2.02.2011

Rethinking Some Tenets -- Red Meat

Well, January was an interesting month, weight-wise. One particularly good period saw me eating foods that I was certain wouldn't help my efforts, and yet I ended up losing weight. So this has me doing some more research and reassessing a long-held tenet of mine: that red meat is bad.

I love red meat. Always have, always will. Comfort food for me is a big ol' greasy cheeseburger. But I have heeded the warnings of diets rich in cow and generally limit myself to a serving of red meat about 3 times a month. Yes, you read that correctly: a month. I would get a hamburger - my weakness - about every two weeks, with perhaps a random meal involving red meat thrown in somewhere along the line. However this period I am referring to had 3 meals of red meat in one week.

How did that happen? I made tacos at home with ground beef. A pound of ground beef makes 3-4 servings of tacos, and the cooked meat only keeps so long. In this economy, I don't have the resources to make a whole batch of meat to only eat one serving and toss the rest away. So, I had tacos for dinner three nights in a row. And I lost weight.

Curious, I did some quick on-line research and here is what I discovered. What makes red meat bad is two things: quantity and fat. A serving of red meat should be 3-4 ounces, cooked. To put that in fast food terms, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder patty, give or take a partial ounce. (The "quarter pound" is pre-cooking weight.) A Big Mac is about 6 ounces total, cooked, between its two patties. 4 ounces is not a lot of meat. When was the last time you saw a 4 ounce steak on a menu anywhere? Restaurant portion size is a whole 'nother blog, but you get my point about quantity. My pound (pre-cooking weight) of ground beef produced 7 tacos, which made each taco portion 2.3 ounces (pre-cooking weight). Factor in that I purchase 75/25 ground beef because of the price, each taco after cooking was less than 2 ounces of meat. So factor numero uno is one thing that ALL diets can agree upon: portion control.

When it comes to fat, red meat can be loaded. The best cuts of meat are those with the highest amount of marbling: tiny rivulets of fat amongst the muscle layers. This marbling is what give the premium steaks their flavor and juiciness. And it is 100% saturated fat. There is nothing wrong with consuming a wonderful filet mignon, as long as you do it sensibly. If you choose to make red meat a standard part of your weekly diet, though, leaner choices should be made.

Ground beef can be surprisingly lean, depending upon how you prepare it. If you are making something where the meat is browned first (like tacos), then you can cook out the majority of the fat and drain it off. If the meat is not pre-browned, like meatballs or meatloaf, then you'll retain a higher amount of the fat. Other lean cuts would be anything that is suggested for slow cooking, like beef short ribs or stew meats.

Red meat is high in iron, a very important mineral for women. Specifically, it contains heme iron, which is easily absorbed by the body and is crucial for women who are menstruating. Red meat also contains B12, which helps build DNA and keeps red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which strengthens your immune system. Calorie-for-calorie, beef is one of the nutrient richest foods you can eat.

Sensible eating, according to some nutritionists, is to consume about 6 ounces of lean protein per day. If your protein is forcing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables off your plate, you are consuming too much protein. (Sssh! Don't tell those Atkins fanatics!) So for the time being, I'm going to add more red meat back into my diet, but in smart ways (meaning, no fast food hamburgers for me) and see if this has long-term benefits for my weight loss.

As always, I'll keep you posted!

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