Protein is an essential part of a balanced human diet, and it can come from various sources, both animal- and plant-based. While the latter are considered healthy by default, animal-based proteins are still a question under discussion. Which is the healthiest option for kids and adults: poultry, meat, or fish? Let’s dig for answers together!
Collectively known as red meats, beef, lamb, and pork contain the biggest amount of unhealthy saturated fats of all animal-based protein sources. These fats may affect blood cholesterol levels and act as a catalyst for heart disease development. However, small amounts of lean meat are okay to eat. Opt for meat cuts with the names that include the words “sirloin”, “loin”, or “round” – these are the leanest. They may also contain fat, so trim as much as you can before you start cooking and drain and toss all the fat that melts off in the process. Try to cook red meats in healthier ways: grill, stew, or bake. When measuring a serving size, imagine a deck of cards – this is a healthy portion of meat to serve an adult. If you have kitchen scales, use those for more precision and try not to exceed the recommended serving weight – 3 oz. per person. The daily amount of red meat should be limited to 5 ½ oz.
Fish, on the contrary, is rich in unsaturated fats which are commonly known as healthy. In particular, Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and other kinds of fatty fish help to ward off various heart problems, including cardiac arrest, ischemia, and coronary heart disease. Fatty fish can also help to improve brain functions and eyesight, as well as the ability to focus; it strengthens bones and helps to keep cancer at bay. The tryptophan some kinds of fish contain helps us fall asleep faster and get more quality naps.
However, fish contains many contaminants that you need to watch out for. For example, golden bass or golden snapper and king mackerel, as well as shark and swordfish, may contain mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls. Pregnant or nursing women, as well as children, should avoid eating these kinds of fish.
To make sure you eat your fish in a healthy way, limit the amount you eat per day to 5 ½ oz. divided into servings of under 3 oz., and never exceed the recommended weekly amount of 8 oz. Oh, and do not fry it – grilling or baking will reduce the amount of unhealthy fat and make the finished dish look so much more appealing!
One of the perks of eating poultry is that it is a very filling food. It will keep hunger at bay for hours and ensure that your kids skip all those unhealthy snacks they would eat otherwise.
A recommended daily serving of turkey, chicken, and other poultry provides enough animal-based protein to maintain a healthy diet. However, you should remember to discard the skin and trim excess fat. Do not eat more than 5 ½ oz. of chicken per day, divided into 3 oz. portions (1/2 chicken breast or a chicken drumstick with a thigh, skin discarded). If you are cooking a whole chicken, keep the skin and the fat underneath it but remove the skin and drain the melted fat before serving.
Alternative Protein Sources
If you choose to abstain from meat, poultry, or fish for religious reasons or health concerns, remember that you can get enough plant-based protein from regular foods. For example, many easily available types of beans like kidney beans, pinto or garbanzo beans are rich in proteins and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. The same can be said about lentils and black-eyed peas.
No matter what protein source you choose, if you stick to the recommended weekly amounts and opt for healthier cooking methods, reduce the amount of salt you season your meat, fish, and chicken with and choose unsalted and low-sodium seasonings like fresh or dried herbs and spices, you’ll manage to maintain a balanced diet.