Meat: It's what's not for dinner

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Dean Dimick likes to eat meat.

He typically buys beef at the Moffat County Fair and stocks his freezer with elk. Dimick estimates he eats about 8 ounces of meat a serving, which he doesn't think is bad.

But the government does. The new 2005 dietary guidelines may be hard for meat lovers such as Dimick to follow.

"All that the government telling me to do, is going to make me mad. The government already tells me how to do too much already."

To keep healthy, people should eat less meat and incorporate more vegetables, fruit and whole grains into the diet, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are revamped every five years and provide direction for nutrition educators and public food programs.

The latest guidelines suggest that people daily consume less than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fats, consume three or more whole grain products, three dairy products and a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

Eating less meat means about a 2- to 3-ounce serving, or one that resembles the size of a deck of cards, said Elisa Shackelton, an extension agent with Colorado State University's Moffat County Cooperative Extension Office.

Eating fewer and smaller portions of meat -- especially red meat -- is easier for the body to process. Meat's typically high calorie and fat content also can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

"We're trying to get people to watch the amount of protein in their diet," Shackelton said. "Pro-tein takes seven times as much water to get through your bodies, and we're wearing kidneys out.

"By eating less meat, you're saving your organs from wear and tear."

But Shackelton said that the government's latest guidelines might be difficult to teach to the public unless an across-the-board shift occurs to decrease portion sizes and limit Americans' cavalier attitudes about fatty foods.

It also means restaurants, grocery stores and nutrition educators need to coordinate a message of promoting nutritional habits. Currently, restaurants typically serve meals and portions of meat that may offer single-serving sizes large enough for two to three people, Shackelton said.

Meat purchased from grocery stores also is packaged in large quantities, making it difficult for consumers to determine serving sizes.

"It's hard (for people) to know what to do because we become habit-orientated," she said. "What's been frustrating is the government can come out with guidelines but until we get educators and restaurants on the bus, it's hard to change."

Arin Koonce, a dietician with The Memorial Hospital, agreed that the government's suggestion to eat less meat might be hard for residents to swallow.

"It's a hard sell to tell people to change," she said. "We're a very beef-driven society."

However, no one can expect to go from a fatty to nutritious diet overnight. Even small changes in diet in time can offer significant health benefits. Adding a piece of a fruit a day at lunch can help get more fresh foods into the diet, she said. Another trick may be filling up more on vegetables than meat at dinner.

Koonce said residents should aim to eat portions of meat that are the sizes of their palms.

"If we can just cut back a little bit, it will help," she said. "If we can eat more whole grains and less foods that are high in sugar, we can start to feel better."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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