If you’re here, chances are you love meat like we do. But it’s not always easy knowing how much meat we should eat or might need, especially if you’re planning a cook-out where you’ll be feeding lots of hungry guests. It’s a good idea to know how much meat per person you’ll need, whether you’re trying to stay fit, or you’re planning the biggest barbecue of the year.
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Why Do I Need to Track How Much Meat I Eat?
Before getting into the details of exactly how much meat each person should eat, we need to understand exactly why our bodies need meat and what that meat does once it’s ingested. Over millennia, our human bodies have evolved to rely on the nutrients and proteins found in meat to function. Meat has played such an important role in the way we’ve evolved that most biological anthropologists — the people who study the evolution of human biology — firmly believe that we would have never become human if we hadn’t started eating meat.
Meat = Brain Power
Despite what your vegan co-worker might insist, it’s next to impossible to fully supplement all the nutrients we need from meats and animal products with a purely plant-based diet. Meats are some of the only natural sources of easily digestible Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids: nutrients that our brains need to function properly.
And while you might be able to head to the grocery store and pick up a bottle of any of those nutrients in a synthetic supplement form, study after study has shown that supplements simply don’t work as well as getting your daily nutrients from natural foods.
What Nutrients Do We Need From Meat?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential vitamin. It enters the bloodstream after being ingested and helps your body form red-blood cells while also creating and regulating DNA. If you don’t get enough vitamin B12, you are at risk of neurodegenerative disorders. Even having a slight vitamin B12 deficiency often means tiredness, depression and memory problems.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products, and the average adult should get at least 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. Clams are the best natural source of B12, packing a whopping 28 micrograms in every ounce. But beef is another great source, offering 0.5 micrograms in every ounce. A five-ounce serving of beef would give you enough vitamin B12 for the entire day.
Vitamin D, also known as calciotrol, is another essential vitamin for the body’s function. It regulates our immune system, how our body processes calcium and phosphorous, and how the body helps the body mineralize bones, keeping them strong. Without vitamin D, your bones can become fragile and deformed. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to depression, weight gain, heart disease, and cancer. Most experts recommend getting at least 10 to 25 micrograms a day.
You can get your weekly vitamin D fill from sunlight as long as you get a full 30 minutes of sunlight on your exposed skin twice a week, though people in northern climates may need more and will find it hard to get any from the late fall through the middle of spring. Our bodies can generate vitamin D only when our skin is exposed to the sun, and only at the right angle and intensity. Another problem is the danger of UV rays and skin cancer.
Other than sunlight, fish and eggs tend to be the best sources of Vitamin D. Rainbow trout is one of the best, offering 5.3 micrograms per ounce. But salmon is another good source, providing between 3 and 4.8 micrograms per ounce, depending on the type and cooking method. For example, three ounces of Smoked Chinook Salmon will provide 15 micrograms of Vitamin D, meeting the daily recommended intake.
Omega-3 fatty acid is an essential nutrient that helps our brains function. An increased Omega-3 intake has been linked with improving mood disorders, cognition and even symptoms of schizophrenia. Being deficient in Omega-3 can lead to blindness from macular degeneration.
There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is found in oils present in plants like flaxseed and soybean. But the EPA and DHA forms, which can usually only be found in fish and fish oils, are what’s needed to diminish signs of depression and improve eye health. Experts recommend that women ingest at least 1.1 grams and men at least 1.6 grams of Omega-3 each day.
The highest concentrations of Omega-3 are to be found in Flaxseed Oil, which contains 15.2 grams in every ounce. However, if you are looking for the EPA or DHA forms of Omega-3 fatty acids, your best bet is Atlantic Salmon, which contains 0.41 grams of DHA and 0.19 grams of EPA in every ounce.
Amino Acids: Cystine
Cystine is an important antioxidant amino acid that keeps hair, skin, and nails healthy by producing collagen in the body. The best sources of cystine are pork and beef, with a single three-ounce lean pork chop or steak offering 100% of the recommended daily intake.
Amino Acids: Histidine
Histidine is an essential amino acid that helps with tissue repair and blood cell production. A three-ounce serving of pork, beef, or chicken will provide roughly 150% of the recommended daily intake for histidine.
Amino Acids: Leucine
One of the most important amino acids for building muscle is the essential amino acid leucine. The best source of leucine is steak, which provides about 180% of the recommended daily intake, but chicken, pork and tuna also offer high amounts.
Amino Acids: Lysine
Lysine is essential for healthy skin and hair (produces collagen) and also plays an important role in how well your body absorbs calcium. A three-ounce portion of chicken, steak or lamb provides 125% of the recommended daily intake.
Amino Acids: Methionine
Methionine helps in the formation of cartilage. It also helps prevent hair loss; however, diets low in methionine are associated with a lower risk of cancer, so your methionine intake should be considered carefully. Lean beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and pork all offer about the same serving of Methionine in each three-ounce portion, providing between 100% and 115% of the recommended daily intake.
Amino Acids: Threonine
Threonine is essential for creating collagen and building elastic muscle tissues, such as those in the heart. A three-ounce serving of lean beef or lamb provides nearly 250% of the recommended daily threonine intake.
Amino Acids: Tyrosine
Brain signaling molecules like dopamine rely on the amino acid tyrosine to function properly. The best sources of tyrosine are meats, ranging from lean beef and lamb, to chicken and pork, to fish and seafood. A three-ounce serving of lean meats generally provides 100% of your recommended daily intake for tyrosine.
The Bottom-Line on Meat Nutrients
Meat can be an excellent source of nutrients. However, modern farming practices make many of the meats we purchase in supermarkets far less nutritious than they once were. Wild sources of land-based meats (poultry, veal, etc.) are some of the most nutritionally loaded meats available, but farmed fish sometimes edge out wild varieties in their nutritional content. If you’re choosing beef, opt for grass-fed varieties over the nutrient-deficient corn- and soy-fed beef products that make up the bulk of the market.
How Much Meat Should a Person Eat?
Despite all the benefits of meat, there are downsides to eating too much meat, especially if most of the meat you eat is processed meat. Eating large amounts of processed meat is associated with negative long-term health outcomes, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It’s important to consider the types of meat you’re eating and how frequently you eat them if you’d like to stay healthy well into your golden years. Stick to fresh meats from free-range or grass-fed sources for the best health. If you choose processed meats, like bacon or sausages, look for brands that use only natural preservatives and no chemical additives.
What Is a Healthy Portion of Meat?
The average person eating a 2,000 calorie per day diet should only consume five and a half ounces of lean meat a day. Ideally, you should try to keep your portion sizes to 3 ounces or fewer in a sitting if you plan to eat meat in two meals during the day.
When you begin keeping track of how much meat per person you’ll need for your family, you’ll probably find it helpful to use a digital scale to make sure your portions are what they need to be. We recommend the Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, which can weigh foods up to 11 pounds, and easily converts between grams, pounds, ounces, and milliliters. The scale can help you ensure that you’re staying in the recommended limits, keeping yourself and those around you healthy.
RECOMMENDED READ: 9 Leftover Beef Brisket Recipes
How Much Meat per Person When Hosting Guests?
If you’re planning a party, how much meat per person you’ll need will all depend on what meats you’re serving and who is attending (specifically, how much they love meat) and how celebratory the occasion is. If it’s an informal, weekday dinner you can get away with less than a formal meal celebrating an anniversary or promotion.
Boneless Meats: How Much Meat per Person
If the crowd will mainly be made up of guests on a diet, you’re going to need far less than if the guests are the kind to go back for seconds and thirds of your burgers and briskets.
For boneless meats, you should plan on the following amounts:
- 5 ounces per person for a low-meat crowd
- 8 ounces (or half a pound) per person for an average, meat-eating American crowd
- 12 ounces (or 3/4 pound) per person for the crowd that loves seconds and thirds
Bone-In Meats: How Much Meat per Person
For meats that have some bones included, such as steak, pork chops or chicken, you’re going to need to plan on purchasing a higher weight portion per person.
For bone-in meats, you should plan on roughly the following amounts:
- 7 ounces per person for a low-meat crowd
- 10 ounces per person for an average, meat-eating American crowd
- 14 ounces per person for the crowd that loves seconds and thirds
Bone-Heavy Meats: How Much Meat per Person
Meats like spare ribs and lamb shanks tend to be far more bone heavy than the other meats listed here. If you’re serving one of these options for your gathering, you’ll need to buy far more by weight than you might think.
For bone-heavy meats, you should plan on roughly the following amounts:
- 12 ounces per person for a low-meat crowd
- 16 ounces per person for an average, meat-eating American crowd
- 20 ounces per person for the crowd that loves seconds and thirds
Whether you’re hosting a party for all your food-loving friends and family, or you’re trying to stay healthy by eating a balanced diet, it’s important to know how much meat per person you need for the recipes you’ve planned. Planning your meals from the start will set you up for delicious success.