Meat and its Alternatives

A serving size of meat should be the size of your palm and the thickness of your little finger or a standard pack of playing cards.

The Meat and Alternatives group in the Diabetes Québec Exchange System includes:

  • Meat and poultry (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Tofu, tempeh, soybeans
  • Legumes (for example: beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Eggs
  • Cheese and Greek-style yogurt 
  • Peanut butter
  • Hemp and pumpkin seeds

The foods in this group are your main source of protein. They also provide a certain amount of fat, which varies from one food to another.

Serving size

A quarter of your meal plate should contain meat or its alternatives: on average, 90 g or 3 ounces of cooked meat.

Tip

A serving size of meat should be the size of your palm and the thickness of your little finger or a standard pack of playing cards.

Although this food group has no direct effect on your blood glucose (sugar) levels (with the exception of legumes), excessive consumption of protein is not desirable given the increased risk of kidney complications for people with diabetes.

Vegetable or animal protein?

Replacing foods containing animal protein (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) with foods providing plant-based protein (tofu, legumes, peanut butter, etc.) lets you lower your blood cholesterol and improve your blood glucose (sugar) levels. This is because plant-based foods contain no cholesterol, are low in saturated fat  and, in certain cases, high in fibre.

Moreover, it is recommended that you eat fish at least twice a week to reduce the risk of heart disease and renal disorders. Give preference to fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as sardines, salmon, trout, herring and mackerel.

Choosing the right cuts of meat: an important decision

Meat contains fat in various amounts. Watch out! Lean meat doesn’t mean no fat. It still contains fat but in lesser amounts than other cuts. You can easily remove visible fat before cooking to reduce your ingestion of saturated fat, a type of fat that, when eaten in large quantities, can increase the risk of heart disease.

Tip

Opt for cooking methods that require no or little fat: boil, braise, grill, steam or bake.

Legumes: a meat substitute and a starch

Legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas are excellent meat substitutes. However, since they also contain carbohydrates , they will have an impact on your blood glucose levels.

When you incorporate them into a meal, it is important to take account of the amount of carbohydrates they contain and add them to your meal’s total carbohydrate count. In fact, 125 ml (1/2 cup) of beans or lentils and 75 ml (1/3 cup) of chickpeas provide the equivalent of one exchange of Meat and Alternatives and one exchange of starches (15 g of carbohydrates).

Cheese: watch out for fat and sodium

Contrary to milk and yogurt, cheese is very low in carbohydrates and mainly contains protein and fat. That is why, despite being as rich in calcium as other foods in the Milk and Alternatives group (milk, yogurt, enriched soy milk, etc.), we classify cheese with Meats and Alternatives for people with diabetes.

Cheese can also be very high in fat and sodium (salt), two nutrients when eaten in excessive amounts increase the risk of heart disease. In order to reduce your intake of fat and sodium, you can:

  • limit your portion to 30 g (1 ounce);
  • opt for cheeses with 20% fat (M.F.) or less;
  • limit your consumption of salty cheeses (for example: processed cheese slices, spreadable cheeses, feta, blue, etc.).

Tip

Your two thumbs side by side correspond to 30 g or 1 ounce of cheese, the equivalent of one exchange from the Meat and Alternatives group in the Diabetes Québec Exchange System.

 

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Dietitian Team

June 2014 (updated on July 2018)

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