The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a statement highlighting the potential risks of meat, especially processed meats like ham, bacon and sausage. According to evidence cited in the statement, consuming processed meats may pose a cancer risk in a category similar to that of smoking and asbestos exposure. The WHO statement also classified the consumption of unprocessed red meats as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

The WHO statement complements earlier research suggesting that vegetarian or plant-based diets may be linked to reduced rates of some cancers, better weight management and better outcomes with heart disease, diabetes and kidney problems. But that doesn’t mean that meats have to be off the table completely. Here are the tips I share with my clients with diabetes so that they can enjoy wholesome, plant-based diets with some flexibility and healthful meat choices. (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before making any changes to your meal plan.)

1.  Choose lean poultry and red meats.

By choosing lean meats, you’ll save both calories and unwanted saturated fats. In general, the leanest cuts of beef contain the words “loin” or “round.” Choose these:

When eating pork, zero in on the word “loin” again for the leanest cuts, which include these:

Check labels for ground meats carefully. A label that reads 80% lean means 20% fat. And that’s a lot. I recommend choosing ground meats that are at least 90% lean. Don’t forget to check the labels of ground turkey and chicken, too, because manufacturers often grind skin right along with the meat.

2.  Enjoy fatty fish.

Here’s one place where the fat is good. Generally, fish contain more unsaturated fats than saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association recommend eating fish at least twice weekly, particularly fatty fish, which provides unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. According to the AHA, omega-3 fatty acids from fish may lower triglyceride levels, decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, slow the development of plaque buildup in the blood vessels and slightly reduce blood pressure.

Healthful choices include salmon, herring, lake trout, tuna, mackerel and sardines.

But there’s a catch: Children, pregnant women, those likely to become pregnant and lactating women should avoid the fish most likely to have large amounts of mercury contamination. The FDA advises against consuming king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish and shark and limiting white (albacore) tuna to just 6 ounces per week.

3.  Eat less.

Shrink meat portions to make more room on your plate for health-boosting plant-based foods. Eating patterns rich in vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and whole grains are loaded with phytochemicals, natural plant compounds that interact with other nutrients in the body to shield our health. Various phytochemicals have been studied for their roles in preventing heart disease, cancer, age-related eye disease and other health problems.

As the recent WHO report emphasizes, both red meats and processed meats have been linked to a greater risk for colon cancer. Unfortunately, people with type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk for colon cancer. To reduce risk, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) advises limiting red meats – which include beef, lamb and pork – to no more than 18 ounces weekly and to avoid processed meats, which include bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and salami.

I advise my clients to trim portions by buying small pieces of meat, grilling chicken kebobs with lots of veggies instead of large chicken breasts, sharing meat portions when eating out and by treating meat as a condiment instead of the star of the plate. Why not create a veggie-heavy dish with just small pieces of chicken or shrimp tossed in?

4.  Use moist heat and marinate meats.

Stewing, braising and poaching meats instead of roasting and grilling reduce the formation of potentially harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs may increase the risk of the complications of diabetes and play a potential role in the development of heart disease and possibly some types of cancer. You can inhibit the formation of AGEs when you cook with moist heat instead of dry heat and when you marinate meats with vinegar or other acids.

5.  Keep meat safe to eat.

It’s not just yucky! Bacteria, parasites and other toxins in meats can make you very sick. Don’t cross-contaminate! When handling any type of raw meat, use separate cutting boards, knives and plates from cooked and ready-to-eat foods. And be careful to cook meats to the proper temperature. Try a digital instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat. Follow this guide for safe minimum cooking temperatures.

Ground beef, pork, lamb, veal 160°F
Ground poultry 165°F
Poultry 165°F
Fresh beef, pork, lamb 145°F, and allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes
Fish 145°F or until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork

Healthy eating isn’t about eliminating meat – or any food, for that matter. Instead it’s all about balance.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE*, FAND, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Diabetes Forecast and Kids Eat Right. She has a private practice in Newport News, VA. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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