Bologna is a popular deli meat in the US that’s named for an Italian city where it originated. It’s often cheaper than other cuts of meat, so many consumers are curious about whether or not that means it’s unhealthier.
But what’s actually in bologna? Why is it so cheap? Is it healthy or is it bad for you? And what’s the healthiest type of bologna?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more, as we explain what’s typically in bologna and share our opinion on whether or not this deli meat is unhealthy, based on a review of medical studies.
We’ll explain why bologna is so cheap, give our pick for the healthiest type of bologna, and share a healthier alternative.
What’s in Bologna?
Bologna is not one specific cut of meat, but rather tends to be a blend of different ground meats.
Any combination of chicken, pork, beef and turkey could be included in bologna, and given that it’s a mashup of different cuts of meat, many people online suggest that the cheapest cuts of meat are used.
In fact, Mashed has an article claiming that mechanically separated chicken is typically the first ingredient in cheap cuts of bologna, meaning that bone and cartilage can also be included in the final product, not just lean meat.
Oscar Mayer is one of the most popular bologna brands, and their product is made with chicken, beef and pork (but not turkey) according to the brand’s website.
A Mashed video shows how bologna is made from start to finish:
Is Bologna Bad for You?
There aren’t very many medical studies on bologna consumption specifically and health effects, but there are a large number of studies on processed meat consumption and health effects.
Bologna would be categorized as a processed meat because it undergoes treatment such as curing or the use of chemical preservatives to extend its shelf life.
Processed meat consumption was associated with 18% greater risk of colorectal cancer, 21% greater risk of colon cancer and 22% greater risk of rectal cancer compared to individuals who avoided processed meat, according to a 2021 meta-study.
Processed meat consumption also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke according to a 2022 medical review.
A medical review published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition documented that processed meat intake is also associated with increased risk of developing diabetes.
Overall, it seems quite clear from the available medical evidence that bologna is bad for you.
It’s likely fine in moderation, as are most foods, but we can’t find a single medical study suggesting that bologna consumption improves health, while very many medical studies find that processed meat consumption worsens health and increases health risks.
What’s the Healthiest Bologna?
Given that processed meat generally is unhealthy, the best way to mitigate negative health effects from its consumption, in our opinion, is to source grass-fed meat and meat products without any unhealthy additives.
As we documented in our review of Good Chop, grass-fed meat is clinically shown to be nutritionally richer than conventionally-raised meat.
It also has a more optimal omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio, which is especially important in higher-fat cuts of meat like bologna.
Choosing a bologna brand that’s free of unhealthy additives can also make a difference.
Sodium phosphates is an ingredient in Oscar Mayer bologna, and this preservative may be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease according to a 2012 medical review.
Grassland Meats sells a beef bologna that’s 100% grass-fed and is free of synthetic preservatives and phosphates. Link here for those interested.
Local butchers may also have suggestions for bologna cuts meeting the criteria established above.
Healthy Sandwich Recipes
For readers of this article who were planning to make bologna sandwiches, here are a few healthier sandwich recipes from YouTube creator Sanne Vloet that may be interesting to check out:
Our Healthy Protein Picks
For consumers who want convenient, no-cooking protein options we believe there are some good options on the market.
Grass-fed beef jerky is a good choice, because meat from grass-fed animals is shown in medical research to be nutritionally superior to meat from conventionally-raised animals.
The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky Sticks is our top pick for a healthier meat product. They're convenient (no cooking required), sourced from exclusively grass-fed animals, free of nitrates and nitrites and also free of added sugar.
Interested consumers can check out The New Primal beef jerky sticks at this link to the brand's official Amazon listing.
Sardines are a cheap and convenient canned protein option with significant health benefits. As we documented in our review on the benefits of fish oil supplements, fish oil can support healthy cholesterol levels and provides potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Wild Planet Sardines is our top pick because they're sustainably sourced, packed in water and free of questionable additive ingredients. Sardines are also high in calcium, providing 15% DV in only 140 calories.
Interested consumers can check out Wild Plant Sardines at this link to the brand's official Amazon listing.