Making the most of Meat and Alternatives

Posted: Oct 30, 2012

Whether it’s a juicy burger, tender chicken breast, poached fish fillet, fluffy scrambled eggs or spiced kidney beans, Meat and Alternatives offer up tasty, nutrient-rich, protein-packed choices that are a key part of healthy eating.
Meat and Alternatives are one of four important food groups in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.
Together with Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, and Milk and Alternatives they form an ideal blueprint for healthy eating.

Meat and Alternatives provide a variety of essential nutrients including protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc.

  • Protein is a part of every cell in our bodies. Without enough of this essential building block, your body could not maintain or repair itself.
  • Iron is important because it carries oxygen to all your body parts. It also helps to prevent anemia that can make you feel tired.
  • B Vitamins (e.g. thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folacin, and vitamins B6 and B12) offer several benefits. For example, vitamin B12 helps keep your nervous system healthy, while thiamine, riboflavin and niacin help your body to use the energy (calories) found in the foods we eat.
  • Zinc is needed for proper growth and helps your body fight infections.

Avoid portion distortion – you can get too much of a good thing.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends servings of Meat and Alternatives every day. The recommended amount varies with age and sex.  

Age # of Food Guide Servings of Meat and Alternatives
Toddlers 2-3 years 1
Children 4-8 years 1
Youth 9-13 years 1-2
Teens (female) 14-18 years 2
Teens (male) 14-18 years 3
Adults (females) 19 years and older 2
Adults (males) 19 years and older 3

One Food Guide Serving of meat equals 75 g (2 ½ ounces) cooked. This is approximately:

  • 1/2 of a chicken breast or a chicken leg with thigh (without skin)
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) of flaked fish or ground meat
  • 3 slices (75 g) of packaged luncheon meat (check the package label for the number of grams per serving)

As for alternatives, one Food Guide Serving equals
  • 175 mL (3/4 cup) serving of cooked beans, peas or lentils, or tofu
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) of nut butter (e.g. peanut butter or almond butter),
  • 60 mL (1/4 cup) shelled nuts and seeds
  • 2 eggs

Tips for choosing and enjoying Meat and Alternatives

Select lean cuts of meat to avoid excess fat.
For beef, choose well-trimmed inside, outside or eye of round or sirloin cuts and lean or extra lean ground beef. For pork, choose lean ham, pork tenderloin or loin chops. For lamb, choose cuts from the leg and loin.
Get Fresh!
Processed luncheon meats, sausages and pre-packaged meats are usually higher in fat and salt. Limit these types of meats. If you choose to eat them, look for sodium-reduced and lower fat options. Or, use leftover cooked meats such as roast beef, chicken or turkey to build a better sandwich, wrap or sub.
Enjoy poultry without the skin.
Choose items like skinless chicken or turkey breasts or thighs, or remove the skin from poultry at home before cooking.
“Let’s go fishing”.
Fish and shellfish are tasty meat alternatives. Some fish, such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that may help lower your risk of heart disease. Canada’s Food guide recommends you enjoy at least two Food Guide servings of fish per week.
Beans, beans and more beans!
Meat Alternatives such as beans (kidney, soy, black), peas, and lentils are lower in fat and packed with protein, iron and B vitamins. Legumes are a great source of fibre. Enjoy soups, stews, casseroles and salads with legumes or use pureed beans or chick peas in dips and spreads.
Experiment with Soy!
Soybeans are unique among beans because they contain all the building blocks or amino acids found in other complete protein foods like meat. Experiment! Use tofu in place of half the ground beef in meatloaf, chili or tacos. Add steamed edamame (green soybeans) to salads or soups. Or snack on a handful of unsalted soy nuts instead of chips or crackers.
Eggs – The Easy Choice!
Eggs are nutrient-rich – the yolk and white provide several nutrients. They’re an inexpensive source of high quality protein and make for fast and easy and tasty meals.
Go Nuts!
Nuts and seeds are higher fat foods. However, the mono and polyunsaturated fats they provide have been linked to health benefits. Enjoy nuts, nut butters and seeds in small amounts in meals and snacks.

Keep it safe – when choosing, storing and cooking meat and poultry.

  • Keep all meats and poultry cold – make it the last selection in your grocery cart and refrigerate quickly.
  •  Defrost in the refrigerator, not on countertops.
  • Cook meat and poultry thoroughly. You can safely eat whole pieces of beef or lamb medium rare, which means the centre can show a hint of pink. Always cook ground beef well so no pink remains. A meat thermometer is the best way to tell when meat is cooked to the right temperature.