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How much red meat should I eat?

KathyKolasa

Kathy Kolasa

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Q My doctors wants me to try the Mediterranean diet. He said I could have some red meat. How much is some? KP, Winterville.

A We recently visited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s library and museum. I was intrigued by his physician’s diet prescription for the president in 1944. It included avoiding all fried, greasy food. Good advice for us today. It also suggested avoiding smoked and cured meat. The Mediterranean eating pattern is a healthy way to eat and can include red meat.

Krista Bird is an ECU dietetic student who has been a wonderful volunteer at ECU Family Medicine. She can give you some details but I hope you will schedule an appointment with one of our great registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) in Pitt County. The RDN can provide all the details your doctor doesn’t have time to share with you to help you successfully follow this diet.

There are some nutrition experts who suggest red meat doesn’t have a role in a healthy eating pattern but after researching this topic, I don’t think red meat should not be considered an enemy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that the right type of red meat, eaten in moderation about once or twice a week, can be beneficial to health.

Any meat that comes from the muscle of mammals is red meat. This includes beef, lamb, pork, goat, veal and mutton. Each of these meats not only contains protein but an abundance of important vitamins and minerals difficult to find in other foods such as zinc, B vitamins, and iron. These important nutrients help convert the food we eat into energy, support our immune system and blood, and aid in growth and repair for many of the cells in our body.

In popular ways of eating including the Mediterranean, plant-based, and or vegan, red meat is either eliminated or limited. These restrictions stem from the research that links high fat and processed red meat consumption with increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The experts continue to debate if the evidence is strong enough to make recommendations to limit red meat.

We do know that processed red meat contains saturated fat and sodium, none of which are good for us in large amounts. It is well established that eating the saturated fats found in red meat can increase your levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and damage your heart. Sodium in large amounts can put stress on your heart and blood vessels leading to high blood pressure. So, many nutrition experts, including the American Institute of Cancer Research (www.aicr.org) do suggest either limiting the red meat to less than 18 ounces a week and never eating meat products that have been cured, pre-cooked, or have coloring, flavoring or preserving ingredients added. Those red meats include hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, pepperoni, and some sausages.

The red meats you can include in a Mediterranean diet are lean cuts of beef, pork, veal, lamb, or bison. Most of these meats are available in your grocery stores although in eastern NC you might have to look in the freezer case or go to a specialty store to find bison (think buffalo) or lamb. Look on the label for loin, round or sirloin cuts. Read the Nutrition Facts food label to find the lower saturated fat products. Some packages show ratios. If it says 90/10 on its label that means 90% of the meat is lean and 10% is fat. A good choice would be a cut that has between 0 and 10% fat.

If you see “Grass-Fed” and “Naturally Raised” on the label it means that the animal was fed grass or forage instead of grains. Usually this is meat is more expensive and if it’s worth the money is not clear. Some research concludes it is leaner and has more omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant rich vitamin A and vitamin E. If it is labeled as “Natural”, it cannot have artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

You will want to study the different cuts and types of red meat, learn the best cooking techniques for lean meat, and compare prices. Keep your portions small--three ounces will give you good amounts of protein, zinc, iron, and many B vitamins. The lean beef cuts are bottom round steaks, eye round roast, sirloin tip steak, top round roast, top sirloin steak, and <90% ground beef. Lean pork cuts are tenderloin, boneless top loin chops, boneless top loin roast, and center loin chops. The lean lamb cuts are rib chops, loin chops, leg and shoulder.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietian nutritionist and Ph.D, is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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