Red meat has been demonized by the media for many years, but there's a lot more to this carnivorous delight than meets the eye. Find out how you can make red meat part of your healthy eating plan.
Many clients come to me stating how carefully they work to limit red meat to once a week. However, the old adage to eat red meat once a week has no scientific basis. Although you may think Americans overindulge in red meat, that is not the case.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's My Plate food group symbol, the recommended amount of lean protein depends on age. Here's the breakdown:
• Between 19 to 30 years of age: 5.5 ounces per day
• Between 31 to 50 years of age: 5 ounces per day
• Between 19 to 30 years of age: 6.5 ounces per day
• Between 31 to 50 years of age: 6 ounces per day
According to data extracted from the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States, Americans eat an average of 1.7 ounces of beef each day. This is well below the recommendation for both men and women ages 19 to 50 years of age.
The USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend folks choose a variety of protein foods, such as seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. They also recommend replacing protein foods that are higher in solid fat with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories. Although you may want to pinpoint red meat, let's take an in-depth look at the various cuts and processed choices.
Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "lean" is defined as meat that has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol (per 3.5 ounces). For lamb, the lean portion of the leg meets the definition. Lean cuts of beef include top sirloin, tenderloin (filet mignon), top loin (strip) streak and 93 percent or leaner ground beef, with much of the fat coming from the unsaturated kind. In addition, a 3-ounce cooked portion of lean meat contributes many important nutrients like iron, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
Processed meats like hot dogs and sausage do not meet the recommendations for lean and should be eaten sparingly. These are much higher in both saturated fat and sodium. But it's not just high fat red meat that should be limited – any animal protein that doesn't meet the FDA's guidelines for lean should be eaten sparingly.
[Read: Red Meat Shortens Life? What to Do.]
Buying Lean Meat
Today, lean cuts of beef are easy to find at the market or butcher. Some local farms also sell their meat on site or at your local farmer's market. Although my clients complain about the high cost, I recommend requesting exact portions per meal from your butcher. This will help minimize costs and keep portions in check, and it's quicker to defrost. To calculate the portion of lean meat per meal, multiply 4 ounces (or a quarter pound) times the number of people being served. For a family of four, that would be 1 pound of lean meat. Once cooked, the 4 ounces of raw meat shrinks to about 3 ounces.
Compliment your 3 ounces of cooked lean meat with plenty of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables for a well-balanced meal.
My recommendation: Don't get bogged down with how many times per week you eat red meat. Lean cuts of beef and lamb can be part of your healthy lean protein repertoire along with poultry, seafood and fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and soy.
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Toby Amidor , MS, RD, CDN, is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of the forthcoming cookbook "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" (Grand Central Publishing 2014). She consults and blogs for various organizations including FoodNetwork.com's Healthy Eats Blog and Sears' FitStudio.