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Does Beef Really Fit into a Healthy Diet?


Does beef really fit into a healthy diet?  The short answer is yes.  Lean cuts of beef add important nutrients to our diet like the trace minerals selenium and zinc.  A four ounce cut provides 42% and 50% of our daily value of these essential trace minerals.  

The key to healthy choices of beef is “Lean.”  All meats have both lean and fatty cuts.  
Fish and poultry were identified early as lean meat choices because it was easier than trying to differentiate choices from a widely diverse food group such as beef and pork.  

The leanest cuts of beef are taken from the back leg bone, called the round bone. These include eye of round, top round, and bottom round. These cuts are the leanest and most muscular because the cow uses its back legs as its primary means of movement. The underbelly, including rib, ribeye, spare rib, and brisket, are the sites of the fattiest cuts.  

We can see this in our own muscles.  The strong muscles are our thighs because we use them daily for movement.  They are stronger because they are more lean and less infiltrated with fat.

So how does lean beef stack up to chicken?  A 4 oz cut has 8.9 grams of fat.  Compare that to a chicken thigh at 8.5 grams.  A chicken breast is leaner with 3g of fat.  But if you eat the skin, the same breast has 8 grams of fat.  And if you batter and fry it, you get 18 grams of fat.  So let’s lightly batter and then sauté in a little oil our 4 oz cut of round steak just until it browns on the outside.  Then finish it in the oven.  Our red meat comes in at 11 grams of fat.   

Is fat the only issue when selecting beef?  No.  Here in America, we have grown accustomed to eating very large servings of meat.  Over the past few years, our meat portions have grown from the recommended 4 ounce serving to 3 and 4 times that.  Any time we favor one food group over another, we create the potential for nutritional imbalances that can affect our health.  

Yes, beef really does fit into a healthy diet.  It is a concentrated source of valuable nutrients and when lean cuts are included in appropriate serving sizes, beef can add variety and flavor to a our healthy eating plan.  As with all foods, remember that frying is not recommended because it adds extra calories and fat.

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin.  The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, heart disease and stroke; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston.  In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Manuel Marini to demonstrate how healthy eating can taste great.  The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org. Call 639-7585 for more information.

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