For many, it can be hard to resist a perfectly cooked steak. After all, meat has become a large component of many people’s diets. In many cultures, being able to afford and eat meat is also a symbol of wealth. In addition, meat is a good source of B vitamins, zinc, and iron. For all these reasons, it is no wonder that meat is often the highlight of a meal.
Unfortunately, most people eating meat regularly don’t realize they may be over doing it. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 ounces of meat a day. This provides about 40-60g of protein, which is usually enough for non-pregnant women and men. To put this in perspective, a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards is already 3 ounces. Next time you are at a restaurant, look around at people’s plates. It’ll quickly become clear how easy it is to overeat meat in just one sitting.
So why is this a problem? In general, red meat (pork, beef, lamb) has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, and different cancers. Red meat eaters are more likely to be over-weight or obese. This is partly because red meats are high in cholesterol and saturated fats, which also raise your bad cholesterol. Several studies in the past 5 to 10 years have shown strong associations between consuming 50-100g of meat and a greater risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.1,2When it comes to consuming processed products like deli meats, risks of these diseases can double.2
Your current risk of such diseases is not a life sentence. What you decide to cook and put on your plate is in your control. Completely avoiding meat is difficult and not necessarily the healthiest option. The following are some changes you could make to eat a heart healthy diet:
- Start by cutting out processed meats and choosing less fatty cuts of red meat.
- Switch to chicken breast and fish like salmon. This will help cut back on saturated fats and provide healthy fats like omega-3s.
- Bake or broil instead of frying meats and use plenty of herbs and spices to create amazing flavors without added fat and sodium.
- Using things that are already in your kitchen as meat substitutes keeps things simple and cheap.
- Beans and lentils can replace meat and pack in heart healthy fiber, folate, and magnesium.
- In general, one cup of cooked beans or lentils can replace a 2 ounce serving of meat.
- Garbanzos, mushrooms, cauliflower, eggplant, nuts, and seed have a variety of textures that can replace many different meats.
For more information and recipes, visit heart.org/nutritioncenter. Remember, small changes work best and last the longest. Always consult your physician before making a big lifestyle change.
- Micha, R., Wallace, S. K., & Mozaffarian, D. (2010). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation, 121(21), 2271-2283.
- Micha, R., Michas, G., & Mozaffarian, D. (2012). Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes–an updated review of the evidence. Current atherosclerosis reports, 14(6), 515-524.
Carla Velarde is a Peruvian American first-year medical student at the University of Rochester, where she is a member of the Latino Student Medical Association (LMSA). She studied Brain and Cognitive Sciences as an undergraduate and received her Masters in Public Health in 2013 at the same institution. She looks forward to contributing to CNY Latino in the future, and exploring her interests in nutrition and cardiovascular health and how they affect the Latino community.