How to Buy the Healthiest Pre-Made Sandwiches

Follow these five tips to make sure your sandwich is of the best quality.

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What’s Really in Processed Meat? (2:56)

When you’re in a bind for time and need a quick lunch, hitting a neighborhood deli or fast-casual restaurant for a pre-prepared sandwich is one of the easiest, and often cheapest ways to get a well-balanced meal. In fact, according to the USDA, almost half of adults in America eat at least one sandwich every day and 34 percent of these sandwiches are reported to be bought from a restaurant. Food expert and author of Real Food/Fake Food, Larry Olmstead, has five pointers to keep your daily sandwich from being harmful to your health.

Avoid Pre-Formed Meats

To get the best quality meat, choose a sandwich containing carved meats like turkey or roast beef. Many fast food restaurants baste roast beef and simmer it for hours, making it a much better option than pre-packaged ham or chicken breast. In these pre-formed, perfectly square, varieties the slices you’re eating are essentially multiple pieces of meat restructured to look like one whole piece. The meat is put into tumblers so the protein rises to the top and binds the meat together, resulting in a not-so-pure slice. 

Stay Clear of Cured Meats

Meats like salami, pepperoni, and bologna are the most heavily processed proteins for your sandwich, containing added chemicals and other unhealthy ingredients. The fat and meat, including organs and leftover scraps, are typically ground up in a mixer and cured with starch, salt, corn syrup, and nitrates to give the meat product color and kill bacteria to make it last longer. The mixture is then pumped through a casing into the shape of logs, cooked or smoked, and finally packaged. To keep nitrates out of your lunch, stick to the fresh carvings and uncured options.

Look at the Nutrition Information

Thanks to new regulations enacted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, restaurants and retail food establishments that are a part of a chain of 20 or more locations have to provide calorie and nutrition information to customers. This mandate makes it easier than ever before to be aware of the healthiest options for you and your family. Some seemingly “healthy” sandwich ingredient options — like wraps or sliced turkey — may actually have more calories or higher sodium values than arguably “worse” picks like white bread. Before you opt for the typically nutritious choice, check the nutrition facts.

Check the Time and Date It Was Made

If the meat in the pre-packaged deli sandwich looks a little slimy, or the lettuce is browning at the edges, look to see when it was prepared. Make sure the sandwich was made within the last 24 hours and that it hasn’t passed its “best-by” date, if one is provided. Since some stores don’t have these labels, ask a clerk or employee at the deli counter for information if you feel uneasy.

Be Cautious of Toppings

According to some former sandwich makers, old vegetables may be moved to the top of the container and used past their prime. Additionally, knives used all day to chop ingredients might not be washed. If you're watching your sandwich be prepared, make sure the employee is putting the freshest fixings on your sandwich. You can do this by checking for visible signs of spoilage and asking for the toppings that were delivered fresh that day.

Related:

The Lowest Sodium Deli Meats That Still Taste Good

How to Buy the Healthiest Food at Your Local Deli Counter

What's Actually in Your Breakfast Sausage