01 NovThe Deli Ain’t So Bad

Deli-AinGrocery deli counters fall in this category and could easily be a bodybuilder’s best friend — they’re readily available, provide an array of quick sources of essential nutrients and tend to cost considerably less than eating out. But be sure to know what you’re selecting. So-called “low-fat” turkey meatballs and “97% fat-free” deli meats, for example, may not be as ideal as you might think.

Cold Meats & Cheeses

Many grocery stores’ own brands are just as likely to be low in fat as some popular brands such as Butterball, Jennie-O and Sara Lee, which tend to make meats consistently low in fat. Brands such as Boar’s Head, Columbus and Dietz & Watson definitely have some healthy options, but be sure to ask to see any labels you’re unsure of.

Purchasing cold cuts these days provides a lot of options. You can order them bulk from the actual deli counter or prepackaged near the deli. By purchasing them directly from the deli, you can choose how thick or thin you’d like your meat sliced; shaved meat can bulk up a sandwich, or you can chop up a half-inch-thick slice for a salad or to eat as a “steak.” The deli meat from the counter tends to be fresher, as well, but the drawback is that you have to eat it within a few days; the pre-packaged variety can remain unopened until a few days before the expiration date, often as far as a month away.

Whatever you choose, don’t be fooled by claims like “97% fat-free.” Many meats have such type scrawled across the front of their packages. But when you flip the package over, you’ll see that as many as 30% to 40% of the calories come from fat. So which is it -3% or 30%? The answer is both, depending whether you base the measure on weight or calories.

For example, a 4-oz. serving of prepackaged ham that weighs 112 grams may have only 28 grams of actual calorie-bearing nutrients. The other 84 grams are water and substances like carageenan, injected into the meat to add weight and bulk. Of the ham’s 120 calories, 40 come from fat. So while fat may make up only 3% of the total weight, it makes up 33% of the calories.

As a general rule, it’s best to reserve saying “cheese” for when you’re getting your picture taken. Cheese, in most cases, is about three-fourths fat, calorie-wise. Some of the lighter versions do provide a good deal of flavor and enhance the overall appeal of a sub or tuna melt, but even “lighter” cheeses generally get at least 50% of their calories from fat. At one deli counter, the healthiest cheese available was a light Swiss: 1 ounce (four thin slices) provided 90 calories, 8 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 6 grams fat and no fiber. If you do the math (6 grams of fat at 9 calories per gram), you’ll see that 54 calories — 60% of the calories — come from fat.

Hot Deli Options

Ever notice how most packages list a 2- or 3-ounce serving size? Actually sticking to just one serving that small seems well out of the realm of possibility, especially for a food like meatballs, where each one is approximately 1.5 ounces — anyone for a two-meatball dinner? Also be sure to note the nutritional content of the rotisserie chickens that most grocery stores offer. Eat skinless breast only, or even better, opt for the rotisserie turkey breast, which provides more protein at a fraction of the fat and calories.

 Salads & Side Dishes

Although most deli counters serve many salads and side dishes in bulk, they may also have much of it labeled and pre-packed in a refrigerated section near the deli. Before ordering, do a bit of research: Is your favorite salad as bodybuilder-friendly as you once believed? And if you’re spending extra money shopping at a whole-foods-type grocery store, you might want to reconsider. The exact same companies often supply foods such as couscous salad, tabbouli, seafood salad and grape leaves to both whole-foods and regular markets without changing even the smallest of ingredients.

If you can’t find the nutritional information at your grocery store, follow a few simple guidelines: If a deli item contains mayonnaise, you can bet that the fat content is through the roof. Also consider avoiding starchy dishes that may contain olive oil; they, too, can often be loaded with excess fat and extra calories. Better to stick with fruits, pickles, low-fat slaws or marinated mushrooms, cucumbers or tomatoes that don’t have a lot of visible oils. Many marinated vegetable side dishes contain a high concentration of vinegar, which is not only high in flavor but also almost calorie-free.

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