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If Beef Is On the Menu, Choose the Leanest Cuts

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has said that "dietary patterns with positive health bene fits" include those that are lower in red meat, and they also recommend consuming less saturated fat, of which some cuts of beef are a signi ficant source.

"The majority of past research has pointed to saturated fat as the main contributor to heart disease, in particular, by raising total and LDL cholesterol levels. However, more recent research is pointing to the deleterious e ffects of following a very low-fat diet if fats are replaced with carbohydrates. If this replacement occurs with processed carbohydrate foods that contain re fined flour and added sugar, it can lead to even higher levels of LDL," explains Tanya Freirich, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. "However, this is not a free pass to consume unlimited saturated fat. The best plan is to replace saturated fats with more 'heart-healthy' unsaturated fats, as well as to choose complex carbohydrates in place of re fined carbohydrates. If you do choose to eat beef, choose lean, high-quality, unprocessed meat that is lower in saturated fat."

"Lean" de fined
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a lean cut of beef is a 3.5-ounce serving that contains less than 10 grams (g) of total fat and 4.5 g of saturated fat. The USDA defines an extra-lean cut of beef (3.5 ounces) as one containing 5 g or less of total fat and 2 g or less of saturated fat.

Choosing wisely
If you're going to eat beef, here is a guide to the healthiest cuts that can help you make decisions while grocery shopping and dining out.

The general rule of thumb when choosing lean beef is to look for loin or round cuts. Avoid buying cuts labeled "prime," which are higher in fat than "choice" or "select" cuts.

The five cuts of beef that are "extra lean" are:

  • Eye of round roast or steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak, and
  • Top sirloin steak

A guide to ground beef
When choosing ground beef, look at the percentage of fat. The USDA de fines "lean ground beef" as having no more than 10 percent fat by weight and "extra-lean" as having no more than five percent fat. Ground sirloin is usually the healthy choice; it is usually 90 to 95 percent lean.

Cooking style counts, too
Use cooking methods that require little or no added oil or fat: grilling, broiling, braising, or roasting. Grilling and broiling further reduce the fat content by allowing fat to drip away from the beef during cooking. If you are cooking with fat, choose olive oil or another vegetable oil that is higher in unsaturated fats, rather than butter, which is high in saturated fat.

Ground beef can lose up to 50 percent of its fat when cooked, but the higher the percentage of fat in the raw meat, the more fat is lost during cooking. For example, extra-lean ground beef loses little to no fat during the cooking process.

And, pay attention to portion size: Divide one pound of ground beef into four 4-ounce portions before forming into patties, and cut larger pieces of whole beef into portions about the size of a deck of cards, which is roughly equivalent to 3 ounces. When dining out, divide an 8-ounce steak into two portions as soon as you are served, place half in a carryout box, and put it aside. If you're accustomed to eating larger portions of beef, fill up with a larger salad or more grilled or steamed vegetables.

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