Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Mortadella Bad For You?

Also Known As: Italian sausage, Bologna sausage



Short answer

Moderate consumption of mortadella is acceptable in a balanced diet, but its high levels of saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol, as well as potential preservatives like nitrates and nitrites, may pose health risks if consumed excessively. Frequent large servings can increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. It's advisable to enjoy mortadella in smaller quantities, paired with other healthier foods to maintain dietary variety and balance.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Nutritional Composition of Mortadella

Before we delve into whether mortadella is bad for you, it's imperative to understand its nutritional makeup. Mortadella is a type of Italian sausage made primarily from finely ground pork and cubes of fat, seasoned with spices like garlic, pepper, and myrtle berries, and then encased and cooked. This traditional delicatessen meat is similar to bologna and is a staple in many Italian diets. Here's a breakdown of the nutritional components found in a typical serving of mortadella:

Calories: A 2-ounce (56-gram) serving of mortadella typically contains about 140-180 calories, making it a high-calorie food relative to its serving size.

Protein: Mortadella offers a decent source of protein, providing around 6-8 grams per serving, which contributes to muscle maintenance and growth.

Fat: With approximately 12-16 grams per serving, mortadella is high in fat, particularly saturated fats, which should be consumed in moderation due to potential impacts on heart health.

Carbohydrates: Generally, mortadella contains very few carbohydrates, less than 1 gram per serving, which makes it suitable for low-carb diets.

Cholesterol: Mortadella is relatively high in cholesterol, with one serving potentially containing 30-40 milligrams, which can be significant for those monitoring their cholesterol levels.

Sodium: One of the most notable aspects of mortadella's nutritional profile is its high sodium content, which can be upwards of 500-600 milligrams per serving. High sodium intake is a concern for blood pressure and heart health.

Vitamins and Minerals: It provides certain B vitamins, specifically vitamin B12 and niacin, which are involved in energy metabolism and nervous system health. It also contains traces of zinc, iron, and selenium.

While mortadella does contribute to your daily protein and certain micronutrient intakes, its high levels of fats, especially saturated fats, and sodium, can pose health risks if consumed in large quantities. The impact on health often depends on the overall dietary pattern and how frequently foods like mortadella are consumed.

It's also important to note that nutritional content can vary between different brands based on the ingredients and the method of preparation. Always check the label on the packaging for the most accurate nutritional information for the particular mortadella you're considering.

Lastly, given the processing involved in making mortadella, there can be concerns related to added nitrates or nitrites, which are commonly used in cured meats to prevent bacterial growth and enhance color. Some studies have linked these additives to various health issues when consumed in excess.

To make an informed decision it is crucial to weigh these aspects of mortadella's nutritional profile against your own dietary needs, preferences, and health goals. Each individual’s health considerations can vary greatly, which influences whether mortadella is a good choice for their diet.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Content in Mortadella

When examining the health aspects of mortadella, one cannot overlook the saturated fat and cholesterol content found in this popular Italian deli meat. These macronutrients, when consumed in large amounts, have been associated with increased risk of heart disease and other health issues. It is crucial for consumers to understand the role that these elements play in their overall dietary intake.

Saturated Fat:

Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat found in abundance in animal products, including mortadella. While our body does require some saturated fats for functioning, an excess intake is linked with higher low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. High LDL levels can contribute to plaque buildup in arteries, potentially leading to heart disease or stroke.

  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of mortadella typically contains about 3.1 grams of saturated fat.
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 6% of total daily calories for those who need to lower cholesterol. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that's about 13 grams of saturated fats per day.
  • Therefore, consuming mortadella in small amounts may fit into a balanced diet, but frequent or large servings can quickly exceed these recommendations.

Cholesterol Content:

Cholesterol present in food, also found in significant amounts in mortadella, contributes to the total cholesterol levels in the body. Dietary cholesterol has been a contentious topic, with recent studies suggesting that the impact of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels is less than previously thought, especially in comparison to the influence of saturated fats.

  • The same 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of mortadella can contain around 22 milligrams of cholesterol.
  • While dietary guidelines have shifted away from setting specific limits on cholesterol intake, it is still advised to eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.
  • Individuals with conditions such as hyperlipidemia, diabetes, or heart disease should be particularly mindful of their cholesterol and saturated fat intake, often necessitating more caution with foods like mortadella.

When considering mortadella as part of a nutritious diet, the content and proportions of saturated fat and cholesterol should not be underestimated. Moderation and attention to portion size become key, particularly for individuals with existing health concerns or those at high risk for cardiovascular conditions. It is essential for consumers to balance intake of mortadella with other lean protein sources that offer less saturated fat and cholesterol.

Ultimately, knowledge about the saturated fat and cholesterol content in mortadella can empower consumers to make informed dietary choices. Regularly selecting lower-fat options, reducing portion sizes, and maintaining a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can mitigate the potential negative health effects associated with consuming foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Sodium Levels and the Risk of Hypertension

The connection between sodium intake and hypertension is well-documented in numerous studies. Let's delve into how consuming mortadella can influence this risk. Mortadella, like many cured meats, contains a high level of sodium. This mineral is essential for bodily functions, yet its excessive consumption can contribute to high blood pressure or hypertension, posing a threat to cardiovascular health.

A single serving of mortadella can contain as much as 600mg of sodium, which is approximately 26% of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of no more than 2,300mg per day and nearing 40% of their ideal limit of 1,500mg for most adults. The high sodium content in mortadella and similar processed meats can quickly accumulate throughout the day from various dietary sources, leading to a significant overshoot of the recommended limits.

Evidence from a meta-analysis published in The BMJ suggests that for each gram of sodium consumed per day, there was a .54 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure and a .26 mm Hg increase in diastolic blood pressure for individuals not suffering from hypertension. For those with existing high blood pressure, the increase was even more pronounced, at 2.49 mm Hg for systolic and 1.32 mm Hg for diastolic pressure 1.

Another potential risk associated with high sodium intake is the development of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), a form of cardiac remodeling that can result from the increased pressure on the heart, as highlighted in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2. The onset of LVH can be an ominous sign since it is associated with increased risk for heart failure, arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death.

To minimize the risk of hypertension and its secondary complications, individuals who enjoy mortadella should consider the following:

  • Limiting their intake of this and other high-sodium foods, to keep their overall daily sodium consumption within the recommended ranges.
  • Reading labels carefully when purchasing mortadella, as sodium content can vary significantly between brands and products.
  • Choosing lower sodium options or requesting them if available, especially for those who are at higher risk of hypertension or have been advised to follow a low-sodium diet.
  • Pairing mortadella consumption with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that contribute to potassium intake, which can help counteract the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

In conclusion, while an occasional serving of mortadella can be a flavorful addition to a balanced diet, mindful consumption is key. Monitoring sodium intake is especially critical for individuals with hypertension, heart disease, or other conditions that could be exacerbated by high dietary sodium.

1 Graudal, N. A., Hubeck-Graudal, T., & Jurgens, G. (2011). Effects of low-sodium diet vs. high-sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterols, and triglyceride (Cochrane Review). The BMJ, 343, d1159. 2 Lieb, W., Mayer, B., Stritzke, J., Doering, A., Hense, H. W., & Loewel, H. (2008). Association of plasma aldosterone with the metabolic syndrome in two German populations. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51(14), 1375-1381.

Preservatives in Processed Meats: Nitrates and Nitrites

Processed meats like mortadella are preserved using various methods, including the use of nitrates and nitrites. These chemical compounds can impact one's health in several ways and have been the topic of substantial research and discussion in nutritional science. Let’s delve into what these preservatives are, how they function, and their potential health implications.

Understanding Nitrates and Nitrites

Nitrates (NO3) and nitrites (NO2) are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in soil, water, and some foods, especially leafy greens and root vegetables. However, they are also often added to processed meats like mortadella as preservatives. While nitrates are relatively inert by themselves, they can be converted into nitrites and eventually into nitric oxide, which plays a role in preserving the pink color and preventing spoilage in meats.

Functions in Processed Meats

In processed meats, nitrates and nitrites serve several functions:

  • Preserving freshness and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum.
  • Maintaining the characteristic pink or red color of meat products.
  • Contributing to the development of a distinct flavor profile associated with cured meats.

Health Concerns Associated with Nitrates and Nitrites

The addition of nitrates and nitrites in meats has led to health concerns, particularly regarding their potential transformation into compounds known as nitrosamines during cooking at high temperatures. Nitrosamines have been noted by numerous studies to be potential carcinogens:

  • A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens, implicating the consumption of these foods in the development of colorectal cancer.
  • The conversion of nitrates and nitrites to nitrosamines can be exacerbated by high-heat cooking methods like frying or grilling.
  • Nitrosamines are also associated with an increased risk of other cancers such as gastric and esophageal.

Risk Mitigation Strategies

Although the use of nitrates and nitrites is regulated, there are ways consumers can mitigate potential risks:

  • Opting for meats cured with no added nitrates or nitrites (other than natural nitrates and nitrites found in celery powder or juice).
  • Choosing to consume processed meats in moderation as part of a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Prepping meats with cooking methods that utilize lower temperatures, such as braising or stewing, to minimize the formation of nitrosamines.

It’s also worth noting that the conversion of nitrates to nitrites and subsequently to nitric oxide can have positive effects such as vasodilation, which is beneficial for blood pressure management.

Regulatory Measures

Regulatory bodies have taken steps to limit the amount of nitrates and nitrites in foods:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces maximum allowable levels of these preservatives in various meat products.
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) continuously reviews the safety of nitrates and nitrites, updating permissible levels as necessary based on the latest research.
  • Labels such as "uncured" and "no nitrate or nitrite added" are becoming more common in response to consumer demand for minimally processed foods.

In conclusion, the presence of nitrates and nitrites in mortadella and other processed meats is a complex issue with health concerns mainly tied to the potential formation of harmful nitrosamines. However, with proper cooking methods and moderate consumption, combined with adherence to guidelines set by regulatory bodies, one can manage these risks. By staying informed, consumers can make more mindful choices about including processed meats in their diets.

Cancer Risk and Processed Meats: Evaluating the Evidence

In recent years, a growing body of research has focused on the health implications associated with the consumption of processed meats such as mortadella. One significant concern is the potential connection between these foods and an increased risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. To provide a comprehensive overview, we need to delve into the scientific evidence that has shaped current understanding and dietary guidelines regarding processed meat consumption.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen. This categorization indicates that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the consumption of processed meats can be carcinogenic to humans. Key findings in support of this include epidemiological studies that demonstrate a positive association between processed meat intake and a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

One pivotal study that has contributed to this concern is a meta-analysis, which revealed a relative increase in the risk of colorectal cancer by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. This finding has been echoed in various research efforts, creating a general consensus among many health organizations that it's prudent to limit intake of processed meats.

  • Chemical composition: Processed meats like mortadella often contain chemical preservatives, such as nitrates and nitrites, which can form N-nitroso compounds, some of which are known carcinogens. Cooking these meats at high temperatures can further increase the presence of these harmful compounds.
  • Haem content: Mortadella and other processed meats contain haem iron, which can facilitate the formation of N-nitroso compounds within the digestive tract, thereby enhancing the carcinogenic potential.
  • Fat content: High-fat diets have been linked to various forms of cancer. The saturated fats present in many processed meats can contribute to this risk factor.

However, it's important to note that the evidence linking processed meats to cancer risk, while compelling, does not establish causation. Dietary habits involve a complex interplay of factors, and individual risks can be also influenced by genetics, lifestyle, and overall diet quality. Furthermore, the context of consumption (frequency, quantity, and dietary patterns) plays a crucial role in interpreting these findings.

Several expert groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research, suggest moderation in consumption or even avoidance of processed meats to minimize cancer risk. They recommend alternative protein sources such as fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts, which have not been associated with an increased cancer risk.

In summary, while no single food is solely responsible for cancer, the cumulative evidence suggests a prudent approach is to consider reducing intake of processed meats like mortadella in the context of a balanced diet. As always, consulting with healthcare professionals for dietary advice tailored to individual health needs is recommended.

For those interested in the source materials and further scientific reading on this topic, references to studies and meta-analyses can be provided to facilitate deeper understanding and informed choices regarding processed meat consumption.

Balancing Taste and Health: Moderation and Serving Ideas

Mortadella is a popular Italian sausage known for its rich flavor and smooth texture. While its taste can enhance many dishes, it's important to consider the health implications of mortadella when including it in your diet. This section highlights the importance of moderation and provides serving ideas that can help balance taste and health.

Moderation is Key

As with many cured meats, mortadella is high in sodium and saturated fats. Excessive consumption of these nutrients can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. Therefore, moderation is crucial when consuming mortadella. The American Heart Association suggests keeping an eye on the portion size, aiming for no more than 3-4 ounces of meat per serving.

Serving Size Recommendations

  • Thinly sliced mortadella: 1-2 slices per serving
  • Dice mortadella for salads: Approximately 1/3 cup per serving
  • Mortadella cubes for charcuterie: 2-3 small cubes per serving

Healthier Serving Ideas

  • Add thin slices of mortadella to a sandwich stacked with plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • Use diced mortadella sparingly in salads for a protein boost, balancing it out with a variety of colorful veggies and a vinaigrette dressing.
  • Include a small portion of mortadella in a charcuterie board, complemented with nuts, fruits, and whole-grain crackers for a well-rounded treat.
  • When creating an appetizer, wrap thin mortadella slices around sticks of cucumber or carrot instead of using bread or cheese.

By being mindful of the amount of mortadella you consume, you can enjoy its distinct flavor without compromising your health. Pairing it with nutrient-dense foods can further enhance your meal's nutritional profile, providing a balance between savory indulgence and dietary wisdom.

Remember that dietary balance is not solely about limiting certain foods but integrating them into a diverse and nutrient-rich eating pattern. Studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet, which includes a variety of plant foods, healthy fats, and moderate portions of meat, can support overall health. In this context, mortadella can be part of a healthful diet when consumed in moderation and combined with abundant vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats.

It's important to note that individuals with specific health concerns, such as hypertension or high cholesterol, should consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before incorporating cured meats like mortadella into their diet.

Frequently asked questions

Healthier alternatives to mortadella include lean cuts of meat like chicken or turkey breast, low-sodium varieties of deli meats, or plant-based protein sources such as legumes, tofu, and tempeh. These alternatives provide protein while typically containing less saturated fat and sodium, making them a better choice for those with health concerns.

Mortadella can be included in small amounts as part of a heart-healthy diet, especially if consumed infrequently and in moderation. To adhere to a heart-healthy diet, focus on lean protein sources, low saturated fat content, and manage portion sizes to keep sodium and cholesterol intake within recommended limits. Pair mortadella with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to balance the meal.

Individuals with high blood pressure should look for low-sodium versions of mortadella and limit portion size to control their sodium intake. Consuming mortadella in moderation, balancing it with a diet high in potassium-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, and incorporating regular physical activity can help manage overall blood pressure.

Pregnant women should be cautious when eating mortadella due to the risk of listeriosis, a foodborne illness that can be harmful during pregnancy. If consumed, it should be heated to steaming hot to kill any potentially hazardous bacteria. Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid or strictly limit intake of processed meats unless fully cooked.

Ask a question about Mortadella and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • high blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal discomfort

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of heart disease
  • hypertension
  • colorectal cancer
  • potential for other cancers
  • high cholesterol levels
  • increased blood pressure
  • left ventricular hypertrophy

Ingredients to be aware of


  • protein source
  • contains b vitamins and minerals

Healthier alternatives

  • lower sodium options
  • meats cured without added nitrates or nitrites
  • lean protein sources
  • plant-based proteins

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Applegate Organic Bacon

  • No added sugar
  • Uncured bacon
  • Hickory smoked flavor
  • USDA Organic
  • 8oz package
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-21-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-21-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!