Fooducate community member Tom emailed us with a question about deli meats:
Hi Fooducaters - Wondering if you can turn a critical eye towards Hormel’s Natural Choice line. I have been buying it, but frankly, it does not seem expensive enough to make me believe they are truly producing a healthier product. It is “100% Natural**”, would like to get your opinion.
Great question, Tom. As always, the best way to learn about a product is to read the ingredient list and nutrition label.
Hormel’s Natural Choice line boasts 100% Natural Ingredients:
Treat your taste buds—no preservatives or artificial ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Here’s a deeper look at one of the products – Honey Deli Turkey.
What you need to know:
First off, the term “Natural” is meaningless from a legal perspective. There is no USDA or FDA regulation specifying what a natural product is. As a result the term has been adopted widely by the food industry, with a wide open interpretation leaving us consumers confused.
From a nutriton perspective, deli meats all share an Achille’s heel – very high sodium content. A 2 ounce serving has 450mg (about 18% of the daily max) for a mere 60 calories (just 3% of your daily calories). Turkey breast is very low in saturated fat and is a good source of protein, and this product is no exception.
Here is the ingredient list:
Turkey Breast Meat, Water, Honey, Salt, Turbinado Sugar, Potato Starch, Rice Starch, Carrageenan (from seaweed), Baking Soda, Natural Flavoring, Lactic Acid Starter Culture (not from Milk).
There are no scary preservatives here. That does not automatically make this product a health food, but at least there are no carcinogenic nitrites and nitrates.
So how exactly is the meat preserved, you may ask?
The answer is HPP, high pressure processing. Not sure how “natural” a process this is, because the pressure produced is 4 times that of the deepest ocean floor. But it seems very promising.
Basically, after the meat is packaged, the package is placed in a special chamber. The chamber is then pressurized with water at up to 87,000 pounds per square inch or approximately 6,000 atmospheres! This high level of pressure causes all the potential pathogens (salmonella, other bacteria, etc…) to burst and die:
In a typical HPP process, the product is packaged in a flexible container (usually a pouch or plastic bottle) and is loaded into a high pressure chamber filled with a pressure-transmitting (hydraulic) fluid. The hydraulic fluid (normally water) in the chamber is pressurized with a pump, and this pressure is transmitted through the package into the food itself. Pressure is applied for a specific time, usually 3 to 5 minutes. The processed product is then removed and stored/distributed in the conventional manner. Because the pressure is transmitted uniformly (in all directions simultaneously), food retains its shape, even at extreme pressures. read more from Ohio State University
If you are having a hard time visualizing this, think about your ears popping when you’re in an airplane. Only multiply it by a six thousand.
High Pressure Processing is a relatively new processing method, and it is very expensive (a machine can cost upward of $1 million). So far the main concern with this method is how the high pressure affects the food packaging.
As for the filler ingredients in this specific product, they are used to bind the Turkey, water, and flavorings. If your deli turkey seems too cheap, it may be that there is a lot more water in the product than you imagined.
Bottom line: While deli meats should not become a staple meat in your diet, Hormel’s innovative solution at least does not contain problematic preservatives.
What to do at the supermarket:
When selecting deli meats, make sure to choose those that do not include nitrates or nitrites. Watch out for extensive use of fillers which indicate less meat, more water. And check the sodium content too.