Heart-Healthy Meats: Going beyond Chicken

Thursday, May 31, 2007 - 2:06pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

If there's one restriction that frustrates people on heart-healthy diets it's the limit on red meat. Most people enjoy eating meat. The popular, but incorrect, belief is that all red meat is "bad" for the heart, while chicken and fish are fine. The American Heart Association recommends less than 30% calories as fat, and less than 10% as saturated fat, and those limits are even lower for people with heart disease. That translates to about 50 grams of fat per day for a woman. There are plenty of red meat selections that fit into those guidelines. The key: Know your cuts of meat and know your labeling rules. "Lean" meats have less than 10 grams of fat per 3 oz serving; "extra lean" means less than 5 grams.


It used to be ground beef was all the same. The packages were labeled "ground round" or "ground chuck" but most people did not understand what those terms meant for fat content. Now most ground meats are labeled with fat percentages. This makes purchasing for heart-healthy diets extremely easy. A burger made with 95% lean ground beef has 5 grams of fat in a 3 oz cooked patty. There are many lean cuts of beef available to cook as steaks, in stir fry, in stews, as kabobs, or roasts. Cuts labeled "round" or "sirloin" tend to have the lowest fat content. T-bone, rib, and ribeye steaks are some of the highest fat cuts, but still fit the definition of "lean". A 3 oz portion of T-bone has 8 grams of fat. The problem with steaks is that they don't come in 3 oz portion sizes. They come much bigger, and the tendency is to serve a whole steak on a plate. This means you might be getting 2-3 times the 3-oz portion, possibly half your daily fat allowance in one food! If you are cooking at home, check the package label to see how much the steak weighs. If dining out, order the smallest size steak and put some aside to take home.

For more information on the beef and low-fat see the following article from TheDietChannel: Going Grass-Fed: The Nutrition and Environmental Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef.

Pork Got Thinner

According to a study by the USDA, pork has less fat than 15 years ago. Pork tenderloin, the leanest cut, has only 3 grams of fat. For the home cook, a boneless tenderloin can easily be roasted and sliced into 3 oz portions. These are very versatile, and can be used in lots of dishes including stir fry and casseroles. Pork chops are trickier, since they might actually be bigger than 3 oz each. Check the weight on the label so you know how much you are serving.

All-American Buffalo

Buffalo, or bison, is increasingly available in grocery stores and restaurants. Label it "extra lean." Buffalo sirloin has less than 3 grams of fat, while beef sirloin has close to 9 per 3 oz portion. If you cook buffalo at home, check for cooking tips on the numerous buffalo websites. Because it has much less fat, it will cook faster than a similar cut of beef or pork. The website of the National Bison Association warns: "Do Not Overcook." Slow cooking over lower heat is key, and cooking to medium doneness is recommended. Buffalo is available in cuts similar to beef. Because it is so lean, portions larger than 3 oz would still fit into heart-healthy fat limits.


While venison isn't widely available, it should be mentioned. Whether from deer or elk, it represents red meat in the more wild form our ancestors ate. Fat content is extremely low, about 3 grams per portion, similar to buffalo. Other than hunters, most people don't cook venison at home, but it is available in some restaurants and is a delicious alternative to beef.

Conclusion: for red meat remember labels and portions 

Heart-healthy diets are much more interesting than they were 20 or more years ago, thanks to advances in meat labeling, and increased availability of lower fat choices like buffalo. Red meat can be enjoyed by anyone. Read labels and limit portion sizes. For more detailed information, including heart-healthy recipes and nutritional value of different cuts, check these websites: www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com, www.theotherwhitemeat.com and www.bisoncentral.com.