Can Red Meat Be a Healthy Choice?

Q:  I keep hearing about the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets for overall health and weight loss, but Carnivore is my middle name.  Can red meat be a healthy choice as part of my diet?

While it is true that many studies have indicated the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, red meat can be part of a healthy diet, in moderation and when a special diet has not been prescribed by your doctor for specific health concerns.  As with anything else, eating red meat in overly large portions or eating it too frequently can negatively impact your health.  The American Heart Association recommends that people limit lean meat, skinless chicken and fish to a total of less than six ounces per day to help limit calories and saturated fat, but that doesn’t mean you have to give it up all together. 

To get many of the benefits of a vegetarian diet while still catering to your inner carnivore, try easy-to-follow strategies like these:

  • Go lean – Enjoy smaller portions of leaner cuts of red meat and pair it with high quality ingredients such as vegetables, whole grains and fruit.  It’s more about the total diet, not single ingredients. Lean cuts usually contain the words “round,” “loin” or “sirloin” on the package.
  • Give Meatless Mondays a try – This can be a great way to get started if you eat red meat A LOT.  Just one day a week, enjoy meatless options with plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, tofu, nuts and nut butters and certain high-protein whole grains. You’ll still enjoy your red meat while doing your health and the environment a favor by cutting back a bit.
  • Embrace your inner flexitarian – This is a relatively new way to describe a diet that increases the number of vegetarian and vegan meals you eat during the week while decreasing the number of meals that include red meat and poultry. No extreme diet needed to get some of the benefits of more plant-based choices.

In general, a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and lower in saturated fat.  These strategies can help you increase these healthful ingredients and associated health benefits while still enjoying red meat as part of your diet.