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Dear Dietitian – What does a meat shortage mean for consumers?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers: If you’ve been to your local grocery store lately, you may have noticed bare shelves in the meat section. There is less meat in the supply chain these days; in particular, there is less beef, pork, and poultry. The reduced supply has been brought about by two factors. First, many who work in meat packing plants have fallen ill with the coronavirus, having no choice but to leave the assembly lines. In addition, people are cooking at home more than usual and meat sales are up.

What does a meat shortage mean for consumers? Higher prices are likely. We will probably be able to purchase enough meat to feed our families, but we may not find the specific cuts of meat we are used to getting. I was shopping for ground sirloin which wasn’t available, so I bought ground turkey instead.

As you know, meat is an important source of protein, a macronutrient needed to build muscle and repair tissues in our bodies. Most of us need about on gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds, or 68.2 kg, would need 68 grams of protein each day. Some people need more protein, such as one who has a large burn or wound, an athlete, or a body builder.

Beef is an excellent source of iron, which is needed to transport oxygen to our cells. It is also one of the most available sources of vitamin B12, an important nutrient needed for proper functioning of our nervous systems.

Certainly, there are vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and soy products. Spinach and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources of iron. Dietitian Nutritionists once believed it was important to combine certain foods in order to create complete proteins, especially for vegetarians. A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids needed for protein to do its job. However, if you eat a variety of foods and take in adequate calories, you’re likely getting complete proteins.

The upside of buying less meat is cost savings, although this isn’t always the case. Fortunately, we have a vast and diverse food supply. The list below provides sources of non-meat proteins:

  • Fish/Seafood- Tilapia, imitation crab, and pollack tend to be less expensive than their meat counterparts.
  • Nuts, seeds, nut butters- Who doesn’t like an old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a tall glass of milk?
  • Dairy- Eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Some types of yogurt have as much as 15 grams of protein per serving. Watch out for added sugar, though.
  • Beans/Peas/Lentils- These budget-friendly meat substitutes can go a long way in feeding the family, and there are hundreds of ways to prepare them.
  • Meat alternatives- These plant-based foods are gaining popularity and reportedly taste like meat as well as having a meaty texture. Watch out for saturated fat though, as some meat analogues are cooked with coconut oil.
  • Soy products-Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are nutritious sources of protein and fiber.
  • Plant milks- Rice, almond, and soy milks not only aid in meeting protein needs; if fortified, they will help maintain strong bones by providing calcium.
  • Ground turkey- If available, ground turkey has 8 grams of fat per serving; ground turkey breast has 1 gram of fat per serving. I buy one package of each and mix them, cutting the fat (almost) in half while maintaining the product’s palatability.

As you stock up at the grocery store, keep in mind that one day the coronavirus pandemic will be over. We will return to our normal activities, like birthday parties and picnics. We will mark the calendar with an upcoming special event. And grocery shopping will just be a weekly chore. What a wonderful day it will be!

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.