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A Minding of the Meats


By Melanie Peters   |   October 27, 2017

​Most holiday meals revolve around a featured main dish and while the way people celebrate the holidays may differ from family to family, chances are that dish is meat-based. In the weeks to come, we’ll be faced with plenty of Thanksgiving turkeys, prime rib roasts and holiday hams, which begs the question: which of the traditional holiday meats — turkey, beef or ham — is the healthiest?

Well first, let’s talk protein. Protein, made of amino acids, is essential to a healthy, balanced diet as it helps build and repair muscle. Meat, poultry and fish contain the amino acids we need. Lean proteins are especially beneficial as they have little to no effect on blood sugar and are considered a “low energy density food," which means you can eat more of them while keeping your calorie count down, something we’re all looking to do during the hustle and bustle of the food-laden holiday season. And while the latest guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet are to follow one that is more plant-based, meat can still be a play a role, albeit a limited one.

Thanksgiving dinner

So let’s talk turkey. And beef. And yes, ham! Of the three, turkey is probably the easiest to feel virtuous about consuming. It’s lean, protein-rich and packed with B vitamins. The real trap here isn’t the Rockwellian roast on the Thanksgiving table, but the indulgent, often carb- and fat-laden sides (think mashed potatoes loaded with butter and cream). On the slightly less-guilty end of the spectrum is beef. Beef is high in iron and zinc, and a good source for vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. But the key here is “lean”: the leaner the beef, the better.

Which brings us to ham. While ham does have protein, it’s often very high in sodium — especially if cured, and can be high in sugar, too (think glazed ham). Ham is considered a processed meat, which means it belongs on the “occasional” list, especially as there is some evidence that eating too much processed meat may increase your risk for some cancers. As with beef, if you’re going to have ham, look for leaner, lower sodium varieties. Of course, if you’re faced with the pièce de résistance of a holiday glazed ham and don’t want to be a rude guest, just try to keep your portion to a minimum and load-up your plate with veggies.

Here are three recipe ideas and here’s to a happy, healthy, holiday season!

Slow Cooker Mini Meat Loaves and Polenta (recipe courtesy of Woman’s Day)

With all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and entertaining, slow cooker meals can be a time- and life-saver. This recipe jazzes your everyday meatloaf and mashed potatoes with a flavorful, Italian-style tomato sauce and polenta offers the belly-filling comfort of mashed potatoes without the added fat. Use lean ground beef to keep the calories low.

Classic Italian Turkey Meatballs (recipe courtesy of FoodNetwork)

The holiday season means lots of entertaining and who doesn’t love a good cocktail meatball? This version uses turkey instead of beef and is baked, which cuts down on added fat.

Ham and Broccoli Breakfast Casserole (recipe courtesy of EatingWell)

A casserole is a great way to feed a crowd. This recipe calls for lean, low sodium ham and is packed full of good-for you protein and fiber.