Plant-based diets are more popular than ever, but the vast majority of Americans still eat meat. There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about meat, but context matters. Follow these 3 tips to stay healthy while eating meat this BBQ season.

Charred meat isn't the best option if you're concerned about cancer.  A steak cooked to medium rare is the healthy way to go.
Charred meat isn’t the best option if you’re concerned about cancer. A steak cooked to medium rare is the healthy way to go.
Photo credit: <a href="http://<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@plhrmnn?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Paul Hermann</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/meat?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>Unsplash

According to a recent Gallup poll, 97% of Americans eat meat. That’s not going to change anytime soon. With contradictory study results being reported left and right, it’s hard to make sense of the latest research findings on healthy eating. Does meat cause cancer? Or heart disease? As with most topics in nutrition, the answer isn’t black-and-white.

Is Meat Healthy?

It depends on where it came from, how it’s prepared, and what the rest of your diet looks like. We know that many populations throughout human history have thrived on diets composed largely of animal protein, albeit the wild variety and not what we typically find at the supermarket these days.

While some studies have linked red meat consumption with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, other research has identified several factors that impact that risk. For example, smoking, heavy drinking, and a sedentary lifestyle are common among those who consume the most meat.

Also, factory-farmed animals are often given antibiotics and growth hormones and fed an unnatural diet that makes them sick. Those toxins make their way into the food supply and accumulate in our tissue, setting the stage for disease. For this reason, it’s best to limit or avoid conventional meat and dairy and opt for organic.

Here are some additional tips to allow you to continue enjoying meat, but in a healthy way.

3 Tips for Healthy Meat Consumption

1. Keep things low and slow

When you cook meat at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds form. Known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), these chemicals are linked to cancers of the stomach, pancreas, and colon. HCAs and PAHs are not exclusive to grilling and are also produced when you pan-fry beef, poultry, pork, or fish.

While occasional exposure is unlikely to be an issue, it’s best to avoid well-done and blackened meat. Try keeping temperatures below 400 degrees. Flip and turn the meat several times throughout the cooking process to prevent char from forming and keep your grill clean to limit flare-ups. Finally, you can cook meat indirectly: keep the center burner of your gas grill turned off, put the meat on that part of the grill, and allow it to cook through the indirect heat of the other burners.

2. Get saucy

Certain ingredients have been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs by as much as 90%. Marinate your meat in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, and herbs for at least an hour before grilling. Oregano, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper are particularly beneficial, as are beer and red wine.

3. Balance it out

Never eat meat on its own. Not on the 4th of July or on any other day of the year. Red meat, in particular, is hard to digest. Without fiber to help move it through your digestive system, it can get stuck in your bowels and start to rot.

Not only do vegetables contain fiber, but they also provide antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds.

Make meat healthy again: Veggie kebobs add color, variety, and nutrition to your outdoor feast.
Make meat healthy again: Veggie kebobs add color, variety, and nutrition to your outdoor feast.
Photo credit: <a href="http://Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/suju-165106/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2491119">Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2491119">PixabayPixabay

Headlines that declare meat consumption to be dangerous are overly simplistic and misleading. Meat is a valuable source of complete protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Consumed in moderation, meat can be a nutritious component of a balanced diet. Stick with organic meat from grass-fed and pastured animals and follow these tips today and each time you fire up that grill.