Meat is an excellent source of protein, but it also causes a number of arguments between nutritionists regarding its health. Some believe meat should be eliminated from every diet, while others think meat can play a role in staying healthy.
The truth is, there’s a lot of information out there about meat, which can make it confusing to understand whether or not it’s healthy for you. While we may all still be learning about the long-term impacts meat has on one’s health, research in the last few decades has revealed some key points to help guide you on your journey to eating healthy while enjoying meat.
Meat contains a number of nutrients, including protein, vitamin B, vitamin E, iron and magnesium, all of which are essential for your body. Protein helps keep your bones and muscles strong, while vitamin B helps strengthen your nervous system and create red blood cells. Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood while magnesium is beneficial for bone strength and energy release from muscles.
While you can get these same nutrients from other sources, like nuts and seeds, not many other foods have as high amounts of protein and some of these nutrients as meat. Because meat is so filling and packed with protein, some people find they can eat smaller meals by incorporating meat. And for weight lifters and athletes, meat can help ensure they get enough protein without having to rely on protein powders.
Several studies have linked red meat with negative health side effects. One study found that carnitine (a compound in red meat) can cause arteries to clog and harden, which increases one’s risk of heart disease. And other studies have shown that meat can have high levels of harmful hormones and can increase one’s risk of colon cancer, type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
There’s also the “mystery meat” part of things. Depending on the brand and type of meat, some meats can actually be a mixture of different types and cuts of meat. Even if you enjoy the taste, you may not actually know what meat you’re eating. This makes it harder to know how much saturated fats you’re consuming or what chemicals are in the food.
The Do and Do Not Eat Meats
We could go on forever if we debated the pros and cons of meat. It’s a highly controversial and hotly debated topic, particularly since the cut and type of meat can significantly vary. Not all meats are equal, and some are far healthier than others.
If you eat meat but are concerned about your health, here are a few easy guidelines to follow:
- Eat grass-fed organic meats without antibiotics. One of the big concerns with meat is the antibiotics. Many farms treat the animals with antibiotics and feed them starchy grains that can fatten them up, thereby getting more product per animal. While organic and grass-fed meats are more expensive, it’s well worth the price.
- Use meat as a side, not a main course. Regardless of the meat you’re eating, it shouldn’t take center stage on your dinner plate. Meat should take up no more than one-third of your plate (but ideally only a quarter). At least half or three-quarters of your plate should be vegetables, and a small portion can go towards carbohydrates, like potatoes or rice. Through a diet DNA test, you can determine the ideal ratio of carbs, proteins, and fats for your body so you can divide your plate appropriately.
- Check the fat percentage on the label. If you’re purchasing ground meat, most labels show the percentage of meat and fat. Some can have more than 20% fat, which adds calories and unhealthy fats to your meal. Look for lean cuts of meat, and for ground meat, choose varieties with less than 10% fat. When in doubt, “white” cuts of meats, like chicken breast or turkey breast, are healthier and less fatty than “dark” cuts, like thighs and wings.
- Just say “no” to processed meats. There’s no controversy over this type of meat: it’s just plain bad for your health. Processed meats have been classified as carcinogenic, meaning enough studies have directly linked processed meat to increased risks of certain types of cancer. Processed meats include meats that have been altered in their form, such as lunch meat, hot dogs, sausage and pepperoni. Processed meats are generally high in salt and saturated fat and contain nitrates, which are preservatives that can contribute to heart disease.
- Swap meat for fish when you can. Even if you eat meat, it’s best to limit your intake. If you crave a protein-packed meal, consider eating fish instead of meat, which is packed with healthy fats. Beans are another great meat alternative as they help keep you full for longer.
- Cook your meat the healthy way. There are so many ways to cook your meat, and some are better than others. Avoid frying meats and instead broil, grill or roast them using a healthy oil, like olive oil. Once cooked, put the meat on a rack right away so the fats can drain away. Also, be careful of cooking at too high of a temperature, which can cause toxic byproducts. Cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.
Ultimately, when it comes to meat, do your research and be willing to invest in higher quality cuts, even if it means spending more. To make up for the costs, consider cutting back on your meat intake or enjoying smaller portions with your meals.