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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- A reasonably low calorie content (i.e., below 200 calories per serving)
- 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:
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:
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
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
- zero saturated fats
- zero trans fats
- sugars up to 2 gram per serving (which is usually 2 tablespoons)
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.
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).
- 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.
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.
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,
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.
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?
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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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)
- 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.
Return from "Deli Food" to "Grocery Food Facts"