Mayo Clinic Health Library

How meat and poultry fit in your healthy diet

Updated: 06-01-2011

Meat and poultry can be valuable sources of protein and other important nutrients. But meat and poultry can also be sources of unhealthy fat and cholesterol. Unfortunately, higher fat meat and poultry tend to be tastier — something celebrity chefs know, which is why they often use higher fat cuts of meat and poultry in their recipes. But before you follow in their footsteps, consider this: With a few simple tricks and tips, you can have it both ways — taste and health.

Learn how to choose the healthiest selections of meat and poultry and how to prepare them using low-fat methods. With these tips, you can reduce the fat even in higher fat marbled cuts.

Selecting meat and poultry

  • Look for lean cuts. Certain cuts of meat and poultry are lower in fat. Lean cuts of beef include round, chuck, sirloin and tenderloin. Lean pork or lamb includes tenderloin, loin chops and leg. The leanest poultry is white meat from the breast with no skin.
  • Check percentages. When buying ground beef, look for packages with the highest percentage of lean meat — 90 percent or higher.
  • Watch the ground. Ground poultry can have as much fat as ground beef has, or more, because it often includes dark meat and skin. To make the leanest choice, choose ground breast meat, or look for low-fat ground chicken or turkey.
  • Be selective. Choose beef that is labeled "Choice" or "Select" instead of "Prime," which usually has more fat. If you can't resist the higher fat choices, use them as an occasional indulgence rather than a regular option.

Preparing meat and poultry

  • Trim the fat. Cut off any visible, solid fat from meat and poultry. This includes the skin on poultry. When roasting chicken or turkey, it's OK to leave on the skin for cooking, but remove the skin and the fat underneath before eating. Also, remove any remaining visible fat from pork and beef before eating.
  • Use marinades. Marinades tenderize meat and keep it moist while cooking. They also can enhance flavor that may otherwise be lost when you trim fat. Choose low-fat marinades, such as mixtures of herbs or spices with wine, soy sauce or lemon juice.
  • Go low. Low-fat cooking methods include grilling, broiling, roasting, sauteing and baking. Cooking melts away much of the fat in meat and poultry. So when you cook meat or poultry in your oven, be sure to put it on a rack on a baking pan so that the fat drips away.
  • Skim ahead. Make dishes in which you cook the meat in liquid, such as soups and stews, a day or two in advance and then refrigerate. As the dish chills, the fat hardens on the top and you can easily skim it off.
  • Drain the fat. After cooking ground meat, drain the fat from the pan and rinse the meat with hot water. Blot the meat with a paper towel to remove any remaining fat and the water.
  • Watch serving sizes. Reducing your portion size reduces your fat and cholesterol intake. Don't exceed 3 ounces (85 grams) of meat. That's about the size of a deck of cards. Three ounces also equals half of a boneless, skinless chicken breast, or one skinless chicken leg with thigh, or two thin slices of lean roast beef.

Eating meat and poultry in moderation

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that most people cut back on meat and poultry. When you do eat them, aim for lean versions. Also, consider eating fish and seafood more often and in greater variety by choosing fish or seafood instead of some meat and poultry. Try a few meatless meals, too. That's not to say you can't enjoy meat and poultry if you choose. But keep it healthy by selecting lean cuts and using low-fat cooking methods.