A Weighty Issue: Trimming down on meat

Backyard barbecues are a summer tradition, but when you're trying to cut back on calories and fat, you've got some decisions to make about what to cook on the grill. If you stick with traditional favorites like burgers or beef steak, start by choosing cuts that have a very low fat content most of the time, and reserve higher fat cuts of meat (like most steak) for special occasions (once or twice a month). Here's some information that can help you make more informed decisions when it comes to buying "red" meat.    

A weighty issue
It's important to note that the fat content listed on packages of meat sold in U.S. supermarkets display the percentage of fat  by weight, not by calories. What does this mean to you? If you are trying to follow a diet that is 25-30% fat,  no more than 25-30% of your total calories should come from fat.  However,  meats that are 25-30% fat are not a good choice for your diet! Why? A pound (16 ounces or 454 grams) of meat that is 25-30% fat by weight  contains 4-5 ounces of pure fat. That translates to 114-136 grams of fat in 16 ounces of meat, or about 28-30 grams of fat in a single 4 ounce serving of meat. For someone eating 2000 Calories a day , half of their fat calories for the whole day are contained in a single 4 ounce serving of meat! And, about half of the fat in red meat is saturated fat, so not only is it a poor choice for fat and calories, there is a great deal of saturated fat in fatty meats, making it a poor choice for heart health as well.

Fat adds flavor and tenderness to a cut of meat, and very low fat meats can get too dry and tough when you grill them. With leaner cuts of meat, use other ways to add flavor and improve texture:

  • Cut lean steak into chunks, marinade and grill them on skewers, alternating with vegetables, chicken, and shellfish.

  • Grill flank steak in one large piece, cut against the grain (along the bias) into thin slices and don't overcook. Flank steak is extremely lean cut of beef and has a very good flavor, but gets tough if overdone.

  • When grilling burgers, if you start with very lean ground beef, (7-10%), use a barbecue sauce or marinade or add some spices and "fillers" to the meat to add some texture and flavor. Or, top your hamburgers with green chiles, salsa, grilled vegetables like onions and green pepper, or very low fat cheese in addition to tomatoes, lettuce and other condiments.

    If you are a "meat" eater, when it comes to "red" meat, read the labels for fat content, and choose the cuts with the lowest fat content for good health most of the time. The leanest types of "red" meat are flank steak (sometimes called skirt steak or London Broil w/o bacon), super lean ground beef (7-10% fat), pork tenderloin, buffalo (read label for fat content), and most wild game such as elk or venison. You do not have to avoid all red meat! In fact,  4 ounces of very lean red meat (such as flank steak), has a much lower fat and calorie content than 4 ounces of roasted chicken with skin. 

    Enjoy your summer barbecues, but do take a few minutes to read labels!

*Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD is chief dietician and owner of her own California based online weight loss program, PersonalDiets.com.  PersonalDiets.com are currently available via web site only. PersonalDiets are designed to give you an easy and convenient diet you can live with. Each diet and meal plan considers your eating preferences, lifestyle, health and give you
access to the professional support you need.

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