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The question

Lately I have been eating veggie turkey slices for lunch sandwiches. Is this a healthier choice than deli meats? Is it a good way to eat tofu?

The answer

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Yes, veggie turkey slices are a healthier choice than deli meats. The concern with deli meats has to do with cancer risk. Theevidence linking processed meats to an increased risk of colorectal cancer is strong enough that the current recommendation from cancer experts is to eat little, if any, processed meat.

In other words, if you have to, eat it sparingly.

So what qualifies as "processed meat"? The term is used inconsistently in studies. However, it commonly refers to meats (usually red meats) preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or the addition of preservatives. Ham, bacon, pastrami, salami and bologna are processed meats - a are sausages, hot dogs, bratwursts and frankfurters. Only a few studies have defined processed meat as including turkey and chicken slices.

There are several ways in which processed meats may contribute to cancer. Meats are a source of saturated fat which has been linked to cancer. The form of iron in meat – heme iron – may also damage colon cells and trigger cancer growth.

Processed meats also list sodium nitrite as an ingredient, a preservative added to prevent botulism food poisoning and to give cured meats their characteristic red colour.

During cooking, nitrite can react with compounds naturally present in meat to form N-nitroso compounds (nitrosamines and nitrosamides), several of which have been associated with certain cancers in humans and animals.

Soy-based veggies slices do not contain sodium nitrite or heme iron, and they are very low in saturated fat. The downside is sodium. Look for brands that contain less sodium, ideally less than 500 milligrams per two ounce (60 gram) serving.

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Ideally, choose firm tofu - a better source of protein, and low in sodium - over soy veggie slices.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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