Alternatives to Processed Meats

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How Much Processed Meat Can I Safely Eat?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines suggests replacing processed meats with fresh seafood or poultry to decrease saturated fat and sodium. Even better, choose dried beans or peas such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, or pinto beans instead of processed meat for increased sources of fiber in addition to lower sodium and no saturated fat. The current consensus is to limit processed meat to no more than 1-2 times per month, and of course less often is healthier.

Our Tips:

  • Choose least-processed meats as often as possible. For example, instead of chicken nuggets, roast chicken breast yourself or use an air fryer at home to make crunchy , unprocessed chicken nuggets.
  • Don’t be fooled by lower-fat processed meats such as chicken or turkey sausage, turkey bacon, or turkey hot dogs. These foods may be lower in fat, but they’re still highly processed.
  • Check the ingredient list on food labels for words that include nitrate, nitrite, cured, or salted which indicate the meat has been processed.
  • Instead of adding sliced lunchmeat to a Chef’s salad, opt for canned tuna or salmon, or sliced roast chicken or turkey.
  • Order a grilled chicken sandwich or fresh fish tacos instead of a lunchmeat deli sandwich.
  • Enjoy a breakfast sandwich with eggs, spinach, and tomato instead of sausage or bacon.
  • If you enjoy a sandwich for lunch, choose a cheese sandwich with a variety of vegetables, tuna salad (make it yourself and add chopped vegetables), or the favorite peanut butter and jelly to avoid processed lunch meats.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, CPT


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at
  2. American Institute for Cancer Research. What is Processed Meat Anyway? published 2-23-12; accessed 3-28-21
  3. American Meat Institute. Processed Meats:  Convenience, Nutrition, Taste. accessed 3-28-21
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Are All Processed Meats Equally Bad for Health? accessed 3-28-21
  5. Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, et al.; International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol 2015;16:1599–1600
  6. Cunningham E. Dietary nitrates and nitrites-harmful? Helpful? Or paradox? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Sep;113(9):1268. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.07.014. PMID: 23972273.
  7. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Processed Meat and Cancer: What You Need to Know. Danielle Underferth. published February 2016; accessed 3-29-21
  8. Center for Science in the Public Interest. USDA to Improve Misleading Processed Meat Labels. published 12-11-20; accessed 3-30-21

Did you catch the first article in this series, Processed Meats: What They Are And Why You Should Avoid Them?

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