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Here's What Actually Happens When You Eat Meat Every Day

large steak on plate
How Healthy Is It To Eat Meat Every Day?Westend61 - Getty Images

Meat makes up a large portion of many Americans' diets. While vegan and vegetarian diets have become more widespread, so have paleo and keto lifestyles that incorporate lots of meat. There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there about whether meat is "healthy" and whether it's okay to consume it every day. To understand more about the health impacts of eating meat so frequently, we consulted two leading experts for their insight.

Is Meat 'Healthy'?

"Healthy is a nuanced term with different meanings depending on who you ask," said Rosemary Trout, program director of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University. Meat is a great source of protein that has all of the essential amino acids, and it also contains nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.

"Protein in animal meat is absorbed and assimilated efficiently compared to other sources, like plant-based protein," said Trout. You can still get all of your amino acids through plant-based foods, but you'll need to eat complimentary proteins, such as rice with beans.

From poultry and beef to pork, lamb, and bison, there's a lot of variety among different meats. In addition to protein and nutrients, meat also has fat and cholesterol, and this varies by type. "Too much fat can cause weight gain, which can cause metabolic disorders, and has an impact on blood triglycerides and cholesterol," said Trout.

Additionally, some meat, like bacon and deli meat, can be highly processed. "Meat that has added ingredients like salt, sugar, nitrates or added fat because it is part of cured, prepackaged or frozen meal, still delivers protein, but you will also get other ingredients that might not be good on a daily basis."

There's system for rating foods based on how processed they are called NOVA. It has four groups, ranging from unprocessed and minimally processed to ultra-processed. Cuts of meat like steak and poultry are considered group 1, while bacon, beef jerky, and cured meat are part of group three and are considered processed. Prepared products like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets are considered ultra-processed.

hamburgers and hot dogs on grill
Lew Robertson - Getty Images

How Much Meat Is Healthy To Eat?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This is the minimum amount people should consume and will vary based on other factors like their activity level. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it's recommended to consume a total of 26 ounces of meats, poultry, and eggs per week.

"While people don't have to eat meat every day, if they eat appropriate portions along with nutrient-dense foods that fit into a healthy diet, eating meat every day can be acceptable," said Lauren Manaker, registered dietician.

Many people, though, are eating large portions of meat that exceed these recommendations. A serving size of meat is 3 to 4 ounces, according to the American Cancer Society. This is much smaller than most people consume at any given meal. To reduce portion sizes, Manaker recommends combining meat with plant-based proteins.

Recommendations For Eating Meat

"If you are looking for minimally processed food that is high in protein, you can certainly make a case for eating meat every day," said Trout. She recommends looking where meat falls on the NOVA classification system and seeking out options with a low number. "Stick with fresh or case-ready meats and cook it yourself."

In addition to portion size, Manaker recommends limiting ultra-processed products and looking for lean cuts of meat. This includes white meat chicken for poultry, flank steak for red meat, and pork sirloin or tenderloin. And what you eat with your meat is just as important. "Your sides can add fiber, micronutrients, and other important factors to your meal," said Manaker.

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