Can We Eat Meat? The Answer May Surprise You.


The guidelines specifically recommend that added sugars should be limited to less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake, but they are somewhat vague in their recommendations about meat.

“The guidelines are fairly broad and don’t specifically say that Americans should eat less red and processed meats,” says Christie Benton, registered dietitian at the Intermountain LiVe Well Center in St. George, Utah. “This has led to some confusion.”

What’s wrong with meat?

Red meat has high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which doctors have long believed can cause heart disease. The high sodium levels that are found especially in processed meats can also lead to hypertension.

Plus a recent study by the World Health Organization linked eating processed meats to a slightly elevated risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

So can we eat meat or not?

Even though the new dietary guidelines do not give a hard limit on how much red meat we should eat, they do say that you should limit your intake of saturated fat. Since fatty dairy products and red meats are significant sources of saturated fat, you should probably limit your intake of those things.

The guidelines also specifically call on men and teenage boys to "reduce overall intake of protein foods" because they are on average eating 20 to 60 percent more meat each week than the recommended levels.

“I do steer people away from the predominately red meat diet,” Christie says. “If you do choose to eat it, make sure it’s lean, and only about 3 to 4 ounces when cooked. And don’t eat it more than two or three times per week.”

Christie encourages people to enjoy a variety of protein sources. “Use more lean meats — like chicken, fish, and other seafood — and vegetarian protein sources like nuts and legumes. Beef should take a backseat.”

However, Christie stops short of recommending a complete ban on red or processed meats.

“I believe all foods can be a welcome part of a healthy diet, in moderation,” she says. “You should eat a variety of healthy foods — especially fruits, vegetables, and grains — and limit foods high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. But if you want to eat a hot dog while you’re at the ball game, go for it. Just don’t sign up for the hot dog eating contest. If you want a steak Saturday night, that’s fine. Just don’t eat the whole cow.”

For more specific guidance about your unique dietary needs, you should talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.