Beef up your Healthy Diet
March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is to “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” This theme mimics my philosophy that anything you choose to eat should be not only healthy, but also delicious. Red meat is definitely delicious, but can it be part of a healthy diet? Of course it can!
Over the years, red meat has been demonized by the media leading many folks to believe that beef should only be eaten once a week. This recommendation is unfounded with no scientific evidence to back it up. Current recommendations from the United States Department of Agricultures (USDA) MyPlate and the American Heart Association (AHA) state that lean beef can be a regular part of a healthy diet. How much you should consume depends on age and gender.
Here are the lean protein recommendations based on USDA’s MyPlate. These recommendations are appropriate for those who get less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, beyond everyday activities. Folks who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within their daily calorie needs.
Ages 19-30 years: 5 ½ ounces per day
Ages 31 years and above: 5 ounces per day
Ages 19-30 years: 6 ½ ounces per day
Ages 31-50 years: 6 ounces per day
Ages 51 years and above: 5 ½ ounces per day
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was designed to assess the health and nutrition status of children and adults in the United States. According to data extracted from the 1999 to 2004 NHANES Survey, Americans consume an average of 1.7 ounces of beef every day. This is well below the amounts recommended by the USDA.
The AHA also states red meat can fit into a healthy diet as long as you limit the amount. The AHA recommends limiting lean meat, skinless chicken and fish to less than 6 ounces per day, total.
Go Lean with Protein!
Both the USDA and AHA recommend choosing lean cuts of beef. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the term “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 ounce portion. Lean cuts of beef include top loin (strip) steak, top sirloin, tenderloin (filet mignon), and 93% or leaner ground beef. Besides meeting the “lean” criteria, 3 ounces of cooked beef contributes many good-for-you nutrients making it nutrient-dense food. Vitamins and minerals found in lean beef include vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, iron, riboflavin, iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition, more than half the fat found in lean cuts of beef comes from the healthy unsaturated kind.
What should be eaten sparingly are higher fat cuts of beef and processed items like sausage and hot dogs. In addition to being high in artery clogging saturated fat, processed meats are also brimming with sodium. But this guideline doesn’t only apply to high fat beef. High fat cuts of any animal protein which doesn’t meet the FDA’s “lean” criteria should be limited.
Tips for Eating Lean Beef
In order to make beef part of your healthy diet, keep these tips in mind:
• If purchasing lean beef from your butcher, request the exact portions needed. Remember, 4 ounces of raw beef is equivalent to 3 ounces cooked.
• If purchasing pre-packaged lean beef, divide portions out when you get home. Extra portions can be stored in re-sealable freezer-safe bags. Having exact portions on hand can help save money and keeps portions in check.
• Stick with 3 ounce portions of lean beef, the size of a deck of cards or your smartphone.
• Trim off the visible fat before cooking.
• Use healthier cooking methods like stewing, grilling, broiling, and baking.
• Compliment your lean beef with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy for a well-balanced meal.
Nutrition expert Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: more than 130 delicious, healthy recipes for every meal of the day (Grand Central Publishing, May 2014). She is a nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and contributor to FoodNetwork.com’s Healthy Eats blog for over 7 years. Toby has a monthly 'Ask The Expert' column in Today's Dietitian Magazine, is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report Eat + Run blog, a nutrition advisor for Sears' Fitstudio, and an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. For more information, visit her website at www.tobyamidornutrition.com or follow her on twitter @tobyamidor