Red meat has gotten a bad rap recently, red-flagged by the media and tied with words like "heart disease", "saturated fat", and even "mad-cow disease". But you don't have to believe the hype. Unless you are on a strict diet that happens to forbid beef, or hold the cow up as a sacred animal for religious reasons, there's no reason a nice juicy steak can't be the centerpiece of a healthy, balanced diet.
Why Eat It?
Beef does come with a disclaimer: it has more fat than other meats, is a source of artery clogging cholesterol, and non-organic varieties are choc full of pesticides; it also comes with the rare, but none-the-less dangerous, threat of illnesses like those from e. coli bacteria. However, beef provides impressive amounts of vital nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, as well as moderate quantities of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and potassium. Disease can be avoided by handling raw meat properly and cooking it through; "organic" beef varieties are available for consumers looking to avoid pesticides and additives. And while beef does have more fat and saturated fat than fish or poultry, certain cuts can be just as healthy as skinless chicken cutlet when prepared properly.
Cutting the Fat
The trick to starting off on the right foot is choosing the right cut. Beef is only fattening if you chose to work with fattier pieces like prime rib. Lean cuts like flank steak, sirloin, tenderloin, and/or rib-eye have the same satisfying flavor, but are less damaging to arteries and the waistline. Lean beef and/or extra lean beef offer the same nutrients as fattier options without the added burden of unhealthy saturated fat. "Lean" simply means that cuts have come from less fatty areas of the body, or that they have been trimmed of excess fat before being sold.
Lean beef is defined as any cut that provides 10grams or less of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and 95mg of cholesterol per 3.5oz. portion. Extra lean beef provides 5 grams or less of fat, 2 grams or less of saturated fat, and 95mg of cholesterol per 3.5 oz. portion.
Lean Beef Cuts:
- Strip steak
- Arm pot roast
- Shoulder steak
- Chuck shoulder roast
- Round steak
- 95% lean ground beef
Extra Lean Beef Cuts: - Rib-eye
- Center-cut rib-eye
- Top round steak
- Bottom round roast- Sirloin Steak
These varieties are excellent additions to a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. A 3.5 center-cut rib-eye provides just over 200 calories with 9 grams of fat, a nutritional profile similar to a chicken breast of a similar size.
* Remember: When shopping for beef, look for the word "Select" on the packaging. Select cuts are considered the leanest; Prime or Choice are the fattest.
The bit of white stuff you trim before cooking may not seem like much, but a single gram of fat (in addition to containing substances that can clog arteries, causing heart disease) contains 9 calories, and calories add up quickly. A 5oz. cut of untrimmed steak, for example will cost you around 475 calories; the same portion trimmed lean weighs in at only 350kcal. So to keep your beef heart-healthy cut away excess fat before cooking or eating.
Keep in mind that portion size is just as important as how the meat has been trimmed. Even the leanest cuts of meat can still cause problems if excessively large portions are consistently consumed. A traditional 24oz. untrimmed steak entree at a restaurant can offer roughly 1800 calories, an entire day's allotment of calories in a single sitting (not including the potatoes)! Be reasonable with portions. The general rule of thumb is to stick with portions the size of a deck of cards, or no bigger than the palm of your hand. And to ensure a balanced variety in your diet, limit steak intake to twice a week; rotate beef with other meats like chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, duck, or fish.
How you cook is just as important as what you cook. A serving of southern "chicken-fried steak", no matter what you serve it with, will never be a "healthy" dinner.
Avoid adding fats by preparing your meat carefully. Never batter or fry beef in oil, lard, or butter; this adds tons of fat and tends to mask the natural flavors of the meat. Try grilling, broiling, braising, roasting, baking, or stewing instead. Here are just a few options:
* go BBQ style and grill lean-beef burgers and steaks
* braise tougher cuts in beer or wine with root vegetables for super-moist meat
* layer seasoned vegetables and cubed steak on wooden skewers; grill for easy shish kebabs
* marinate flank steak before grilling and slice onto salads or whole-grain rolls with steak sauce
* stew with beans, onions, peppers and herbs for hearty, fiber-rich chili
Remember than leaner cuts of beef can be tougher and less flavorful than their fattier counterparts, marinating is an excellent tool for overcoming these obstacles.