Canadian research suggests that men tend to eat more meat than women. Research also strongly suggests that the emphasis on your plate should be more vegetables and fruit, and foods that are mainly of plant origin. For most of us, eating more vegetables, fruit and whole grains can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes and can also help manage weight.
Eating meat and other high protein foods does have an important role in our diet. According to Canada’s Food Guide, adults need to eat two to three servings of meat and alternatives per day. One serving of meat and alternatives includes: 2 ½ oz (75 g) meat or ½ cup (175 mL) lentils or two eggs.
Meat and alternatives provide nutrients such as protein, iron and vitamin B12. Eating meat in moderate amounts is healthy. But studies show that people who eat a lot of red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) tend to eat fewer foods of plant origin, so they benefit less from the cancer-protective properties. Evidence shows that foods of plant origin, such as the non-starchy vegetables, fruits and whole grains and legumes (cooked, dried beans, peas and lentils) can be protective against cancer.
If you go out to eat, the amount of food served, including meat, is usually much larger than is ecommended. For example, restaurants will commonly serve you 10- or 12-oz steaks, which are equivalent to about four or five servings of meat and alternatives (nearly two days’ worth of protein) in one meal. Consider if the meat portion size you eat at home is similar to the ones served in restaurants.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, people who eat red meat should eat less than 18 oz or 500 g (cooked weight) – that’s equal to three, six-oz steaks per week. Very little of this should be processed meat. Processed meats are smoked, cured, salted or have chemical preservatives. They are, for example, ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs and sausages. Poultry, fish, as well as alternatives to meat (e.g. eggs or legumes) are suggested on the other days of the week.
If you think you eat more meat than is recommended, maybe it’s time to switch the focus on your plate. A helpful way to think about it is to keep half of your plate for vegetables and fruit, a quarter for grain products (whole grain, preferably) and a quarter for meat and alternatives. If you don’t eat enough vegetables, you’re not alone! Most Canadians don’t. Try committing to a week of taking the focus off your meat, especially red meat, and putting the spotlight on vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
START RIGHT Make your own breakfast sandwich on whole grain bread, skip the bacon and use one scrambled egg instead. Add a tomato, spinach or vegetable spread to boost the nutritional value. Include a piece of fruit or have one later as a snack.
MIDDAY At lunch, have a deep green leafy salad with a handful of chickpeas or lentils. Add other vegetables you like and keep it colourful – carrots, peppers, cucumber. Add a piece of fruit to the salad or save it for dessert.
THE CAPPER For dinner, stir-fry a variety of vegetables with meat (five oz. for men and two or three for women). Serve over brown rice or whole wheat noodles tossed lightly in canola or olive oil.
Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.