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Four things to know about the meat you’re grilling

Summer grilling is at its peak, and so too may be our intake of burgers, steaks and brats.

From a health perspective, should we think twice before throwing meat on the grill? Haven't we been told time and again that red meat is tied to heart disease and cancer?

As a licensed nutritionist, I don't think of meat—not even red meat—as being fundamentally bad for you. I would, however, encourage meat eaters to consider these four things:

  1. Meat packs a "perfect protein."
    The macronutrient found in meat is protein, which is made up of amino acids. There are eight essential amino acids that we need in our diet. All animal products—such as meat, eggs and dairy—have all eight and are sometimes called the "perfect protein."

  2. Eating meat is an efficient way to get your protein, but it's not the only way.
    Eggs, dairy, quinoa and buckwheat have all eight amino acids as do rice and beans when both are included in a healthy diet. So long as you get the eight amino acids, it doesn't matter if you do or don't eat meat.

  3. Know what your meat eats.
    Some meat does have a lot of fat, and the fat of animals that are fed corn is often linked to heart disease and cancer. The reason for that is corn increases Omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation in people who eat it. Too much inflammation may increase your risk for heart disease, joint problems, dermatitis, some bowel disorders and sinus conditions, and just about any disease.

    Grass-fed meat, however, has a fatty acid content similar to that of salmon. And the Omega 3 fatty acid found in grass-fed beef decreases inflammation in people who eat it.

    Your takeaway? If you eat meat, reach for grass-fed options. This applies to eggs, too. Look for egg packages that tout including Omega-3 fatty acids. The hens laying those eggs are often fed flax seed, which is also an anti-inflammatory feed. 

  4. Learn from Mediterranean and Asian diets.
    While meat in and of itself isn't bad, the American diet often focuses heavily on it. We can learn a healthy lesson from the Asian and Mediterranean diets, which typically are plant-forward. They serve much smaller portions of meat and their plates are rounded out with veggies and grains.

    Every time you eat, strive to include a food from each of these categories.

    A protein
    , like meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat, eggs, and dairy from cows, sheep or goats. Proteins are critical in building, maintaining and repairing body tissue.

    A complex carbohydrate
    , like a fruit, grain, legume or veggie. These carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body.

    A healthy fat.
    Foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil and coconut oil are great sources. It is good to avoid trans fats.

If you are a meat eater, don't feel guilty about picking out a steak or hamburger to throw on the grill. You are actually including a perfect protein in your diet. But try to find grass-fed meat, stick with smaller portions, and round out your meal with grains, veggies, fruit and a healthy fat. And don't be afraid to try a non-meat protein once in a while. Tempeh or a bean-based burger are great for grilling.


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