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MEAT SHOULD IT BE A PART OF YOUR DIET? Holy cow! Meat spurs a devil of a debate RED OR WHITE MEAT?
Red meat: Healthy in moderation when lean, but not needed for a good diet

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Date published: 4/22/2007

Slicing into a thick, juicy steak is a luxury many enjoy. But in this era of alarming obesity and heart disease rates, should anyone be eating much, if any, meat? With nutrition and tradition in mind, dietitian Jennifer Motl weighed some of the pros and cons of eating meat. Here are her insights.

The case for meat

STEAK AND PORK have long been symbols of prosperity, and at one time were considered essential for health.

I once bought a gift for someone, a tiny silver pin with a pig on it. It was supposed to be a "good luck pig." Apparently, there's a German expression that when something lucky happens, you say "I have had pig." It dates back to olden times, when having pork to feed your family was a sign that you were fortunate.

Today, we still use phrases like "living high on the hog" to describe a life of luxury. And steak remains a celebratory dish.

Beef and pork are rich sources of protein and iron, helpful for strong muscles and for preventing one form of anemia. And I worry about adolescent girls who eliminate all meat in the name of health--in a few cases, this is the first sign of anorexia nervosa, an excuse to be on a perpetual starvation diet.

I am only a few generations removed from my farming ancestors, who ate meat often. Meat probably was very nourishing for my German, Bohemian and American relatives who worked hard outside all day, tilling fields, baling hay, herding dairy cows, chopping wood and carrying water.

I, their descendant, am not half as active. Nor are most people. And being under-active and overweight are problems that unmask any marginal food choices. It's well known that eating large amounts of fatty beef and pork raises the risk of many diseases. But lean cuts of meat, eaten in moderation, can be a rich source of nutrients.

Lean red meat, eaten in small portions several times a month, seems to have little, if any, effect on blood cholesterol and blood pressure in healthy people. By that I mean people who are active, normal weight and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are known to help protect against heart disease and cancer.

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The marketing of pork as "the other white meat" has created confusion about whether pork is red or white meat. In fact, meat's color is irrelevant.

By definition, meat is the flesh of animals (particularly mammals, as opposed to fish or poultry). So beef, pork and lamb are all meat, and they're all discussed in the same vein in today's stories. Nutrient-wise, these meats are similar to each other--and different from poultry and fish. Meats usually have more saturated fat and iron than fish and poultry.

--Jennifer Motl