Body Blog: Research Says Skip That Turkey Sandwich

Harvard just ruined my lunch.

I make spectacularly healthy (or so I thought!) turkey sandwiches for lunch every day. Fresh bread, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, turkey…. they are beautiful and healthy works of art. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to spice ’em up. Sliced avocado? Swapping out provolone for some swiss? Perhaps a few slices of green apple? Turkey is my daily go-to; a healthy dose of protein that can be dressed up or down depending on what is (or, more likely, what isn’t) stocked in my fridge.

But it’s starting to look like my turkey days are dwindling. Sob. Researchers at Harvard and the more than one million research participants have found that much like tanning, drinking, watching TV, sitting on the computer and everything else I do in my daily life, turkey and other processed meats are officially BAD for us.

What the heck are processed meats? The powers that be define these as “any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives.” Unfortunately, this covers bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, and more. Like Slim Jims and jerky. [Although, don’t act surprised – did you really think Slim Jims came straight from chickens or cows or… wait, where do Slim Jims come from? Exactly.]

Anyway, they found that eating hot dogs, deli meat (even the super lean stuff!), salami, sausage, and bacon can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. And it doesn’t take much. Only two ounces of these processed meats per day will increase your risk of heart disease by 42% and diabetes by 19%! For your reference, two ounces is…

–  A few strips of bacon
–  One hot dog
–  Two slices of deli meat

And two ounces to me is an end to tasty breakfasts, pre-game chow and, of course, my lunchtime mainstay.

The good news in all this? Burgers and gyros are still OK; red meat doesn’t carry the same risks as our smoked and processed friends. Renata Micha, a researcher from the Harvard School of Public Health, says that on average, processed meats have “four times more sodium and 50 percent more nitrate preservatives” than red meat. So there’s that….

RIP, turkey sandwich. I already miss your smokey flavor, versatility, and how good I felt when I was making “healthy” lunch choices. I guess I will now just have to turn to other great sources of protein for my mid-day meal: grilled chicken, hummus, beans, and, I guess, the old elementary school favorite, peanut butter.

Out of the Tanning Bed, Into the Vegetable Aisle
Out of the Tanning Bed, Into the Vegetable Aisle
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