HealthTalk: Reduce meat in stews and casseroles

By: By KAREN COLLINS, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: You talk about changing the proportions of meat and vegetables in stews and casseroles to make them more healthful. How do I do that without a new recipe?

A: Start with your usual way to make a stew or casserole and check how much meat, chicken or seafood you usually use. If it’s more than two or three ounces per person, reduce the amount.

If the dish contains dried beans, which are good sources of the protein and key minerals that meat provides, you can reduce the meat even further or omit it completely. If your usual dish didn’t contain beans, feel free to add them anyway.

Increase the amount of vegetables to compensate for the amount of meat you eliminate. If the recipe calls for only a few vegetables, you can add one or two more kinds for better variety and more nutrients.

Aim for at least a half-cup — preferably one cup or more — of vegetables per serving. If reaching this amount adds more volume than you removed by cutting back on meat, just add a little more broth, tomato sauce or other liquid in the dish to keep the same consistency.

Q: Do walking and strength-training exercises provide the same kind of anti-inflammatory and general health benefits?

A: Experts say that we really need a combination of both strength-training and aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming and gardening). Both provide benefits, but together they offer the best protection from chronic diseases.

A lot of research focuses on people with type 2 diabetes, because they are likely to have inflammation in addition to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to its action.

Insulin levels increase in an effort to control blood sugar, but these higher circulating levels can have undesirable effects, apparently promoting growth of some cancers, for example. In one study, even without significant weight loss, aerobic exercise four times a week for 45 to 60 minutes reduced markers of inflammation and insulin resistance.

In yet another study among sedentary people with type 2 diabetes, while both types of exercise led to decreased body fat and waist size (important markers of health risk), only the combination approach to physical activity brought meaningful reductions in hemoglobin A1C, a marker of blood sugar control linked to heart disease risk.

The bottom line from these and other studies is that getting either type of exercise is beneficial. Getting both daily aerobic exercise and strength-training exercise two or three times each week is best.

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