While plant-based diets and vegan lifestyles are becoming more popular, there are still benefits to including moderate amounts of red meat in a balanced diet. If you eat meat like beef — or are thinking of adding it to your meal plan — consider these three things to make the most of your choices.
The part of the cow from which the meat comes typically determines how much fat it will contain. For example, a 3-ounce portion of an eye of round roast (from the hind quarters) has only 4 grams of fat, and a 3-ounce portion of a ribeye steak (from the middle of the cow) can have almost 20 grams.
The USDA’s definition of lean meat includes consumption of fewer than 10 grams of total fat per 100 grams of meat — which is about 3.5 ounces. The American Heart Association sets a limit of 6 ounces of meat, chicken, and/or poultry per day.
Try a 3-ounce portion of tenderloin for less than 7 grams. Want a bigger portion? A 5-ounce sirloin still fits into the definition of lean, at just under 10 grams of total fat.
How it’s raised
Grass versus grain is an interesting debate. I’ve tasted both and looked at the nutritional profiles of both. It may come down to personal preference, and possibly a concern for animal welfare. It can also depend on the farmer.
All cows graze on grass at some point in their lives. After they wean from the mother, cows go to graze, and eventually, they are “finished” with either more grass or grain-based feed. Switching cows to grain can allow faster weight gain, and also may change the flavor of the meat. A few years ago, I did a blind taste test of grass-fed versus grain-fed steaks with a group of dietitians. While completely unscientific, about three-fourths of us preferred the taste of the grain-fed meat.
Nutritionally, finishing cows with grass can allow a better overall fat content, with slightly less saturated fat and slightly more omega three fats. However, the differences in nutrition profiles between grass- and grain-fed cows are small, especially if a person is following the recommendation to limit red meat to two to three servings per week.
From my standpoint as a dietitian, the most beneficial nutrients in beef are the macronutrient protein and minerals such as iron and zinc.
A 3-ounce portion of lean beef contains up to 25 grams of protein for about 150 calories. To get that amount of protein from a plant-based source like quinoa, you would have to eat 3 cups or over 650 calories. Beef is a dense source of protein.
Iron and zinc are important in energy production, muscle recovery, and healing, among other body processes. While you can also obtain these minerals from lentils and seeds, beef provides them in a small package. Eating 1½ cups of baked beans would provide the same zinc as 3 ounces of lean beef but also an additional 200 calories or more, depending on your beans. If you like chicken, you would have to consume twice as much to obtain the same amount of iron in beef.
There are many reasons why people choose not to eat beef, but if you like it, beef can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
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