Think back to your last meal: How many servings of meat did you eat, on average, per day? Honestly, do you know how big a serving size of meat is?

I’ve heard that a serving size is equal to a deck of cards – or maybe it’s the size of my palm? – but I don’t measure before I eat. I just eat.

And does pizza count as a meat, veggie or dairy serving? Or all three? Because I’m not too proud to admit that I probably eat pizza at least once a week.

Yes, these questions are ridiculous. And if you’re like me, you’ve got a million-and-one things to do today, and counting how many servings of meat you eat isn’t one them.

Yet this is how many observational nutrition studies are conducted. Researchers ask participants to guesstimate how many servings of a certain food they eat (whether it’s coffee, vegetables or meat).

Then the researchers comb through the data to find any correlation to health impacts, typically in the near future - in weeks or months - not years.

That’s why nutrition advice is always changing, because it’s so difficult to track what people eat over the course of a lifetime. (And again, there’s the conundrum of pizza: Is it a meat or veggie?)

Why meat is good again

This fall, a newly published study has upended long-standing nutrition advice about meat consumption and our health.

The study found that eating red meat or processed meats doesn’t increase our risk of heart disease, cancer or other chronic health conditions. In other words, there’s no health benefit to eating less red meat or processed meat.

The international group of scientists examined around 100 nutrition studies on the effect of meat on individual health.

The group concluded that the links between eating red meat and disease and death were small, and the quality of the evidence was low to very low. They noted that moderation is the key to our diets.

Health benefits of real meat

This is huge news for those of us who choose to eat nutritious, protein-rich meat. It confirms what many of us have long suspected, that it’s OK to eat meat as part of a healthy diet.

Indeed, the protein in real meat can help you feel full longer and help maintain muscle mass while losing fat, nutrition expert say.

Plus, real meat is a nutritional powerhouse in a calorie-efficient package.

For example, a 3-ounce serving of beef is just 150 calories and is packed with essential nutrients, like iron, protein, zinc, selenium and choline (for brain health).

Meat’s impact on the environment

Now that science proves that there’s no health reason to eat less meat, the nay-sayers are claiming that meat consumption contributes to climate change.

Yet these activists are using outdated science to support their argument, just like they used outdated nutritional research.

Even extreme dietary changes - such as switching to a vegan, all-plant diet - won’t have much impact on climate change and global temperatures, experts say. Research shows that removing all livestock and poultry from the U.S. food system would only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 0.36%.

How meat fits into a healthy diet

And let’s admit it: Real meat tastes really good. The new nutritional study concludes that it doesn’t make sense to recommend limiting meat intake for our health, given that the evidence of any risk is so low – and current meat eaters are extremely unlikely to quit eating meat. So what does this all mean if we’re trying to eat healthy? That it’s OK to eat meat – or not – if you so choose. You aren’t increasing your risk of cancer or heart disease if you enjoy bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Yet that doesn’t give you permission to only eat bacon and eggs at every meal. Toss a handful of spinach in your scrambled eggs for added color and a nutritional boost. Add a glass of milk (yes, full-fat is OK if you prefer), a banana and a slice of whole wheat toast with a little butter and honey for flavor. Good nutrition and health living isn’t about deprivation. It’s about balance, moderation and, of course, enjoyment.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.