Americans love their meat; they consumed more than 26 billion pounds of beef and 42 billion pounds of chicken in 2017. Meat is a big business, but is it the best choice for your health?
There is a wide range of meat varieties to choose from, and not all meat is created equal. So, if you want a healthy diet, what kind of meat should you choose, and how much?
Here’s the skinny on different meat options and how much you should eat:
The health benefits — or risks — of red meat have been studied for decades. One clear risk that has emerged is the increased chance of developing heart disease if you regularly eat red meat. Red meat, which includes beef and pork, is often higher in saturated fat, which raises levels of bad cholesterol and can increase your risk for heart disease.
But red meat isn’t all bad news if you make good dietary choices. Red meat has high levels of important nutrients, including iron and B vitamins. Avoid processed meats like sausage, bacon and hot dogs. Keep your serving of red meat to 3 ounces or less, and choose lean cuts.
Whereas red meat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, poultry may have the opposite effect. Researchers have found that substituting a serving of red meat with poultry each day reduces the risk of heart disease. Poultry is a quality protein that contains vitamin B and iron, as well as other nutrients.
While poultry is often a better choice than red meat, that doesn’t give you a free pass to indulge in wings every day. Like beef, chicken and turkey contain saturated fat, which shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities. Cut back on saturated fat by opting for chicken breasts over thighs and remove visible fat from the meat.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat, which can be found in both red meat and poultry. Its recommendations for fish, however, strike a much different tone. In fact, people are encouraged to eat more fish, as long as it doesn’t contain high levels of mercury. Fish has good levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Enjoy fish at least twice a week to reap the benefits from this protein source.
Some people might choose to forgo meat for ethical or health reasons. Avoiding meat and other animal products could help you cut back on saturated fats and improve your heart health. You can still have healthy protein in your diet, though it might take some creativity to get enough of it. There is nothing wrong with a vegan or vegetarian diet, as long as you take the time to create well-balanced meals.
“Whether you choose to eat meat or not, it is important to know your dietary needs,” says Jill Fujimoto, a registered dietitian at Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation. “Protein and vitamin requirements can vary based on your age and sex, and if you skip meat entirely, make sure to replace those nutrients with other healthy foods.”
The bottom line is that you can eat meat — or go meatless — and still have a healthy diet. Meat eaters should watch the kind of fat they are consuming and choose more healthy fats. Non-meat eaters need to watch out for these same unhealthy fats and be sure to get all the nutrients they need.