Tips for Eating Meat on a Lipid-Lowering Diet

Chicken breast
Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

When you are following a diet to lower your cholesterol and triglycerides, one of the foods you typically limit in your diet are foods high in saturated fat, such as animal meat. If you've been a meat eater all your life, it's hard to cut it out just like that. Fortunately, you don't have to completely scratch meat off of your grocery list if you are following a lipid-lowering diet.

Meat contains proteins necessary to build muscle and carry out a variety of functions in the body.

Unfortunately, meats also contain varying amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that, if you are trying to lower your cholesterol, your saturated fat intake should not be more than 7% of your total caloric intake each day. Following a lipid-lowering diet doesn’t actually mean that you have to surrender your meat entirely. But there are a few things you can do to offset the damage it may do to your cholesterol and triglyceride levels:

Know Which Meats Are Leaner

Some meats are higher in fat than others. For instance, poultry (chicken, turkey), lamb, veal, and “loin” or “round” cuts of pork or beef are considered some of your leaner options.

“Lean” and “extra lean” are nutritional statements designated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, not all meats can be labeled as “lean.” These are the following requirements that meats need to be designated as “lean” or “extra lean”:

  • Lean – Meats with this designation should have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and trans fats, and 95 mg of cholesterol in each 100 gram serving of meat.
  • Extra Lean – Meats with this designation should contain less than 5 g of total fat. Of this total fat, these meats should also contain less than 2 grams of saturated fat and trans fats, and 95 mg of cholesterol per serving (about 100 grams).

    Although it's not really what comes to mind when you think of "meat," fish - including halibut, cod, tilapia and trout - is another great, lean protein option. Some fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids a type of unsaturated fat that is considered heart healthy because it can help lower your triglycerides. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends consuming one serving of fish at least two times a week - especially fish that are high in omega-3 fats.

    Know Your High-Fat Meats

    You don't have to cut out meat entirely, but you should make an effort to steer clear of any high-fat meats or meats that are processed - or try to lower your consumption of them. Meats that are high in saturated fat content include ground beef, bacon, and organ meats (like liver). Meats that are processed, including sausages, hot dogs, and some luncheon meats, are also high in fat and should be consumed in minimal amounts. If you are in doubt, always check your food labels for saturated fat content.

    Cut Out Extra Fat

    If you see that any portions of your meat that contain extra fat with fat, be sure to remove it before consuming. This can also lower the fat content of your meat. Stay away from meats that appear fatty or have a “marbled” appearance to them.

    How Is Your Meat Cooked?

    The manner in which your meat is cooked also counts in the cholesterol department. Frying your meat is probably the worst way to prepare meat if you are trying to follow a low-fat diet. Meats that are fried are also high in saturated fat, which can affect your heart health. Instead, try baking, grilling, broiling, or roasting your meat. These methods can also deliver some tasty dishes and will not sabotage your cholesterol-lowering efforts as badly as frying your meat.

    Moderation Counts

    You could eat meat with the lowest fat content. But if you eat lots of it, your lipid levels can still rise. Moderation also counts when trying to lower your cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 6 ounces of meat daily.


    Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide. The Food and Drug Administration Website. Link: Published January 2013. 

    Meat, Poultry, and Fish The American Heart Association Website. Link: Published May 4, 2015. 

    Whitney EN and SR Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition, 14ed. Wadsworth Publishing 2015.

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