Deli Detective: On the Case for Healthy Bratwurst
By Teresa Wagner, RD, LD
August 9, 2016
Part of what makes summer so great in Minnesota is the opportunity to get out of the kitchen and cook outside. Nothing says summertime grilling like the bratwurst hot off the grill but many health-conscious people shied away from certain bratwurst brands because of the preservatives, additives, fillers, and nitrates. Often those brats are from animals raised on factory farms that have been treated with hormones or antibiotics.
So all that leads us to ask, are brats off limits for the health-minded? Not at all! First, let's set a couple things straight, we at Nutritional Weight & Wellness aren't as concerned about the number of calories in the brat as we are about the quality of the brat. Secondly, while there is a good amount of fat in brats, quality dietary fat plays an important role in our body. In short, fat keeps our blood sugar stable, nourishes our brain cells, provides structure for cell membranes, is a building material for hormones, improves nutrient absorption, and the list could go on and on. (If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of fat, listen to this podcast.)
So what to look for in a quality bratwurst?
What Ingredients Are A-OK?
So what should we watch for in the brats? First check the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list in particular. What should be there? The type of meat (usually beef, pork or chicken), various spices like onion powder, fennel, paprika, and the type of casing. Some brats add foods like spinach, onions or jalapenos, which is just fine.
It's also great to know where the animal came from and the conditions in which it was raised. Were the animals given antibiotics and/or hormones? If they were not, that will be advertised! Nitrate-free is a term we look for.
What Ingredients Aren't OK?
What we don't want to see are ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG), or corn syrup solids; food additives, such as propyl gallate and BHA; and preservatives like sodium acetate, sodium diacetate, nitrates, or nitrites. Meat fillers derived from soy, corn or wheat can be tricky for those with food intolerances, and these fillers are commonly found in processed meats.
At most major grocery stores in the metro area, I was able to find at least one brand of bratwurst that fit the criteria of a healthy brat. Gilbert's at Lund's & Byerly's, Greenfield Natural Meat Co.™ at Cub, Applegate Farms at Super Target and Gerhard's Brats at Jerry's. You can find great options at co-ops as well; The Wedge, and Mississippi Market have varieties of brats worth checking into, as do some other grocers, such as Fresh and Natural.
As always, read labels because ingredients in products change often.