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Reader’s beef makes food sense

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A few weeks ago I heard from someone with a beef.

That week, our food section featured the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines For Americans. The story contained comments by the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, which feels the guidelines should endorse a plant-based diet without meat or dairy products.

Those remarks didn't sit well with members of the Utah Beef Council, who were concerned we were giving beef a bad rap.

This section tries to include many different views, and the Beef Council has a legitimate point in saying that beef can be part of a healthful diet. Margaret Hammond, a dietitian for the group, points out that:

— Beef is one of the best sources for zinc, iron and many B vitamins, and offers these nutrients in an absorbable form.

— Beef is a source of high-quality protein, supplying every essential amino acid.

— A three-ounce serving of lean beef contributes less than 10 percent of calories to a 2,000-calorie diet, while supplying more than 10 percent of the daily value for protein, iron, zinc, niacin, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12.

If you want to find the leanest cuts of beef in the meat case, look for the words "loin" or "round" on the labels. Examples are sirloin, tenderloin, round steak or eye of round roast. Hammond points out that seven cuts of beef actually have less saturated fat and total fat than a skinless chicken thigh. These "skinny seven" are eye round, top round, round tip, top sirloin, bottom round, top loin and tenderloin. (They contain between 1 and 5 grams more total fat than a skinless chicken breast, per 3-ounce serving.)

Whether you eat meat or not is your personal decision. Judging by the proliferation of steak houses in Utah, beef's popularity is on the rise. At home, however, many cooks are thinking beyond the giant-size steak, or a hamburger casserole. By tossing beef strips into a pasta, salad or stir-fry dish, or wrapping them up in fajitas, you'll get the flavor and nutrition of beef in a sensible, more affordable portion.

Keep in mind, the suggested 3-ounce portion of beef is about the size of a deck of cards — not a Monopoly game board.

Now that we've beefed up this column, here's a recipe you might want to try:


QUICK FAJITAS WITH PICO DE GALLO

1 pound well-trimmed boneless beef top round or top sirloin steak, cut 3/4-inch thick

8 small flour tortillas

Lime wedges (optional)

Cilantro sprigs (optional)

MARINADE

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

PICO DE GALLO

1 cup seeded, chopped tomato

1/2 cup diced zucchini

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup prepared picante sauce or salsa

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Place beef steak in plastic bag, add marinade ingredients, turning to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 20-30 minutes, turning once. Wrap tortillas securely in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, combine Pico de Gallo ingredients, mixing well. Remove steak from marinade; discard marinade. Place steak on grid over medium, ash-covered coals (or gas grill on medium heat). Grill, uncovered, 8-9 minutes (10-12 minutes for top sirloin steak) for medium-rare to medium, turning occasionally. During the last 5 minutes, place tortillas packet on outer edge of grill, turning occasionally. Trim fat from steak; carve crosswise into very thin slices. Serve beef in tortillas, with Pico de Gallo. Serves 4 (with 2 filled tortillas and about 1/3 cup Pico de Gallo per serving).

Nutritional information per serving (for top round steak) : 338 calories, 32 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 4.4 mg iron; 475 mg sodium; and 71 mg cholesterol.


E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com