The debate on red meat consumption has been going on for decades, but you shouldn't be too worried about giving in to a steak every now and then.

Despite what vegans will lead you to believe, the truth is that eating red meat is just one of the main components of a healthy eating plan, and here's why:

The USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend folks choose a variety of protein foods, such as seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. They also recommend replacing protein foods that are higher in solid fat with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories.

The recommended amount of lean protein depends on age. Here's the breakdown:


  • Between 19 to 30 years of age: 5.5 ounces per day
  • Between 31 to 50 years of age: 5 ounces per day


  • Between 19 to 30 years of age: 6.5 ounces per day
  • Between 31 to 50 years of age: 6 ounces per day

Now let's take an in-depth look at the various cuts and processed choices.

There's "lean" meat, which is defined as cuts with less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol (per 3.5 ounces). A 3-ounce cooked portion of lean meat contributes many important nutrients like iron, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.

Then you have processed meats like hot dogs and sausage, which do not meet the recommendations for lean and should be eaten sparingly. These are much higher in both saturated fat and sodium.

And it's not just high fat red meat that should be limited. The FDA's guidelines states that any animal protein that doesn't meet for lean should be eaten sparingly.

For a well-balanced meal, be sure to compliment your 3 ounces of cooked lean meat with plenty of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. That way, you won't feel too bad about caving in to your inner carnivore every now and then.