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Poultry, meat and seafood: How to's of high-protein foods
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

Bacon and eggs for breakfast, a chicken sandwich for lunch, and steak and potatoes for dinner. Sound familiar?

Poultry and meat — beef, pork, lamb and veal — comprise the main portion of many people's diets. Besides being packed with protein, they're good sources of B vitamins, iron and zinc. But they can also be high in cholesterol, fat and calories, so enjoy these foods in moderation. Fish is high in protein, but low in saturated fat and cholesterol, making it a good substitute for poultry and meat.

So whether you eat poultry, meat and seafood on a regular basis or just occasionally, here are some tips for using these protein-rich favorites.

Poultry: Chicken and turkey

Selecting

  • Select lean cuts. The leanest poultry choice is white meat from the breast of chicken or turkey, without the skin. Although skinless dark meat is leaner than some cuts of beef or pork, it has nearly twice the fat calories as does white meat. Many grocery stores have both ground chicken and ground turkey. But know that when choosing ground poultry it may have as much fat as ground beef has, or more, because it includes dark meat and skin. To make the leanest choice, choose ground breast meat, or look for low-fat ground chicken or turkey.
  • Buy poultry that feels cold to the touch. Fresh poultry needs to be cold at all times to help prevent bacterial contamination. Make poultry, along with meat and fish, among the last items you put in your shopping cart before checkout.
  • Choose poultry that looks moist and supple. Avoid poultry that has signs of drying, discoloration, blemishes or bruising. Fresh poultry has a mild scent and is free of strong odors.
  • Don't buy poultry past the expiration date. Some poultry packages display a "sell by" or "use before" date. A sell-by date tells stores how long the product should remain on the shelves. A use-before date is the last date you should consume the product, to guarantee the best flavor and quality. Don't buy products past these recommended dates.

Storing

  • Use fresh poultry within two days. Store poultry toward the back of your refrigerator, which tends to be the coldest space. Make sure no juices drip from the poultry onto other foods, particularly fresh produce, in the refrigerator.
  • Freeze poultry in store packaging. Leave on the wrapping and add a second layer of airtight, heavy-duty plastic wrap before placing poultry in your freezer. Use frozen poultry sections within nine months and whole poultry within one year.
  • Thaw frozen poultry in the refrigerator before use. Bacteria can grow rapidly on poultry at room temperature. Thawing poultry in the refrigerator, however, can take two or more days, depending on the size of the pieces. Defrosting poultry in the microwave is another option. If you use this method, cook the poultry immediately after defrosting or put the pieces back in the refrigerator if you're marinating it. Also, use the "defrost" or "50-percent power" setting to thaw the poultry so that the edges don't cook while the rest of the meat remains frozen.

Cooking

  • Avoid contaminating other foods. Use different cutting boards and separate knives when preparing raw poultry. Wash your hands and all of the utensils and surfaces — plates and cutting boards, for example — that come in contact with the raw poultry or its juices before using them with other foods.
  • Cut off the skin and visible fat before cooking poultry. This lowers the fat content, and if you're grilling, helps prevent flare-ups, which can char the meat and form unhealthy compounds. If you're roasting a whole chicken or turkey, remove the skin after cooking, but before you carve and serve the meat.
  • Cook thoroughly before eating. To see if the meat is cooked through to its center, cut into the thickest part. Any juices should run clear. The meat should show no signs of uncooked or pink flesh. If using a food thermometer, check to make sure it registers 165 F for ground poultry, 170 F for breast portions and 180 F for whole birds.

Meat: Beef, veal, pork and lamb

Selecting

  • Choose lean cuts, such as pork loin chops, tenderloin or sirloin. Lean cuts of beef include round, chuck, sirloin or tenderloin. Lean pork includes tenderloin and loin chops. Look for USDA Choice or USDA Select grades of beef rather than USDA Prime, which usually has more fat content.
  • Avoid meat that is heavily marbled. Marbled meat is streaked with fat. Look for meat with the least amount of visible fat.
  • Look for moistness and bright color. Red or pink meat is a sign of freshness, although vacuum-packed meats may look slightly purplish for lack of exposure to air. Avoid meat that looks brown. It may be spoiled.
  • Check labels on ground meat. Most stores offer several types of ground meat, with varying percentages of fat by weight. Look for packages with the lowest fat percentage — 15 percent or less.
  • Don't buy meat past the expiration date. Some meat packages display a "sell by" or "use before" date. A sell-by date tells stores how long the product should remain on the shelves. A use-before date is the last date you should consume the product, to guarantee the best flavor and quality. Don't buy products past these recommended dates.

Storing

  • Keep meat cold. Keep meat in its store package toward the back of your refrigerator, which tends to be the coldest area. Don't allow any juices to drip onto other foods in the refrigerator. Cook or freeze whole cuts within three to five days and ground meat within two days of purchase.
  • Freeze meat in store packaging. Leave on the wrapping and add a second layer of airtight, heavy-duty plastic wrap before placing in freezer. Use frozen ground meat within four months and whole cuts within 12 months.
  • Thaw meat completely before cooking. Defrost meat in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature. To thaw meat faster, use the microwave or place sealed packages of meat in cold water. Cook the meat immediately after defrosting.

Cooking

  • Avoid contaminating other foods. Use different cutting boards and separate knives when preparing raw meat. Wash your hands and all of the utensils and surfaces — plates and cutting boards, for example — that come in contact with the raw meat or its juices before using them with other foods.
  • Trim away all visible fat before cooking. If not trimmed away by the butcher, use a sharp knife to remove all visible fat. Rinse and pat dry whole cuts of meat before cooking. Drain off all fat drippings after cooking.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods to prepare meat. Choose recipes that call for baking, broiling, roasting, braising, grilling or stir-frying.
  • Cook thoroughly. To test if the meat is done, check thin cuts or small pieces simply by cutting into a sample. You can safely eat whole pieces of beef or lamb medium rare, which means that the center looks reddish-pink. Or, you can cook the meat longer if you prefer. Cook ground beef medium to well-done. Cook pork to medium well, mostly white, but still moist. To know more precisely when meat is properly cooked, use a food thermometer to check the meat temperature, which varies by type of meat.

Discover fish and shellfish

Selecting

  • Seek out a reliable seafood source. Whether it's a supermarket or a specialty fish market, a reputable seafood retailer features a variety of quality fish and shellfish items.
  • Look for fresh seafood. Fresh fish has a moist, bright lustrous surface. Select fish that doesn't have dry spots and discoloration. Avoid seafood that is overly fishy-smelling.
  • Select whole fish that has bright, clear eyes and shiny, well-attached scales. Also look for bright pink or red gills and firm, springy flesh. If only frozen fish is available, buy fish still frozen rather than defrosted.
  • Don't buy seafood past the expiration date. Some seafood packages display a "sell by" or "use before" date. A sell-by date tells stores how long the product should remain on the shelves. A use-before date is the last date you should consume the product, to guarantee the best flavor and quality. Don't buy products past these recommended dates.

Storing

  • Keep fish cold. Securely wrap fresh fish and shellfish in a plastic bag or moisture-proof paper and store toward the back of your refrigerator, which tends to be the coldest spot. Use fresh fish within two days, and preferably one day, of purchase. Store frozen seafood up to six months.
  • Defrost frozen seafood in the refrigerator just before cooking. If the seafood is vacuum-packed, immerse the packages in cold water to thaw. If the fish is just wrapped in plastic or paper, place it on a plate and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Cook frozen fish within a day of defrosting.

Cooking

  • Avoid contaminating other foods. Use different cutting boards and separate knives when preparing raw fish. Wash your hands and all of the utensils and surfaces — plates and cutting boards, for example — that come in contact with the raw fish or its juices before using them with other foods.
  • Remove visible fat and skin before cooking. Broil on a rack or grill so that fat drips away.
  • Take care not to overcook fish. As a general rule, allow 10 minutes of cooking time for every inch of thickness for medium-cooked fish. To see if it's done, use the tip of a small, sharp knife to cut into the flesh. The fish should separate into flakes and be opaque throughout. You can cook salmon and tuna to medium rare, if desired. Cook all fish to 145 F.

  • Healthy diet basics: Using a food pyramid
  • Whole grains: High in nutrition and fiber, yet low in fat
  • Legumes: Using beans, peas and lentils instead of meat
  • Dairy products: Selecting, storing and serving
  • Vegetables: How to select, store and serve these healthy foods
  • Fruits: How to select, store and serve these healthy foods
  • June 07, 2005

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