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Navigating the grocery store for meats and poultry

meats and poultry

If you consider that the healthiest way to shop for groceries is to start by cruising the perimeter of the store, then you will no doubt notice that meats and poultry fall into this category.

Otherwise known as protein foods, this section of the grocery store contains foods that are an essential part of a healthy eating plan for people with diabetes.

Take a look at the plate method for meal planning: ¼ of your plate should be composed of high-protein foods, for example, one chicken breast or 3 to 4 ounces of pork loin.

Let’s take a look at some of the healthiest choices to consider when navigating the grocery store for meats and poultry.

plate method

Lean is best

The main consideration among foods in this group is how much fat they contain. In general, the leaner the meat or poultry, the better the choice. Meats do not contain carbohydrates, so they won’t raise your blood glucose levels. However, if you have diabetes, it’s important to look for heart-healthy protein sources that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. That’s because people with diabetes have a higher risk for heart disease than people without diabetes. To lower heart disease risk, the Canadian Diabetes Association clinical practice guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories consumed per day.

Watch the sodium

Sodium is another nutrient to watch out for, so it’s wise to choose fresh meats to limit sodium intake. As much as possible, avoid meats and poultry that have been breaded or processed – for example, chicken strips, pre-made burgers, meatballs, ham and sausage – as they generally contain large amounts of sodium.

Lean ground beef

Choosing poultry

Poultry, which includes chicken and turkey, is a high-quality protein. Choose white meat, as it contains less fat than dark meat, or ground turkey or chicken. As well, remember to use heart-healthy cooking methods to limit saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Remove the skin and bake, broil, grill or poach to keep these choices healthy.

turkey breast

Beef and other types of meat

For best choices in the meat section, go for lean cuts of beef, pork, lamb or veal: “loin,” “tenderloin,” “sirloin,” “chuck” and “round” are all words to look for on packaging. Ground meat choices should say “lean” or “extra lean,” rather than “medium” or “regular.”

Lean meat

The deli counter

Although you will find deli meats in another section of the grocery store, it is worth mentioning them here. Opt for the lowest fat and sodium in pre-packaged deli meats. At the counter, look for lean roast beef, chicken or turkey. Better still, instead of buying sandwich meats, try roasting extra beef or chicken and slicing it up to be used in sandwiches.

deli turkey

Think about portion size

Meat and poultry are valuable sources of protein, but they can also be sources of unhealthy fat and cholesterol; keep portion sizes in mind when purchasing these foods. For most people, Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide recommends approximately 6 to 8 ounces of poultry, fish or lean meat daily. So aim for about 3 ounces two times a day (3 ounces is roughly the size of a deck of cards).

Consider buying 4 to 5 days’ worth of meat and poultry each week. For the other days, go for fish or a meatless meal, to help limit saturated fat and cholesterol.

To learn about other healthier choices while food shopping, check out Navigating the grocery store expert blogs by Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, Joanne Lewis.

Check out our diabetes-friendly recipes here.

About Joanne Lewis

Joanne Lewis, Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, is the manager of diabetes education with the Canadian Diabetes Association where she is responsible for the development of diabetes education tools for healthcare professionals and people living with diabetes. She has nearly 20 years of experience as a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator working in both hospital- and community-based programs. Ms Lewis has collaborated in the development and implementation of professional diabetes education programs and has presented at local, national and international conferences on a variety of diabetes and chronic disease related topics and has served as an advisor and reviewer for professional organizations and journals.

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