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Sales Of This Unhealthy Food Are Off the Charts, Experts Say

Processed foods have risen in popularity during the pandemic, but this may be the worst one.

Americans have been adopting healthier eating habits for decades, but the pandemic has reversed some of this progress. Processed foods like boxed macaroni, canned soups, and potato chips have made a comeback as lockdowns and restaurant closures paved way for a renewed popularity of some unhealthier grocery options.

According to the latest data from large grocers, one category of processed food which has undergone an astronomic rise in popularity last year is deli meats. Supermarket News reports that the sliced meats category has seen huge increases in sales through October, largely due to more lunch occasions at home. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

"That can be attributed to the fact that for the most part, people are working from home and being at home the majority of time, so these products are used more often for lunch meals and maybe even dinner meals," Eric Richard, education coordinator of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), said. "What's continued to drive a lot of these sales are the grab-and-go pre-sliced options within the deli."

Regardless of its poor nutritional value, the convenience of pre-sliced lunch meats has proven to be a major factor contributing to its popularity. As some Americans look to avoid potential crowds around deli counters, they're opting for pre-packaged sliced meats and cheeses, which were once the less popular option there.

The meat that's been particularly popular? Bologna. "All subcategories are doing well, however bologna was very strong all throughout the pandemic," Karri Zwirlein, director of bakery, deli & prepared foods for Tops Friendly Markets told Supermarket News. "Kids being home and not at school for six months is really what drove this then."

So how bad is deli meat, really? It's pretty bad, according to nutrition experts. Besides being highly-processed mystery meat, deli meat is packed with fat, sodium, and preservatives like nitrites—all things you should avoid for a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Take bologna, for example, which often makes unhealthiest groceries lists. One generic slice has about 314 milligrams of sodium and 6 grams of fat. Multiply that with the number of slices that go into one sandwich, and the lunchmeat alone will bring you close to your daily recommended limits of these nutrients.

We recommend using deli meats as a lunch hack sparingly. Instead, opt for healthier sources of protein, such as tuna, lean chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or chickpeas in your homemade sandwiches.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Deputy News Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura