Meat tends to get a bad rap when people are talking about healthy eating. It would be far too simplistic to say that eating meat in general, or red meat specifically, is categorically bad for you. While research has suggested that diets high in red and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers compared to diets lower in these meats, meat does provide important nutrients that support good health when eaten in moderation. As a result, meat products are listed on the Healthy Eating Pyramid as part of a healthy diet.
Why Eat Meat?
Eating meat is a good way to include high-quality protein in your diet. Red meat also contains highly bioavailable iron, Vitamin B12, and zinc. For people with a tendency toward anemia–or, insufficient red blood cells– including meat in the diet can be a good way to help improve the condition.
Lean Cuts of Meat are Best
When choosing red meats as part of a healthy diet, stick with lean cuts as much as possible to avoid consuming excess saturated fat. The leanest cuts of meat include round, sirloin, tenderloin or chuck. When buying ground meat, look for 90% lean or higher. Among cold cuts, roast beef is a lean choice.
For all cuts of meat, any visible fat should be trimmed off prior to cooking. Baking or broiling meat is a much healthier way to prepare it than frying. If you are going to be using ground beef in a recipe, look for lean or extra lean versions if possible, and be sure to drain off visible fat if the dish you are preparing calls for browning the meat in a pan before adding other ingredients. Experts recommend avoiding eating grilled or charred meats too frequently, as high heat treatment of meat protein produces compounds that have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
Bacon, sausages, hot dogs and and cold cuts like salami or bologna are higher in fat and salt than leaner cuts of meat, and are usually treated with preservatives called nitrites that, when eaten frequently, may increase your risk of cancer. While you can enjoy them occasionally, there are healthier choices available that will give you the protein you need to stay healthy. And look for “nitrite-free” versions of these foods when you do choose to indulge.
Alternatives to Red Meat
To eat well, you’ll want to include a variety of foods in your diet. Eating red meat isn’t the only way to get the protein you need. Poultry, fish, beans, tofu and eggs can also provide the essential nutrients that red meat does–with significantly less saturated fat. They add variety and you can use a number of healthy cooking methods to prepare them.
Baking, broiling, or grilling will preserve the flavor of these alternatives to red meat without adding additional fat during the cooking process. Experiment with adding herbs and spices to the food to add flavor without fat.
Fish is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and you should consider eating it a couple of times a week. Omega-3 fats can lower your risk of developing heart disease and may help to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. To reap their benefits, include fatty fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and halibut in your eating plan.
Eating meat can be part of a healthy diet. There are many ways meat can be prepared that are both nutritious and delicious. By choosing lean cuts of red meat and including lower fat alternatives such as poultry, fish, and beans in your diet, you can get your much-needed protein from a variety of delicious sources while keeping the fat content down.