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Is bologna safe for children?
Q: My husband feeds bologna to our 14-month-old baby almost every day. I got so upset I accused him of poisoning her. I have read that foods with preservatives are not good for kids, but I don’t think he believes me. What kind of lunchmeat is okay? Is he putting her at risk?
Darlene Linden
A: Darlene, it’s good that you’re concerned about what your baby eats. You and your husband can make healthy choices by learning more about your baby’s nutritional needs (check out the Healthy Eating section of this site for some good advice).

Many parents give their children bologna because it’s a convenient source of meat and protein. While bologna won’t “poison” your baby, there are some health concerns to be aware of:
  • Bologna is high in fat and salt: With the rate of childhood obesity doubling over the past 20 years we need to teach our children healthier eating. Although babies need some fat in their diets to grow properly, your baby should get enough by drinking whole milk until she turns 2. Likewise, babies don’t need added salt in their diets.

  • Bologna contains chemical preservatives: Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are added to bologna as preservatives. They help prevent the growth of bacteria that could cause food poisoning and help prevent the meat from turning brown. Nitrates and nitrites turn into nitrosamines in the intestinal tract. Studies have shown that feeding laboratory animals large amounts of nitrosamines can cause cancer. While this has not been shown in humans, it is a concern, and most luncheon meat manufacturers add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and its relative, erythorbic acid, to help block the production of nitrosamines.
In all, my advice on bologna is this: follow the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, “Nothing in excess.” Although it is probably safe to give your daughter bologna once in a while, it’s probably not a good idea to give it to her every day. At this age, your daughter needs to learn about new tastes in foods, and it is best to give her a wide variety of meats, dairy products, grains, fruits and vegetables. Instead of bologna, other good sources of protein are poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans and tofu. It would also be good for your husband and the rest of the family to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods including more home-prepared/fresh foods and less processed/packaged foods.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician