Lean meats and meat alternatives

Lean meats

To reduce fat from the meat group:

  • Choose fish more often. You can get the health benefits of fish by eating it only 2 to 3 times a week. Even canned fish, if water packed, is a good choice. Don't add a lot of high-fat mayonnaise. Use low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise or a yogurt dressing.
  • Choose chicken and poultry, but take the skin off before eating. Note: Ground turkey has the skin ground into it, increasing its fat content. If you want to use ground turkey, look for ground turkey that only uses the breast meat. Or have the butcher grind some for you without the skin.
  • Choose lean cuts of red meat, such as round, sirloin, chuck, and loin. Use extra-lean or diet-lean hamburger.

Mercury levels in fish

Mercury can build up to toxic levels in the human body and cause neurological damage. If you are pregnant, mercury is also dangerous to your developing fetus and later to your breast-feeding baby. A fetus exposed to mercury while developing in utero is especially likely to suffer mild to severe nervous system damage.

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and also as a result of industrial pollution. It can be found in our water, air, soil, and food. Fish are the most common source of mercury in the human diet. You can best protect your child from mercury exposure by monitoring your fish intake while you are pregnant, preparing to be pregnant, or breast-feeding. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children:

  • Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, because these all contain high levels of mercury.
  • Eat up to 12 oz (340 g) a week (two average meals) of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
    • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
    • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna, has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when you choose your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 oz (170 g) a week (one average meal) of albacore tuna.

Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 oz (170 g) a week (one average meal) of fish caught from local waters, but don't eat any other fish during that week. Also check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site for mercury advisory updates at www.epa.gov/ost/fish.

Meat alternatives

Meat alternatives, especially legumes (cooked dry beans, peas, and lentils), can be used in place of meat for several meals during the week. Try some vegetarian recipes.

To replace 1 ounce of meat, use:

  • ¼ cup cooked dry beans, peas, or lentils.
  • ¼ cup tofu (soybean curd).
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
  • ½ ounce nuts or seeds.

Last Updated: January 14, 2010

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