The Diet Detective: At the Deli

Stuffed grape leaves, pasta salad, pickles, tuna salad, potato knish, hummus, pastrami, quiche... What should I choose at the deli?
There are so many choices when you walk into a deli, but it's not just about the sandwiches--deli food is really an entire category. See if you can pick the healthier choices below.

 

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES vs. ROASTED RED PEPPERS vs. PITTED GREEK OLIVES
Stuffed grape leaves are the worst of the lot: Five leaves have 210 calories. Three ounces of roasted red peppers in oil have about half the calories at 120. If you have four or five olives, however, you're looking at only 25 to 45 calories--they're about six to nine calories apiece. But the real winner would be simple roasted red peppers that aren't packed in oil--30 calories for four ounces.

PESTO PASTA SALAD vs. TUNA SALAD
You might think all the mayonnaise in tuna salad would make it the worse choice, but the numbers show the opposite: For a half-cup serving, tuna salad has 230 calories, whereas pesto pasta salad, with ground pine nuts, oil and pasta, is quite a bit higher at 340 calories for the same amount. Coleslaw might be your best option, but with mayonnaise, sugar and sometimes additional olive oil or other ingredients, the end result can still have 150 calories per half cup.

If you're ordering pasta salad, ask the people at your deli if they have 100 percent whole-wheat pasta (not semolina or 100 percent pure durum semolina). The extra fiber will fill you up faster. Another way to fill up without increasing calories is to add lots of vegetables--isn't that the idea of a salad anyway? So look for salads that include lots of vegetables, and if you can request extra veggies, go ahead. At home, make your own fresh bean salad with assorted veggies dressed with vinegar and lemon juice for only 70 calories per half cup. Make sure to use low-fat mayo when making tuna, and go light on the oil when making pesto salad.

POTATO KNISH vs. SOUR PICKLES
A knish consists of a filling enclosed in dough that is either baked or fried. Fillings range from mashed potato, ground meat, kasha (buckwheat groats) or cheese, among others. A six-ounce potato knish has about 300 calories--no contest when compared with the calories in a pickle. In fact, if we snacked on pickles more often, we would probably lose weight. Pickles have almost no calories at all; their only downside is that they're typically very high in sodium.

HUMMUS vs. BABA GANOUSH vs. CAVIAR vs. PATE
Hummus, a popular Middle Eastern spread made from chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), roasted garlic and olive oil, has 50-70 calories per two tablespoons (one ounce). Baba ganoush, another popular Middle Eastern dish, is made with eggplant sauteed in olive oil and then pureed with tahini; one ounce also has about 50-70 calories. Caviar is about the same calorie-wise at around 80 calories per ounce, but you will probably eat less of it--so if it's in your budget, it could be the best choice. Pate, primarily made from poultry livers, is likely the highest-calorie spread at the deli. Calories vary depending on the main ingredient, but one ounce of goose liver pate (pate de foie gras) comes in at 120 calories; chicken liver pate, however, has half the calories. Keep in mind that all these spreads require something to spread them on--and the calories in crackers quickly add up. Assume each cracker has at least 10-20 calories.

BROCCOLI & CHEDDAR QUICHE vs. GOURMET HAM-AND-CHEESE WRAP vs. TOMATO, MOZZARELLA AND PESTO SANDWICH
Your best bet is actually the ham-and-cheese wrap. A six-ounce gourmet ham-and-cheese wrap with mayo has 360 calories, whereas a 4.7-ounce piece of broccoli and cheddar quiche (1/6 of the pie) has about 380 calories--and most likely, won't be nearly as filling. The highest of the bunch is the tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich at about 450 calories for six ounces. The problem is, many delis serve 10- or 12-ounce sandwiches--which can contain more than 800 calories--so don't be shy about asking for your sandwich to be cut in half.

PASTRAMI vs. ROAST BEEF vs. CORNED BEEF
Pastrami is corned beef that's been smoked for added flavor, then salted, dried, seasoned and sometimes sugared--which means four ounces can have as much as 390 calories and 1,900 mg of sodium, whereas four ounces of roast beef have 220-260 calories. However, lean roast beef drops to 120-140 calories per four ounces. Same with corned beef: Buy it lean, and it comes in at around 120-140 calories for four ounces.

Typically, these meats are packed into sandwiches served on huge rolls, often with coleslaw and Russian dressing, both of which are high in calories (because of the mayo). These can increase the total to as high as 800 calories per sandwich, make sure to ask for lean meats whenever possible. Another good option--chicken or turkey breast slices at approximately 120 calories for four ounces.

Ask for ketchup, spicy mustard, salsa, horseradish, pickle chips and plenty of fresh veggies for garnish. Steer away from extras like cheese, mayo and oil. If you can't completely forgo them, at least choose the low-fat or fat-free versions.

SALAMI vs. BOLOGNA vs. PROSCIUTTO vs. DRY SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE
At 460 calories for four ounces, the dry sweet Italian sausage is your worst choice. Bologna (four ounces: 280 calories) and regular soft beef salami (four ounces: 300 calories) are close, but Genoa salami has 360 calories in four ounces and is loaded with sodium. Prosciutto has 280 calories in four ounces and is surprisingly low in saturated fat (eight grams) and high in protein--great for low-fat, low-carb diets. Always look for lean cold cuts, such as Hebrew National Lean Salami (only 180 calories for four ounces).

WILD RICE WITH CRANBERRIES vs. BROWN RICE VS. RICE PILAF
This wild rice dish (technically not rice but the seed of an aquatic grass) is actually the lowest in calories at 190 per cup. Other typically-added ingredients include scallions, carrots, celery, raisins, shallots and olive oil, any of which could bring the fiber content higher than that of famously-healthy brown rice. Brown rice, too, is not a bad deal--at 220 calories per cup, it's packed with 3.5 grams of fiber and five grams of protein. And one cup of white rice in rice pilaf also has 220 calories, although when you start to add butter, oil, beef or chicken stock and some diced veggies, that can go up to about 280 per cup.

ROASTED POTATOES vs. BLACK BEAN SALAD vs. FRUIT SALAD
The black bean salad, typically made with black beans, kidney beans, corn, peppers, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, wine vinegar and oil, is a pretty good choice both calorie-wise and health-wise. A four-ounce serving has 130 calories and is packed with fiber, protein and folate. However the best choice is the fruit. The same four-ounce serving, including cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes and pineapple, has only 50 calories. Roasted potatoes, usually doused in oil, have about 160 calories in four ounces.


Active Expert Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert, nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at www.dietdetective.com.

Copyright 2006 by Charles Stuart Platkin

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