make a good dish for weight control. Items that are ok to have with your salad are the following:
  • lean meat products (such as ham, grilled turkey breast or grilled chicken breast)
  • eggs (especially egg whites)
  • small amounts of cheese
  • a fat-free salad dressing.


Deli Food
Meats:

Of course, we'll be looking for lean meats with the lowest possible fat content. One thing to remember about the fat in meats: Almost all of it is saturated fat (which is detrimental for health and weight control) - so it should be avoided as much as possible. This being said, meats are the best source of protein available, and ensuring protein intake is essential for a successful weight control plan.
So what are the meats we should choose?
  • Skinless Turkey or Chicken – preferably the breast portion (which is lower in fat than the wings or leg portion).
  • Lean Pork and Beef are also acceptable, although more caloric and higher in fat content. As a rule of thumb, avoid any cut of meat with visible fat in it.
On average, a 3 oz serving of lean meat brings in between 140 and 185 calories, with pork and beef being generally higher in fat, cholesterol and calorie content than chicken and turkey. Beef may also contain small amounts (about 4%) of naturally occurring trans fats. Trans fats are considered detrimental for health, however it is debatable if the small amount of trans fats present in beef pose any real threat. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to limit your intake of beef if you are suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Caution:
  • One thing to be careful about is ground meat. This represents a problem since there is no way to tell how lean the respective cut of meat really was.
  • Meat products such as sausage, hot dogs, or hamburgers contain a significant amount of calories. (For instance, one 3 oz link of pork sausage brings in 285 calories.) Turkey sausage and turkey burgers are lower in calories than the corresponding pork or beef products. However, all products of this type should be limited during a weight loss program. If any such products are consumed, reduced-fat versions should be chosen and reasonable portions should be respected.
  • Also, avoid prepackaged Deli items containing fried meats, stuffed meats, or meats with creamy sauces - they are sure to bring in a sizable amount of unnecessary calories.


Deli Food
Seafood:

Fresh fish (grilled or broiled, never fried) is a great food for weight control - with wild fish having an advantage over farm fish. Wild fish brings a higher content of omega3 fatty acids, which carries a definite health advantage, and is also believed to be beneficial for weight control. Fish is reasonably low in calories, and is an excellent source of protein, unsaturated (healthy) fats, potassium and phosphates. Most grilled or broiled fish bring about 100 calories per 3 oz serving. A notable exception is salmon, which brings in a somewhat higher calorie amount, about 150 calories per 3 oz serving.

Other seafood products, such as clams, shrimp, crab meat, lobster, prepackaged smoked fish or sardines are generally acceptable in a weight loss program, as long as they don't contain significant amounts of oil or added creamy shortenings.

As far as the large variety of 'seafood salads' containing creamy sauces, you probably realize by now they are detrimental to your weight control efforts. To find out just how detrimental, all you have to do is read the nutrition label.


Deli Food
Careful with these:

Below is a list of deli items to be careful about during a weight loss program:
  • Cheeses that are not reduced in fat
  • Spreads that are not reduced in fat
  • Antipasto Bar (due to the high amounts of oil)
  • Bacon
  • Prepared or pre-cooked deli foods, especially the ones containing creamy sauces or shortenings
  • Large Deli Sandwiches
  • Creamy Prepackaged Salads (potato salad, macaroni salad, creamy coleslaw, etc)
  • Prepackaged Green Salads containing added 'offenders' (such as bacon, fried chicken, and high calorie salad dressing)
  • Sausage, Hot Dogs and Hamburgers (especially if not reduced in fat)
  • Creamy Seafood Salads

Please note that the above list is not exclusive.

Note: All calorie counts are approximate.


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