Where’s the beef? Americans by and large eat too much meat

Most Americans today eat far above the daily recommendations of meat. The recommendations for most Americans is 6 ounces of meat per day. A 3-ounce portion is the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, so just two servings of meat easily meets our daily quota. One way to decrease our meat intake is by participating in “Meatless Mondays.” This is a health initiative that promotes going meatless one day out of the week. It doesn’t have to be Monday, but going meatless for one day a week can improve our diet and our heart health.

You are probably thinking, “How will I get my protein?” Protein is found in many other foods besides fish, poultry and beef. Dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt and milk are all excellent sources of protein. Try to choose low-fat products in order to keep fat under control. Beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, soy and whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and barley all provide protein as well. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that contains all nine of the essential amino acids, making it a high-quality protein food. Meatless Mondays are a time to experiment with beans and other plant-based proteins such as those listed above.

Beans are an excellent source of fiber. Most Americans fall below the recommendation of at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Beans are also rich in zinc and iron as well as folate. Beans are very versatile and come in many varieties. They can be thrown into soups, salads, stirfries, enchiladas or even brownies! Mix with some breadcrumbs to make a vegetarian burger, or puree navy beans and add to soup for a thicker consistency and a boost of fiber. Make black bean and cheese tacos or create a meatless chili with a variety of beans and quinoa. Compile some veggies and hummus onto two whole-grain slices of bread or wrap to make a veggie sandwich. The possibilities are endless. Mix and match beans with other plant-based proteins to help meet your protein goals.

Meat, especially red meat, can be high in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. By replacing meat with alternative protein sources such as beans, we are improving our heart health by decreasing the amount of fat and cholesterol in our diet. Beans are a plant-based food, so they contain no cholesterol. The high fiber content of beans also makes it a very heart-healthy choice. Fiber is shown to help decrease cholesterol levels, improve cardiovascular health and help regulate our digestive system. Most canned beans contain a lot of added sodium which is not the best for heart health. Choose “reduced sodium” canned beans or prepare your own dried beans. Also, by rinsing your canned beans, you may reduce the sodium content by up to 40 percent.

For the rest of the week, vary your protein sources. Variety is an important part of a healthy diet. Limit high-fat meats such as sausage, bacon, marbled steaks or high-fat beef/poultry which often provide unnecessary fat and sodium. Aim to add more fish and seafood to your diet in place of red meats.

Remember: Eat right, your way, every day.

(Jenna Kourajian is an area dietician working in conjunction with the Minot District Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, made up of dietitians in Minot and the surrounding areas who work in various practice settings, during National Nutrition Month in March.)