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What Types of Meat Are Healthy to Eat?

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

The old wives' tale that says a meat stays in the colon for seven years might be enough to alarm even the most dedicated carnivore. The truth is that a diet heavy in high-fat or processed meat delivers unhealthy amounts of dietary fat and sodium. Avoiding meat completely, however, isn't necessarily the best option for everyone. With some carnivorous health tips, you can fit most types of meat into a healthy diet.

Pulling for Poultry

Yes, "fat equals flavor" is a common culinary phrase repeated in kitchens everywhere. Fat can also equal bad news for your heart if you eat too much of it. For this reason, the best types of meat are naturally lean. Skinless turkey breast reigns supreme as one of the leanest domestic options, with a serving containing just 1 gram of fat and 115 calories. Skinless chicken breast comes in a close second with 3 grams of fat and 142 calories per serving. Dark meat isn't out of the question, either. A turkey leg and chicken thigh are good options with 3 grams and 9 grams of fat, respectively.

Pork and Beef Aren't Out

Even pork, which is known for its high fat content, can fit into a healthy diet. You may want to skip bacon, pork sausages and spareribs, however. These types of meat are rich in fat. Instead, go for lean cuts of pork such as center loin. It contains about 3 grams of saturated fat and 196 calories. If you have a hankering for ham, extra-lean ham contains 5 grams of fat and 123 calories per serving, making it a good option.

Don't Fear Going Wild

While beef, pork and poultry are staples for many Americans, they're not the only options available. Wild game such as venison, bison, squab, rabbit, pheasant and wild duck provide other lean meat options. What's more, game meat has more lean mass and generally contains fewer calories and less saturated fat than domestic grain-fed meat. For example, bison has less fat and cholesterol than skinless chicken, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. Game meat is also higher in polyunsaturated fat and eicosapentaenoic acid -- a heart-healthy omega-3 fat.

Portions and Frequency

Although the word "meat" typically conjures up visions of a big, plump, juicy steak, a healthy portion is much smaller than you think. As a general rule, the proper portion for meat is about 2 to 3 ounces. If you need a visual reference, that's about the size of a deck of playing cards. Meat provides a good source of protein and B vitamins and is rich in iron, but controlling your portions and how often you eat meat plays a role in fitting it into a healthy diet. Limit meat to two to three servings per week, advises the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine’s Healing Foods Pyramid.

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