If you’re going to eat red meat, make sure it’s lean and that portions are small.
You’ve probably been reading that your diet should be filled mainly with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes. But what if you don’t want to give up the occasional steak? “I’m definitely trying to move people in the direction of a more plant-based diet. But you don’t have to be a vegetarian in order to be healthy,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, the nutrition department director at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
What to buy: The USDA grades meat by its fat content. Avoid meats that are labeled “prime,” since they have more fat. Instead, choose leaner cuts that are graded “choice” or “select,” look for meat that has less visible fat, and make sure the label says the meat is lean. Leaner beef cuts include chuck, flank, and roasts. For pork, go with tenderloin or center-cut chops. White meat is leaner than dark meat poultry, and all types of poultry (turkey, chicken, Cornish hen) are leaner without the skin. Chops and roasts are the leanest cuts of veal and lamb. But bacon and other processed meats are not considered acceptable. They are higher in preservatives and four times higher in salt than unprocessed meats.
Enjoy, but cut back: Cutting back on red meat consumption is a worthy goal. Research shows that even modest amounts of red meat put you at a higher risk for developing heart disease, colon cancer, and diabetes. Try to make red meat an occasional food, no more than two servings a week, with a serving size between 1.5 and 3 ounces. If you’re already a devoted meat eater, make changes gradually. “If you eat red meat every day, twice a day, try to cut down to once a day, then just a few times a week. Give yourself three to six months to make changes and find recipes you enjoy,” says McManus. In place of red meat, substitute healthier protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans, or nuts.