Healthy Choices at the Meat Case

Articles
April 06, 2016

Healthy Choices at the Meat Case

Americans have reduced their intake of red meat since the 1970s, but we still consume on average 64 pounds of beef annually.

Americans have reduced their intake of red meat since the 1970s, but we still consume on average 64 pounds of beef annually. Choosing lean cuts for your family may save money at the register and provide healthy protein choices to boot!

Did you know there are 29 cuts of beef that meet the government labeling guidelines for lean? Popular lean choices of beef include: Top Sirloin/Sirloin Steak, Strip (Top Loin) Steak, Top Round Steak, and T-Bone Steak. According to government guidelines, a serving qualifies as "extra lean" if it has less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams or less saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5-ounce serving. A serving qualifies as "lean" if it has less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams or less saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5-ounce serving.

Buying 
When buying fresh meat, always look at the package carefully. Make sure there is no leakage, the package is cool to the touch and the meat is firm to the touch. It should also not feel slimy in the package when you remove it to cook. Beef that has more "marbling" (fat throughout the meat) is juicier and more flavorful, but it also has plenty of calories and fat. And it’s more expensive. Here are the three grades of beef:

Prime is the highest grade with the most marbling.

Choice is the middle grade.

Select has the lowest amount of fat.

Tip: Buy the select grade and marinate the meat. The acid in the marinade actually breaks down the proteins and makes the meat more tender – read the marinade labels carefully and look for the primary ingredients to be ‘acid’ based like vinegar; sugars won’t break down the toughness in the meat, but just add flavor.

Humane-certified Grass-fed Beef 
For the best-tasting beef, think grass-fed. Grass-fed beef is now available in most stores, and this meat comes from cattle that roam freely in open pastures and eat natural (and healthier) grasses and no grains. The meat is also free from growth hormones and antibiotics. Grass-fed beef has a different nutritional profile than conventional beef:

Half as much fat

Twice as much omega-3 fatty acids

Higher level of vitamin E

Marketing Trick 
There are a lot of questions about carbon monoxide being added to ground beef to make “old” beef look fresh. The truth is that the use of “modified atmosphere” packaging for meats started back in the 1960s. What actually happens is that oxygen is removed from the package - it’s the oxygen that creates discoloring. Then a small amount of carbon monoxide is pumped into the package - actually 0.4 percent is the maximum amount allowed by law.

Retailers across the country are refusing to sell meats processed this way since consumers have discovered it. However, it is a proven technology that is safe. You should always buy the freshest (or frozen) ground beef that you can. If you want to be 100 percent sure that the ground beef you are buying does not contain any carbon monoxide, buy ground beef in a “chub” package. These packages, which resemble a small salami or sausage package, are light-safe and vacuum-packaged, so that light and oxygen do not discolor the meat.

Beef on a Budget…
Knowing what to look for on the label when buying beef helps you stretch your food dollar. You should always evaluate purchases based on the cost per serving – not just the price per pound. The amount of beef to buy varies with the cut selected. Cooked yields per pound are related to the amount of bone, fat trim and cooking method. For instance, less-tender steak cuts from the chuck, round, plate and flank (eye round steak, top round steak, skirt steak, flank steak) are more affordable, but all require a tenderizing marinade before cooking using the grill, broiler or stove top.

Grocery prices are expected to increase over the next couple of months, particularly in the meat case so buy in bulk to realize cost savings. Instead of buying pre-cut meat for kabobs, stew and stir-fry, save money by buying steaks or roasts and cutting into meat cubes or strips. Plan ahead, pack the meat in double Ziploc freezer bags and you can freeze cut beef for 6 to 12 months.

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