“In the Healthy Eating Pyramid, red meat occupies the pointy tip to highlight the fact that something about red meat—its particular combination of saturated fats or the potentially cancer-causing compounds that form when red meat is grilled or fried—is connected to a variety of chronic diseases. In this pyramid, the best sources of protein are beans and nuts along with fish, poultry, and eggs. It separates vegetable and animal protein sources and makes the latter optional for people who want to follow a vegetarian diet.”
Dr. Walter Willett
Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
Red meat is associated with chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. That said, substitutes for red meat such as those described above will lead to substantial improvements in your health, thanks in large part to lower saturated fat. To clear up discussions of meat versus vegetarianism, YES you can get all your needed protein without consuming meat. And evidence does not suggest that meat protein is superior to plant protein. Meat is, however, a better source of complete protein. So if you’re a vegetarian, be sure to eat a variety of beans, nuts, grains, and vegetables alike to ensure that you complete your protein intake. Examples of plant protein combinations that complete each other are commonplace in society such as rice and bean, peanut butter and bread, and tofu and rice.
Meat eaters and vegetarians should both keep in mind the importance of eating seafood. Seafood is low in “bad” saturated fats and high in “good” unsaturated fats, especially a type known as omega-3s. Particularly if you eat red meat, a switch to fish will have profound positive effects on your cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Seafood is a major source of two essential omega-3s called DHA and EPA that play an especially important role in the development of brain and eye tissue, as well as reducing cardiovascular disease and improving immune health. In other words, eat seafood! When you select seafood from the market, however, there are important factors to consider. In the section that follows, I have highlighted these considerations. For those who refuse seafood, you can skip out on the next section, but don’t skip out on DHA and EPA. At least take a fish oil supplement to obtain these essential nutrients.
Wise Seafood Selection
Most important to selecting seafood at the market is mercury and omega-3 content. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fortunately, choosing seafood with low mercury is not difficult as many guidelines highlight the best species to eat. Unfortunately, guidelines that also specify omega-3 content are harder to come by. In an earlier blog, however, I constructed such guidelines, which can be viewed here. Also, as many fisheries are under extreme pressure due to overfishing, you should try your best to select fish that are caught sustainably. For guidelines on choosing sustainable fish, visit SeaFood Watch.
In Dr. Willett’s quote above, he mentioned the cancer-causing chemicals formed when cooking red meat. For more info on this, see my earlier blog titled "Barbequed Meat: A Health Tip."
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Shahir Masri, M.S.