QUESTION: I have been trying to lower the fat in my diet for some time but am getting tired of fish and chicken. Aren't there some beef cuts that are not so fat?
ANSWER: There are certain cuts of beef that are quite low in fat, and there are ways to prepare beef that are better than others in terms of fat content.In the most recent Tuft's University "Diet and Nutrition Letter," the editors pointed out that not all beef is high in fat. If trimmed of visible fat and cooked properly, it can actually be quite lean.
They also pointed out that beef is good for you because of its high quality protein, B vitamins and otherwise hard-to-get essentials like iron and zinc. According to this article, eating 3- to 4-ounce servings of beef (prepared and trimmed properly) a few times a week can improve your nutritional status and still keep within the recommended dietary guidelines of eating less than 30 percent of calories of fat each day. The trick is in learning how to make lean choices.
The leanest meat comes from the part of the animal that does the most moving. This means that meat from the neck and shoulder (chuck), lower leg (shank), belly (flank) and upper back leg (round) tends to have more muscle and less fat than meat from the rib, loin and sirloin, the least exercised parts. Of course, the lean cuts have more protein, vitamins and minerals than the fatter ones and often cost less, too.
The amount of fat in a given cut varies according to where the meat is located. Generally speaking, the closer to the hoof or the head, the leaner the meat. Thus, sirloin from an area next to the round, or sirloin tip next to the flank, would be less fatty. Although it is difficult to tell how fatty a piece of meat is in a meat counter, you should look for meat that has fewer flecks of white or yellow marbling. If labeled, choose "select" grade over "choice" or "prime." Grading is almost entirely done on "marbling" content (amount of fat IN the meat). The marbled fat cannot be trimmed as easily as fat on the outside of the meat.
Once you have made a selection, be sure to trim any visible fat, including fat within the seams, before cooking it. One reason lean beef is graded lower is because it is tougher. You can marinate with some substance with acid ingredients, such as lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt or tomatoes, to tenderize the lower-grade beef. You can also tenderize with mechanical means such as pounding or cutting (e.g., cube steak). Moist, slow cooking at low temperatures, such as with braising and stewing, can also help soften the tough connective tissue that develops in well-exercised muscle.
Here are a few examples of beef and percent fat (in parentheses) from the article to help you in your selection: chuck-arm roast (36 percent), boneless (40 percent); rib-rib eye (47 percent), prime (60 percent); loin-porterhouse steak (45 percent), T-bone (44 percent), tenderloin (42 percent); sirloin-bone sirloin steak (38 percent), round (or rump)-top round (30 percent), eye of round (33 percent), tip (roasted-36 percent); flank-(London broil, 51 percent); brisket (corned beef, 68 percent).
The percent fat mentioned were averages and based on meat being well-trimmed and broiled. Lack of trimming or frying instead of broiling would raise these numbers considerably.