If going vegetarian or vegan is one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2021, you’re not alone. Being meatless is not just due to animal cruelty. Many people are interested in plant-based options for their health and environmental sustainability.1
Others may opt for a “flexitarian” diet, which is primarily plant-based but allows some flexibility to toss in a burger or bacon (or fish and chicken) now and then. Let’s look at some of the options out there.
What’s your beef?
Should you opt to keep red meat or pork in your diet, lean into the leaner grades. As red meat and pork tend to be higher in saturated fat than say, fish or poultry, red meat intake is linked with higher rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.2
When choosing ground beef, go for 90% lean or higher. The difference between 85% lean and 90% lean is significant. A burger made with 90% lean beef provides 12 grams of fat (5 saturated), while the same patty made with 85% lean beef gives you 17.5 grams of fat, of which 6+ grams come from saturated fat.
Choose cuts such as sirloin, round or eye of the round versus ribeye, strip steaks or prime rib. It’s OK to have these on occasion but try not to keep them in the regular rotation.
Birds of a feather
In general, chicken and turkey are lower fat options than red meat, lamb, or pork. Go for skinless when you can and go easy on deep frying. Chicken and turkey breast are very lean cuts that can be used in a variety of ways.
Duck is considered poultry in the culinary sense but may be considered “red meat” in the nutrition world due to a higher myoglobin content. It’s also higher in fat than traditional poultry. See it as a specialty item.
The recommendation to eat more fish is still a great one. In a large prospective study with over 18 years of follow-up, subjects who consumed fish (compared to meat or a vegetarian diet) had lower rates of heart disease and stroke. Vegetarians also had lower rates of both than meat-eaters. 3
The American Heart Association continues to advise at least 2 fish meals per week to aid in the prevention of heart disease. Obviously, cooking methods matter. Fish is best grilled, baked, or broiled VS fried.
Salmon remains the sweetheart when it comes to fish due to its high omega-3-fatty acid content, which has anti-inflammatory properties. 4 Other fish containing omega-3-fatty acids include anchovies, mackerel, albacore tuna, and sardines.
Plant-based burgers that look and taste like “real” meat became a hit a few years ago and will remain on the hot trend list in 2021. Unlike the original veggie burgers made of pressed soy, mushrooms, and other vegetables, the new burgers may include ingredients such as pea protein isolate, canola and coconut oil, yeast extract, and various seasonings. Others may include textured potato and wheat protein.
To mimic the “bloodiness” of a regular burger, beets are often used for color. Coconut oil is often added to provide the same mouthfeel, though it does increase the saturated fat content.
From a nutritional standpoint, both beef and plant-based burgers (such as Impossible burger or beyond beef) yield roughly 20 grams of protein with similar vitamin and mineral (such as iron) content. Each also provides between 250 to 300 calories, though the plant-based varieties will give you more sodium (close to 400 mg compared to 75 mg in beef).
What to buy?
Like anything else in life, go for variety whenever possible! The meatless, plant-based burgers will come with a higher price tag as will duck and some cuts of beef. Below are some tips to keep things healthy as well as interesting.
- Use ground turkey in place of ground beef. Opt for 90% lean or higher grades to keep saturated and total fat intake low.
- Always trim the visible fat from cuts of meat, pork, or poultry prior to cooking.
- Add chopped mushrooms in burgers, meatloaf or pasta sauces to reduce your meat intake and increase vegetable consumption.
- Aim for 2 servings of fish per week. This includes tilapia, canned tuna, or any other variety.
- Reduce intake of processed meats. When it comes to disease risk, this is one of the stronger links. Pass on bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other cured meats.
- Sub beans or lentils in your meals. Add more beans and less meat in chili, soup, or tacos. They’re less expensive and provide a nutritional bang for your buck.
- Try the meatless burgers if you’re feeling adventurous.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Laila Al-Shaar, Ambika Satija, Dong D Wang, Eric B Rimm, Stephanie A Smith-Warner, Meir J Stampfer, Frank B Hu, Walter C Willett. Red meat intake and risk of coronary heart disease among US men: a prospective cohort study. BMJ, 2020; m4141 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m4141
- Tong TYN, Appleby PN, Bradbury KE, Perez-Cornago A, Travis RC, Clarke R, Key TJ. Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ. 2019 Sep 4;366:l4897
- Patricia R. Souza*, Raquel M. Marques*, Esteban A. Gomez, Romain A. Colas, Roberta De Matteis, Anne Zak, Mital Patel, David J. Collier, and Jesmond Dalli Enriched Marine Oil Supplements Increase Peripheral Blood Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators Concentrations and Reprogram Host Immune Responses A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. 12 Dec 2019 https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.119.315506Circulation Research. 2020;126:75–90.
This article is part of a series on healthy shopping and shopping and nutrition research.