5 Healthy Ways to Enjoy Eating Meat

Eating meat can be bad for your health and hard on the environment, but you may not have to give it up.

August 18, 2009

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Studies have linked meat, especially red meat, to a higher risk of death from heart disease and cancer, and to other health problems. Current research also shows that consumption of meat takes a heavy toll on the environment, as well: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that nonvegetarian diets use 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than vegetarian diets do. Switching to an all-vegetarian diet is one way to avoid those consequences, but what if you really like hamburgers? Fortunately, you don't have to give up meat entirely to improve your own well-being and safeguard the health of the planet. Read on for five suggestions for being a healthier carnivore.

#1: Chase healthier food. "Remember that what your meat eats matters," says family physician Daphne Miller, MD, who’s also an associate professor of nutrition and integrative medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World (Collins, 2008). She advises choosing meat that has been produced in a healthy, sustainable way, like free-range chicken and pork, and grass-fed beef. If the animals have eaten a diet that is nutrient-rich (as well as hormone-, antibiotic- and pesticide-free), they will pass these nutrients on to you. These choices are better for the environment, as well, than large factory-farm operations that are overcrowded with animals (and their waste).
#2: Look beyond beef. Limit your beef intake to once or twice a week. Don't neglect other sources of animal protein, such as eggs, poultry, and pork. The greenhouse-gas impact of beef has been found to be much greater than that of eggs and poultry. And a recent Swedish study found that cattle production creates almost five times more greenhouse gases than hog farming.
#3: Make room for sides. Think of meat more as a condiment, rather than the centerpiece of a meal. According to Dr. Miller, "Cooking small amounts of meat along with vegetables, grains and legumes, rather than dining on a big hunk of meat, is likely to be better for your health and certainly better on your wallet and the environment." Bonus: When you don't use as much meat in a meal, you can afford to buy higher-quality cuts.
#4: Avoid processed meat altogether. A recent study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating any processed meat, as well as eating large amounts of red meat, increases your overall mortality risk and your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer. Why consider a total ban? The American Institute of Cancer Research is unable to determine any safe exposure level to chemical-laden processed meat. The preservatives most often blamed for the cancer link are nitrates and nitrites, named probable human carcinogens by several government agencies and health organizations. Choose nonprocessed meats like organic and humanely raised chicken and ground beef, instead of highly processed hotdogs.
#5: Don't overcook. When you’re firing up the grill, avoid burning your meat, as this causes cancer-causing by-products to be released into the food. "Marinating in a thick sauce or mixing your meat with antioxidant-rich fruits or vegetables may also help prevent these substances from forming," says Dr. Miller. "I personally think hamburger patties with blueberries in them taste really good!" she adds.

More healthy options for meat lovers:

Easy pot pie recipes: 5 Savory Meat Pie Recipes, and Vegetarian Alternatives


Beware of lead in game meat: Lead in Game Meat Threatens Hunters and Other Game Eaters

Watch out for enhanced meat: How to Spot the Hidden Hazard in Your T-Bone Steak

Cook properly to avoid illness: Whole Cuts of Meat Can Hide Salmonella

Next Up From Rodale's Organic Life

How To Slice Peppers Like Magic
Learn how the pros remove seeds and cut up vegetables fast.
How To Decode Maple Syrup Labels At The Store
The sweet natural sugar is good for more than just pancakes; get to know the various grades and where to use them.
What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Salmon
The first genetically engineered animal is coming soon to a supermarket near you.