Americans love their protein- especially meats. We are generous with our servings of protein at meals, and our menu planning usually starts with the meat that is going to be cooked.

Cut back on processed meats

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Americans love their protein- especially meats. We are generous with our servings of protein at meals, and our menu planning usually starts with the meat that is going to be cooked. Everything else is secondary. And despite health recommendations to reduce certain protein sources, processed meat intake has remained about the same for the past 18 years. This is according to survey data of almost 44,000 adults through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Most American adults consume almost double what they need for daily protein. And that extra protein doesn’t just build more muscle. Some will be converted to fat stores. And if the meat is fatty protein, it will contribute to inflammation.

Where does our protein intake stand in this country over the past 18 years?

  • Unprocessed red meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal) - intake has gone down
  • Poultry – intake has gone up 
  • Fish – intake remains the same, no change

These are the top processed meats consumed in this country:

  • Luncheon or deli meats
  • Sausage and bacon
  • Hotdogs
  • Ham

Processed meat intake has been linked negatively to an increased risk for:

  • Inflammation
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Certain cancers

It is interesting to find that over 18 years our intake of processed meats has not altered, even with so many health organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, suggesting that we eat little to no processed meats. From a chronic disease perspective, it is wise to start to reduce processed meats a little at a time. So at breakfast reduce the frequency of bacon and sausage, perhaps serving them just on a weekend day. At lunch replace those salty processed luncheon meats with homemade tuna or chicken salad, or even PB&J. Remember 1 slice of deli ham has 900 milligrams of sodium and 1 slice of deli turkey breast has 500 milligrams of sodium; daily sodium should be 1,500 milligrams tops!

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.