Is red meat like beef or pork bad or good for you?
When I discuss cholesterol results with patients they'll often tell me, "I'll stop eating red meat." Unfortunately, it's not that red meat is bad for you, but folks generally eat too much of it and also don't choose the right cuts.
Beef is okay for you, but it's best to not to eat it more than about once a week. It's the amount of fat in beef that you want to keep an eye on, so choosing lean beef is the key. Keep your choices under 10 grams of fat with less than 4 grams of saturated fat in a four ounce serving.
Here's a guide to choosing healthy red meats when you are at the grocery store.
The leanest cuts come from the loin and the most tender section is the tenderloin. There are a number of tenderloin cuts to choose from. At the smaller end are the tournedos (or medallions) and the center is filet mignon. These steaks are most often pan fried or grilled. At the head is the Chateaubriand, which is usually roasted and is large enough for three to four servings. For most tenderloin recipes the choice is filet mignon.
Flank steak is one of my favorite cuts and has only about six grams of fat in each serving. It is less tender than some cuts, because it comes from an area that gets more muscular action, but marinated and cooked quickly over high heat it makes for a truly succulent steak. Flank steak also works well in stews because it tenderizes quickly during the stewing process.
Skirt steak is a great cut. It's from the same area as the flank steak, but it is actually the diaphragm muscle. It is more marbled with fat than flank steak and makes for a fantastic dinner. I love it simply pan seared until just medium rare.
When looking at purchasing ground beef, find the leanest you can. The redder it is, the better, because a higher fat content will make the ground beef look pink. Butchers are allowed to label their beef 80% lean or 90% lean. Keep in mind that you have to subtract this from 100 to get the fat content (20% fat for the 80% lean ground beef, for example). Most groceries carry 90% and 95% lean and these are your best choices. These might be labeled "Extra Lean".
Top round is often sold as "London Broil," although traditionally London Broil recipes use flank steak. Cuts from the round are lean and muscular, coming from the hip of the cow. I do use this cut for London Broil recipes sometimes because it's more economical. I love using top round for stews. It also makes terrific lean beef for grinding.
Of course, since liver is everyone's favorite, you are probably wondering about it.
Since there's a lot of cholesterol in liver (374mg in a 4 ounce serving), there's a lot of confusion about whether you can eat it. That said, there's so much in liver that's good for you that if you like it, everyone agrees that having it once a month or so is fine. I generally choose calves liver. It's very low in fat (5 grams fat and 2 grams saturated fat in 4 ounces).
I love lamb but don't eat much of it because of the cost. The most popular cut by far these days in America are lamb chops. I don't cook them very often because they are generally pretty high in fat. Trimmed to 1/8 inch fat, 4 ounces of lamb chops still has about 383 calories and 34 grams of fat (15 grams of saturated fat). I prefer to save eating lamb chops for special occasions, usually at a restaurant.
Lamb shoulder is a great cut for many uses. Sometimes lamb shoulder can be harder to find, but it's worth looking for or asking for your butcher to order it. Shoulder steaks are leaner and have all the great lamb flavor, with only 148 calories in a 4 ounce serving (6 grams fat and 2 grams saturated fat). The shoulder steak is wonderfully tender and could be used in almost any recipe calling for beef steak. Likewise, lamb shoulder makes great cubes for kabobs and stews.
My favorite cut of pork is the tenderloin. This is juicy and succulent and very lean. There are so many great recipes that you can use this cut for - it can make for an elegant dinner party meal, a weeknight recipe or an outdoor barbecue.
I also love cooking with center cut loin pork chops as well, and if they are well trimmed these are low in fat and calories. Likewise, the pork loin itself makes for a great roast and is also relatively low in fat and calories when carefully trimmed.