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Diet & Health : Nutrition Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Nutrition notes: Pulling Meat from the Spotlight
Sep 22, 2008 - 7:30:28 PM

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Pulling Meat from the Spotlight

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN

American Institute for Cancer Research


Whether motivated by health, economic or environmental concerns, many Americans are beginning to reconsider the traditional place that meat holds at the nightly dinner table. But don’t worry about reshaping your entire diet overnight. You can start to switch to a more plant-based diet with a few simple changes:


Decrease your meals’ proportion of meat. If you tend to eat meals composed of separate foods rather than mixed dishes, start by cutting your meat portion by about 25 percent.   If you normally eat six to eight ounces of meat per meal, reduce portions to three to four ounces, roughly the size of one to one-and-a-half decks of cards.   Reducing your meat portion even more (to two ounces) can still satisfy your nutrient needs as long as you plate is balanced with a selection of other healthful foods. Although this can seem like a big change – especially if you are used to restaurant-sized meat portions that can exceed 12 ounces – simple tricks like slicing the meat thinly and fanning out the slices can make a smaller portion seem larger.

These portion adjustments are even easier to adapt to in mixed dishes.   With stir-fries, stews, soups, lasagna and other pasta dishes, follow the same idea of cutting back on meat, and simply increase the amount of plant foods in the dish.   Start by adding at least 25 percent more vegetables; if you’re among the many Americans whose vegetable intake is woefully low, go ahead and double the portion.


Choose your type of meat wisely. One of the major recommendations from the latest international report on diet and cancer risk is to limit red meat (beef, lamb and pork) to no more than 18 ounces a week. Poultry and seafood are heart-healthy options that don’t pose the cancer risk of red meat – as long as they’re not deep-fried, of course.   If red meat has been a staple for you, reduce the amount you eat by: decreasing portion size and filling the rest of your plate with more grains and vegetables, choosing poultry and seafood more often, or trying meatless options like protein-rich beans or tofu as alternatives.


Rethink “side dishes.” Increasing the proportion of plant foods on your plate can be both boring and limiting if you continue to think of vegetables and grains as “side dishes.” Make these foods the centerpiece of your plate by adding new herbs and spices and create a more filling meal by adding a touch of olive oil or a handful of nuts or seeds.  Dried fruit, grated citrus peel or a bit of Parmesan cheese are other simple ways to liven up recipes.

Next, begin experimenting with new ways to serve beans and other legumes like lentils, tofu and other soy foods. They can be used in place of all or some of the meat in mixed dishes.   Or try completely new dishes to avoid comparisons to the usual version.   Peruse the vegetarian and ethnic cookbook sections at your local library or bookstore for new recipe ideas.


Tailor your plate to your own needs. Consider your current weight as you think about reshaping your plate.   If you’ve been eating meals larger than your hunger dictates and over-consuming calories, you can easily cut back on meat without adding more of anything else.   If you need more plant foods for a satisfying meal, remember that whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains.   Lastly, if you are trying to lose weight, you might choose to bulk up your plate with nonstarchy vegetables since many are half the calories of an equal portion of grain or potato.


September 22, 2008                                                  

Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its Web site, AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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