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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is my boyfriend eating too much processed meats?

Please help! My boyfriend is 51. He works outside and leaves very early in the morning. He has a regimen for breakfast and lunch that he wants to be healthful but quick, with breakfast holding him til lunch. He makes oatmeal every morning. However, in an effort to add protein he adds one pre-cooked Jimmie Dean Sausage patty to it. He also eats Oscar Mayer Deli-Fresh Smoked Turkey lunch meat for lunch. Every day. Six days a week. I'm concerned about the cumulative effects of that processed meat day after day, year after year. Is there a more healthful protein alternative he could add to his oatmeal? Are my concerns warranted?

On the good news side, he adds walnuts, raisins and cinnamon to his oatmeal and turmeric to his sandwich as its supposed to help prevent Alzheimer's Disease. His sandwich has mounds of fresh spinach, though he buys organic pre-washed and won't wash it at home because it's too hard to dry and makes his sandwich soggy. He eats two small apples and two small oranges plus one banana, tomato and almonds during the day. Dinner is usually chicken or beans unless he makes gumbo true to his Louisiana roots.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Slices of cold cuts (deli meats)

There is great evidence that combining a good quality carbohydrate such as oatmeal with some protein in the morning can really help with staving off hunger through the morning. The choice of sausage is, however, a very poor protein source.

The same is true for lunch. By having a sandwich with whole wheat bread and combining it with a quality protein source it's clear from research that satisfaction is better sustained throughout the afternoon. The choice of processed turkey is a poor one.

It is now becoming clear from research that red meat is not the health hazard that it once was thought to be. The issue is highly processed meats like sausage, bologna and luncheon meats. I don't think we know precisely why this is, but it appears that it may be the preservatives such as nitrites used in mass produced meats such as those from Jimmy Dean and Oscar Mayer. We recently reviewed some excellent breakfast sausages from Applegate Farms that contain no nitrites or preservatives, so he might want to switch to those instead.

Except for the highly processed meats, your boyfriend's diet is pretty darn good. The walnuts, raisins, spinach, fruit, chicken and beans are great choices. Simply replacing the processed protein choices with better quality food can make a huge difference. Here's some ideas:

  • If he likes savory oatmeal, mixing in an egg with a tablespoon of parmesan cheese is a great choice

  • Having a yogurt along with the oatmeal

  • An ounce of reduced-fat cheddar or Swiss cheese will melt well and make a delicious savory oatmeal

  • An egg sandwich made with high fiber, whole grain bread

For lunch it's best to avoid processed meats, but there are great alternatives that taste so much better and may actually be less expensive (all sandwiches made with whole grain bread):

  • An egg salad sandwich

  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich

  • A tuna salad sandwich

  • A sandwich made with leftover rotisserie chicken

  • Pasta or rice salads

Here are some recipes that he might like:

Egg Salad
Chicken Salad
Shrimp Fettuccine Salad

The key is to mix it up and eat a wide variety of foods. Best of all is the snacks he is choosing. It's clear that the fruit and nuts are fantastic for him.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet