Moving toward a “more meatless” diet is all the rage—just look to former President Bill Clinton, who’s been speaking recently about the vegan diet he adopted to help his heart health. I’m all over moving toward eating less meat too. Why? First, I love vegetables, whole grains and beans (for real) and feel great when I’m packing my diet with these plant-based foods. Also, as Rachael Moeller Gorman wrote in a recent issue of EatingWell Magazine, vegetarian diets often have big benefits for the environment and your health.
That said, meat isn’t evil: it’s a great source of protein and other nutrients, including iron, a mineral some women fall short on. And the latest 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that “lean meat and poultry” are protein sources that fit into a healthy diet. Basically it’s the fatty cuts of meat that we should be considering what I like to call “sometimes foods.” (Can you tell I have a 3-year-old?)
Here are three compelling reasons why limiting fatty meats is a smart move:
1. Saturated fats. The fat in meats are mostly the saturated kinds that could harm your heart. Research shows that by eating lean proteins, such as chicken, fish and beans, in place of fattier meats, you’ll limit saturated fats, which can elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol that leads to plaque buildup in arteries. (Of course, there are other things you can do to reduce your intake of sat fat, too, namely—replacing butter with olive and canola oils; selecting nonfat or low-fat milk and yogurt in place of whole-milk versions; and eating full-fat cheeses sparingly. For more ideas on how to eat, check out these 10 Best and Worst Proteins for Your Health and the Environment.)
2. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking fatty meats at high temperatures can create toxic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs form when fat drips onto hot coals, creating smoke that settles on food; these compounds have been associated with increased risk of breast cancer. (Read more on the dangers of cooking meats at high temps here.)
Related link: Does eating red meat increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer?
3. Dioxins. More than 90 percent of our exposure to dioxins—a family of chemicals (including some polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs) with known cancer-causing properties—comes from meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. Why? Because these compounds concentrate in animal fat. (Find out about 6 more toxins you can avoid to clean up your diet.)
To avoid dioxins, opt for leaner cuts of meat and poultry; trim away visible fat. Good to know: meat from grass-fed animals tends to be leaner to start with (but don’t get tripped up by these 5 myths about natural meats).
More from EatingWell:
- 8 Nutrients You Need When You're Eating Less Meat
- 100+ Delicious Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes
- 6 of the Healthiest Fish to Eat, 6 to Avoid
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