Food & Fitness After 50: To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat?

high_protein_diet_s4_steakI grew up eating beef. Meat was always at the center of the dinner plate, except on Fridays when we usually got fish sticks. And, when I say beef, I’m not talking about the lean beef that I encourage meat eaters to eat. Juicy meatloaf, fatty burgers, pot roasts, and roast beef were staples. Add to that, prepared meats, like bologna, hot dogs, bacon, and sausage were also in heavy rotation.

A couple of weeks ago several research papers were published that rocked the nutrition world. OK, with everything else going on in the world, it may not have made it to your newsfeed, but for dietitians it was a big deal. Basically, the studies published in The Annals of Internal Medicine seemed to reverse decades old advice that eating red meat is bad for your health. The media headlines were fast and furious casting doubt on all nutrition science and warning us that once again, nutrition researchers are flip floppers.

We dislike flip flopping….be it from a politician or a health professional.

A lot of the discourse focused on the research methodology used to conduct nutrition studies. Here’s the bottom line: it is hard to study nutrition in people. It is easy to use cell cultures (in vitro research) or animals, like mice, because you can control cells or mice. With humans, it is not so easy. (I always used to tell my students to count the legs on the research subjects before accepting the study results to apply to humans.) If you think about it, it makes sense. Let’s say I asked you to complete a very long questionnaire asking you what you ate and how often you ate it over the past six months. Most of us can’t remember what we ate yesterday, let alone over an extended period. To add to the mix, how the food was prepared is hard to recall….was the fish broiled, fried, battered, blackened, or frozen? And, what about the portion size…do you know how to distinguish a 3-ounce from a 5-ounce hamburger patty?

Another confounding issue with nutrition research is when we change our eating habits there is usually substitution involved. Let’s say you substitute ground turkey for lean ground beef in your tacos. Unless the ground turkey is ground turkey breast (which is usually more costly), the lean ground beef may have a better nutrition profile.

But, today, I don’t want to get into all the arguments for or against eating beef. Many others have written on the topic with clarity and insight. For a detailed analysis, I like this piece from Cara Rosenbloom of Toronto in the Washington Post (no relation, but we joke we are distant cousins).

Another good read on nutrition controversies, including eating meat,  comes from ConscienHealth, one of my favorite daily reads.

And, check out this post from friend and colleague, Dr. Keith Ayoob that includes a discussion of the environmental impact of beef…hint, it might be lower than you think.

What I do want to share are tips for those who choose to eat meat. And, it is a choice. I consider myself a flexitarian; I don’t eat meat every day and when I do eat meat I choose lean cuts and small portions. Here are some tips that work for me.

Lean-BeefChoose lean cuts. By definition, a lean cut has 10 grams or less of total fat and less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat in 3.5-ounce serving. A quick way to know if a cut of meat is lean is to look for the word “round” or “loin” in the name. Pork loin, ground round, eye-of-round, or sirloin are all lean cuts. A 3-ounce (size of a deck of cards) lean cut of beef or pork provides about 20 grams of high-quality protein and 10 essential nutrients. A scoop of protein powder might also give you 20 grams of protein but is devoid of other nutrients.

Honey-Mustard-and-Herb-Oven-Roasted-Pork-Loin-3Lean pork is also a high-quality meat. Yes, there are fattier cuts of pork (ribs, bacon, sausage) but pork chops or pork loins are lean and contain quality proteins, packed with vitamins and minerals.

While there several plant-based burgers on the market today (Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat) they are not nutritionally superior to lean beef burgers. Enjoy them if you want to choose less meat but don’t think they are the most healthful options.

Consider a beef-plant mixture for a burger. One of my favorite way to make burgers is to mix about 2-ounces of lean ground beef with about ½ cup of finely chopped mushrooms and form patties for the grill. The mushrooms add volume and moistness as well as sneaking in a serving of veggies.

Grill flank steak and slice and serve over a salad brimming with veggies.

thLook for healthy substitutions at the deli counter. I like Boar’s Head Pastrami Seasoned Turkey Breast; not pastrami turkey, but turkey seasoned with pastrami seasoning, as a substitute for fattier pastrami. Use the turkey to make a healthier reuben by adding sauerkraut, a slice of Swiss cheese, tangy mustard on a rye bread. ((I have no connection to Boar’s Head meats!)

Whatever you choose, remember it is the total dietary pattern that makes for good health. So, for meat eaters, keep portions in check, pile on the veggies, healthy grains, and delicious fruit to balance your meals.

For more tips on healthy food choices, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available from Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.