Health Benefits of Meat, Poultry, and Fish

Benefits of Red Meat

Could it be that red meat -- wonderful, juicy, stick-to-your-ribs red meat -- might actually have healing properties, other than the obvious way it makes your taste buds come alive? Why yes, yes it could. But you must honor the word "lean" in front.

You may need to cast meat as a bit player rather than the main character in your meals (sorry, but that means no more eating an entire 16-ounce steak in one sitting). Lean red meat, including beef, veal, and pork (sometimes referred to as "the other white meat"), can indeed be part of a healthful diet. They contribute nutrients that may help you maintain good health and prevent or even fight disease.

Beef, veal, and pork are packed with high-quality protein. They are also a nutrient-dense source of iron and zinc, minerals that many Americans have trouble getting. While it is possible to get enough iron or zinc without eating meat, it's not easy. Eating lean meat is also a dandy way to get vitamin B12, niacin, and vitamin B6. So, including some lean meat in your diet can be nutritionally uplifting.

Pork or lamb: Look for cuts with "loin" or "leg" in the name. Pork cuts include tenderloin, top loin roast, top loin chop, center loin chop, sirloin roast, and loin rib chop. Lamb cuts include leg, loin chop, arm chop, and foreshanks.You can also look for cuts labeled "lean" or "extra lean." According to federal labeling regulations, cuts of meat labeled "lean" must contain ten grams of fat or less per three-ounce serving, and cuts labeled "extra lean" must contain five grams of fat or less per three-ounce serving. Don't be confused by ground beef labeled with a number followed by "percent lean." This refers to the weight of the lean meat versus the fat.

For the leanest ground beef, simply look for ground beef that is at least 92 to 95 percent lean -- it contains about five grams of total fat per three-ounce serving. Or look for ground round, which is the leanest, followed by ground sirloin, ground chuck, then regular ground beef.

When it comes to portions, forget the 14-ounce steak. To put a reasonable portion in perspective, three ounces of meat is about the size of your palm or a deck of playing cards. If you choose to eat all of your meat group servings at one meal, you can enjoy a steak that weighs about five to seven ounces or is about the size of two decks of cards. Or you can include a smaller portion of meat as a side dish and load up on vegetables and grains instead.

No matter the cut, choose raw meat that looks evenly red (grayish-pink for veal and pork) and not dried out. Refrigerate all meat as soon as you get it home. Place it on a plate so drippings won't contaminate other foods. If you don't plan to cook the meat within three to four days (one to two days for ground meat), freeze it.

Preparation and Serving Tips

Defrost meat in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or sitting in cold water that you change every hour.

Never let it sit out at room temperature, which invites bacteria to multiply.

Choose your cooking method to match your cut of meat. Some lean cuts, such as beef cuts from the round, do better with a method that includes a liquid, such as braising or stewing. Grilling, roasting, broiling, and pan-frying work well for beef loin cuts. To minimize risk of food borne illness, be sure ground meat is cooked until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit -- or until the center is no longer pink and juices run clear. Roasts and steaks should be cooked until the internal temperature is at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Pork needs to cook to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking. If you cannot buy ground meat as lean as you like, you can reduce the fat by placing cooked ground meat in a colander and pouring hot water over it. To tenderize tough lean cuts, try marinating, which also adds flavor, or do it the old-fashioned way and pound your meat with a mallet to break down the connective tissue.

Another major source of protein is chicken. In the next section, let's focus on the different benefits of consuming chicken and other poultry products as part of a healthy daily diet.