NMSU: Fitting Meat, Poultry, and Fish in a Healthy Diet
NMSU branding

Fitting Meat, Poultry, and Fish into a Healthy Diet


Guide E-129
Martha Archuleta, Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University


The New Nutrition

You’ve probably heard about protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and water. Your body needs enough of these nutrients to function properly. But too much of some nutrients can have a negative effect.

To help people deal with the balancing act of good nutrition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggest the following seven Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity-maintain or improve your weight
  • Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits
  • Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
  • Choose a diet moderate in sugars
  • Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation

The fact sheet explains how three of the seven guidelines can be used to help you select meat, poultry, and fish.

Table 1. Key Nutrients in Meat, Poultry, and Fish.

3 ounces Percent of U.S. RDA
  Protein Iron Zinc Thiamine Niacin Vitamin B-12
Beef 58 15 40 5 18 38
Chicken 56 5 12 4 40 5
Pork 51 6 20 40 21 12
Haddock 47 6 1 2 20 20
Tuna 51 3 0.2 25
Shrimp 40 14 9 0.5 11 21
Source: Data based on USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8 Series as follows: Beef is a composite of trimmed retail cuts, separable lean only, all grades, cooked. Pork is a composite of trimmed leg, loin, and shoulder, separable lean only, cooked, roasted. Chicken is broilers or fryers, flesh only, cooked, roasted, Haddock is cooked, dry heat. Tuna is white, canned in water, drained solids. Shrimp is mixed species, cooked, moist heat.

Eat a Variety of Foods

Eating a variety of foods makes it easier to get the more than forty nutrients the body needs for good health. Meat, poultry, and fish aren’t the only sources of these nutrients, but they do contain many of them.

Key nutrients in meat and poultry are protein, iron, zinc, thiamine, niacin, and vitamin B-12. Key nutrients in fish are protein, iron, niacin, and vitamin B-12. For example, a 3-ounce serving of beef, pork, chicken, or canned tuna provides at least 50 percent of the dairy value for protein. The following chart shows that pork contains the most thiamine, beef the most zinc, and chicken the most niacin. These data illustrate how foods contain different combinations and amounts of nutrients.

Choose a Diet Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol

Your body needs a certain amount of fat from food. Fats supply the body with fatty acids that are needed for growth and development. Fats help form cell membranes. Their importance is well documented, but there is a limit to how much fat is needed for good health.

Fat in foods becomes a problem if you eat more than your body uses as energy (calories). Fats contain more than twice as much energy as either protein or carbohydrate. Reducing dietary fat is an especially good idea if you want to reduce calories.

A second problem with getting too much fat relates to heart disease. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is one risk factor for heart disease.

High levels of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in the foods you eat can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood. For adults, blood cholesterol is considered to be high if it measures more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood.

On the average, Americans eat about 34 percent of their total calories as fat. Many authorities have suggested it is best to limit fat to no more than 30 percent of total calories. Some authorities suggest limiting saturated fatty acids to about a third of total fat.

When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, and fish, the following practices can help you get needed nutrients without too much fat.

  • Select lean meats.
  • Limit serving sizes.
  • Combine small amounts of meat, poultry, and fish with grains and vegetables.
  • Remove skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Trim fat from meat.
  • Roast, broil, grill, sauté, or stir-fry.
  • Cook meat, poultry, and fish without fat or with very little added fat.
  • Use nonstick pans or vegetable oil cooking spray to reduce added fat.
  • Drain fat as meat browns, before adding other ingredients.
  • Use low-fat basting sauces.

Table 2. Calorie, Fat, and Cholesterol Content of Selected Fish, Poultry, and Meat.

  Calories Fat
(grams)
Saturated fat
(grams)
Cholesterol
(milligrams)
  Fish
  3 ounces, cooked
   Catfish, fried breaded
   Cod
   Haddock
   Mackerel
   Salmon, coho
   Shrimp
   Snapper
   Tuna, canned
194
89
95
223
157
84
109
116
11
1
1
15
6
1
1
2
3
0.1
0.1
4
1
0.2
0.3
1
69
47
63
64
42
166
40
35
  Poultry
  3 ounces, cooked
   Chicken, whole
      fried
      roasted
   Chicken, skinless roasted
      breast
      thigh
   Turkey, skinless roasted
      breast
      leg

228
203

142
178

115
135

13
12

3
9

1
3

3
2

1
3

0.2
1

77
75

73
80

71
101
  Pork
  3 ounces, cooked
   Bacon
   Chops, broiled
      center loin
      center rib
   Chops, fried
      center loin
   Ham, cured
      extra lean
      regular
   Sausage, fresh
   Spareribs
487

196
219

226

123
151
315
338
42

9
13

14

5
8
26
26
15

3
4

5

2
3
9
10
72

83
80

91

45
50
69
103
  Beef
  3 ounces, cooked
   Chuck, arm pot roast
      lean only
      lean and fat
   Chuck, blade roast
      lean only
      lean and fat
   Flank, broiled
   Frankfurter
   Ground beef, pan-fried
      regular
      lean
   Liver
   Luncheon meat (3 slices)
   T-bone steak
      lean only
      lean and fat
   Tenderloin steak
   Top round steak

199
301

234
330
207
284

243
235
137
261

182
276
189
165

9
22

13
26
13
26

16
15
4
22

9
21
10
5

3
9

6
11
5
11

6
6
2
10

4
9
4
2

85
84

90
87
60
54

83
81
331
54

68
71
73
72
Source: Data based on USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8 Series, Data for haddock, cod, mackerel, and snapper are based on dry heat cooking methods (baking, broiling, and microwaving); data for salmon and shrimp are for moist heat (boiling, poaching, and steaming). Tuna is canned, packed in water.

Choose a Diet Moderate in Salt and Sodium

Excess sodium in the diet is a major hazard for persons who have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, a stroke, or kidney failure if it isn’t kept under control. A diet high in sodium is one of several risk factors associated with high blood pressure. Controlling sodium intake may reduce your risk of getting high blood pressure.

Most fresh meats, poultry, and fish are low in sodium, containing less than 90 milligrams per 3-ounce serving. Cured ham, sausages, luncheon meat, frankfurters, and canned meats have much more sodium. The amount of sodium ranges from 750 to 1350 milligrams per 3-ounce serving for many of these products. Frozen prepared products can also be high in sodium. Check the label for sodium content of proecessed meat, poultry, and fish products.

The following practices can help to keep fresh meat, poultry, and fish low in sodium.

  • Use more herbs and spices for flavor and less salt or sodium-containing seasonings.
  • Use onion and garlic powder instead of onion and garlic salt.
  • Limit condiments such as catsup, mustard, horseradish sauces, and tartar sauce.
  • Read labels carefully to choose products without added salt.
  • Taste food before adding salt. If you must add salt, gradually try adding less.

Table 3. Sodium Content of Selected Products.

3 ounces Sodium
(milligrams)
Bacon 1356
Bologna 866
Crab, canned 850
Frankfurter 952
Ham, crued 1128
Salami, dry 1581
Salmon, canned 443
Sardines 425
Sausage, pork link 1098
Shrimp, canned 1955
Tuna, canned 303
Source: Data based on USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8 Series.

Note: Information in this guide was originally reviewed by Priscilla Grijala, Extension Food & Nutrition Specialist and reprinted with permission from Cornell Cooperative Extension Service.


To find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the World Wide Web at aces.nmsu.edu.

Contents of publications may be freely reproduced for educational purposes. All other rights reserved. For permission to use publications for other purposes, contact pubs@nmsu.edu or the authors listed on the publication.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Reprinted and electronically distributed January 2003, Las Cruces, NM.