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Published on March 03, 2020

ham sandwich with lettuce onions cheese on multigrain bread

The Deli Sandwich: An Exposé

Having a sandwich for lunch: it’s quick and it tastes good, but is it good for you?

The answer: it really depends.

Here are some tips and tricks to make sure you are optimizing the health and taste of your favorite midday meal.

The Grain Base

Make it whole grain, but not necessarily multi-grain. Picking two slices of a 100% whole-wheat bread (such as Hy-Vee brand 100% whole wheat bread) instead of a multi-grain bread (like Wholesome Harvest 9 Grain & Seed bread) saves 200 calories and 310 milligrams of sodium, and only sacrifices one gram of fiber. Not to mention the first ingredient of the multi-grain bread is enriched wheat flour, meaning it isn’t even entirely whole grain.

Be leery of flat breads and wraps. Switching from two slices of whole-wheat bread to a wrap, like the Mission Garden Spinach Herb wrap, means you’re ADDING 14 grams of carbohydrate, 90 calories and 230 milligrams of sodium. This holds true at Subway®, too, where the artisan flatbread and flavored wraps are the grain options with the highest amounts of calories and carbs.

The Meaty Middle

Make sure it packs a protein punch. One ounce of a cooked protein should provide about 7 grams of protein. Since most lunch meat options are parts and pieces of meat pressed together with fillers/binders, make sure to check the serving size. You then can look at protein content to get an idea of just how much filler has been added. A 2-ounce serving of Di Lusso-brand honey mesquite turkey provides 11 grams of protein, while the Oscar Mayer oven-roasted white turkey has 6 grams of protein per 2-ounce serving.

Try to keep the sodium to a minimum. Prepackaged or freshly shaved from the deli counter, lunch meats are notoriously salty. Look for low-sodium alternatives, such as Di Lusso reduced-sodium turkey, which has 390 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving. Avoid cured meats – they are extremely high in salt – Di Lusso prosciutto, for example, has 1,100 milligrams of sodium in each 2-ounce serving. The 2.6-ounce pouch of Starkist tuna, which has 300 milligrams of sodium, is one of the best options out there.

If it is going to be fatty, make it heart-healthy fat. Although choices like nut butters and tuna might be higher in calories, those calories are coming from heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Choices like pepperoni, salami and bologna come with equally high calorie counts, but their fat is saturated and much harder on your heart.

The Extras

Pack in the produce. From the staples of lettuce and tomato to the more exotic jicama and radishes … add as many vegetables as you can! They add flavor, texture and filling fiber without adding many calories

Stick to vinegar. Balsamic vinegar or mustard (which uses vinegar as its primary ingredient) pack lots of flavor and very few calories so they are the ideal choices if your sandwich needs a little moisture. Condiments like mayonnaise, barbecue sauce or ketchup can come with a lot of calories, sugar and sodium.

Ask yourself: Can I even taste the cheese? If you are having grilled cheese sandwich, the answer is most certainly yes, but with deli meat, once we have added veggies and vinegar, I feel the answer is often no. And when you leave off a slice of cheese, you can save around 90 calories, cut out about 8 grams of fat and keep 150 milligrams of sodium out of your body.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. Get more insight on nutrition and health.

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