Diabetes Self-Management Blog

I’ve probably mentioned at some point or another that I don’t eat a lot of meat…or chicken or fish, for that matter. I consider myself to be at least a semi-vegetarian most of the time. Over the weekend, though, I had a hankering for a burger, so my husband and I went to Five Guys, a burger chain that originated in Virginia and can now be found in over 40 states, as well as in Canada. They only use fresh (not frozen) ground beef. And I give them five stars for their burgers.

I’ll admit to eating other “types” of beef too, now and then, such as a good steak or a pot roast. But how do you make heads or tails of the meat section in the grocery store? We all have gotten the message that red meat should be limited due to its saturated fat content. But red meat contains protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, which are all essential for good health. And if you follow a lower-carbohydrate eating plan, it’s likely that red meat is part of your menu.

The key is to balance things out by a) not eating red meat every day (maybe 2–3 times a week); b) watching portions (sorry, a 16-ounce sirloin hanging off the plate is a little too much); and c) choosing leaner cuts of beef. There’s one more reason to limit red meat consumption, especially if you’re a woman: Researchers looked at data from more than 84,000 women who were in the Nurses’ Health Study. Over a 26-year time period, about 2,200 non-fatal heart attacks and roughly 950 deaths from heart disease occurred. The women who ate two servings of red meat per day had a 30% greater risk of getting heart disease compared to women who had just half a serving of red meat per day. Fortunately, the women who ate more fish and poultry had a lower risk of heart disease.

We talked about how to choose ground beef last week. But what if you truly want to eat a steak or make a pot roast? Become familiar with meat lingo and your shopping experience will get a little easier.

Clue in on cuts. You may not have the nutrition information on a meat label staring at you, but you can roughly gauge how lean the cut of meat is by looking for certain words.

  • Beef. For red meat, look for top sirloin, tenderloin, flank steak, round, or chuck. Tenderloin cuts include filet mignon (expensive, but worth it as a treat!). Four ounces of beef tenderloin contains 7.5 grams of fat. Flank steak, which comes from the flank area (the area between the last rib and the hip), is very muscular, so it can be a little chewy. It contains 9 grams of fat per four ounces. Try marinating it or stewing it. Another lean cut is skirt steak, which is actually the diaphragm muscle. It can be braised or grilled.
  • Pork. If pork (“the other white meat”) is more your thing, then go with pork tenderloin. Four ounces of lean roasted pork tenderloin contains just 5 grams of fat. Pork tenderloin is pretty versatile, too. You can, of course, roast it in the oven, but it works well on the grill, in a slow cooker, and in stir-fry dishes. Unfortunately, ground pork isn’t all that lean. Four ounces of ground pork has 24 grams of fat and 9 grams of saturated fat. So it’s best to make your meatballs with lean ground beef.
  • Lamb. Cuts from the lamb shank area tend to be leaner, such as leg of lamb, arm, and loin. Four ounces of lean lamb shank, from the leg, contains about 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat.

Be “choosey” and “selective.” Cuts of beef are given grades based on quality. A prime grade, which is a high-quality meat, has a lot of marbling, and is thus very tender (but also high in fat). Save the prime cuts for special occasions. Choice cuts have less marbling, but are still quality cuts. Select are leaner than choice cuts, but are still somewhat tender. Standard cuts are lean but have little flavor and juiciness. Go with “choice” or “select” when shopping for beef. Lamb cuts at the retail level are graded as “prime” or “choice,” so go with choice. Pork isn’t graded, but if you stick primarily with tenderloin, you’ll be getting a lean cut.

Watch those portions. I know, I’ve said it before, but try to keep your meat portions to about the size of a deck of cards (or slightly larger). I realize this can be difficult, but it really is a way to limit fat and saturated fat intake. Stretch out your meat portions by making stews or stir-fries — it will seem like you’re eating more! If the thought of eating a 3- to 4-ounce portion of meat leaves you shaking your head in disbelief, the other option is to limit your red meat intake to once or twice a week. And one more option: Try bison (buffalo). Bison supposedly has a taste similar to beef (I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say for sure), but it’s very lean and very tender. Four ounces of broiled bison contains just 6 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat, so give it a try!

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