Is Red Meat Really That Bad?

Red meat has been on the chopping block for some time. Health experts cite the traditional American high-fat, high-calorie diet as the primary cause of numerous ills, and when they talk about fat, invariably they get around to blaming red meat.

Fear of fat is what causes a lot of bodybuilders to eat poultry and fish day in and day out. Now, there’s nothing wrong with poultry and fish. They’re lean and nutritious, and they even taste good. A steady regimen of nothing but poultry and fish, however, will set even the most motivated and disciplined dieters to craving a nice thick, juicy steak. One reason these cravings occur may be due to red meat’s high creatine content. Your body craves what it’s lacking. This is the reason creatine supplements have such a dramatic effect on dieting bodybuilders and vegetarians.

You don’t have to deprive yourself, however. If you choose the cuts carefully, you can include red meat in your bodybuilding program.

It might surprise you to know that red meat has some good attributes besides its taste. It’s high in protein, a point not lost on most bodybuilders, and has a high biological value, which means that all the essential amino acids are present and they’re arranged in a way most conducive to building muscle.

Red meat, especially beef, is rich in iron, specifically the heme form of iron. Recent research shows that heme iron is much better absorbed than nonheme iron; these have absorption rates of 15 to 25 percent and 2 to 20 percent, respectively. Iron is necessary for the oxygen-carrying function of the red blood cells. As you’d expect, this is especially important when you’re doing aerobics, but it’s also key to getting the most from long muscle-building workouts as well.

Beef is also loaded with vitamin B12, containing more than chicken, turkey, or fish. B12 is important because one of its many functions is protein utilization. Beef also outdoes chicken and fish when it comes to zinc, which, along with influencing enzyme function, is essential for carbohydrate metabolism.

Meat Fat grams* Calories
Top round 6.2 191
Eye of round 6.5 183
Round tip 7.5 190
Bottom round 9.7 222
Chuck, pot roast 10.0 231
Chuck, blade roast 15.3 270
Flank steak 15.0 243
Ribeye steak 11.6 225
Short ribs 18.1 295
Tenderloin 9.3 204
T-bone steak 10.4 214
Porterhouse steak 10.8 218
Top loin 8.9 203
Sirloin 8.7 208
Tenderloin 4.8 166
Top loin 14.9 258
Sirloin 13.6 243
Shoulder 15.0 244
Shank 10.5 215
Loin blade 21.5 300
Rump 10.7 221
Loin 15.3 257
Ham, lean 4.6 120
Leg 11.0 220
Rib 14.9 258
Center loin 10.5 231
Boston blade 18.4 274
Picnic shoulder 12.6 228
Hamburgers and Hot dogs
Hot dog, 97% fat-free 1 frank 1.0 45
Ground beef 20.7 289
Lean ground beef 18.5 272
Extra-lean ground beef 16.3 256
96% fat-free ground beef 3.9 114
93% fat-free ground beef 7.0 N/A
*A gram of fat contains 9 calories.
Figure 1. Fat and calorie values of 3 1/2-ounce servings of various meats.

What about fat? you ask. Sure, an excess amount of dietary fat can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer, not to mention ruin your definition. If you keep your overall fat intake low, however, there’s no reason you can’t include lean red meat in your muscle-building diet.

The chart in Figure 1 indicates the calorie contents of 3 1/2-ounce servings of various meats. In the section on beef, note how lean top round and eye of the round are. As for ground beef, because it’s prepared in a special way, the 96 percent fat-free variety is extremely lean. How lean is it? Well, white meat chicken without the skin has approximately 4.6 grams of fat per 3 1/2-ounce serving, while top round has 6.2 grains and eye of round has 6.5. Healthy Choice 96 percent fat-free ground beef, on the other hand, has only 3.9 grams per 3 1/2-ounce serving. In other words, it’s actually leaner than white meat chicken. In comparison, the 93 percent fat-free ground beef that’s widely available now has 7 grams per 3 1/2 ounces.

To keep beef lean, cook it any way except fried in fat, and that means no butter, lard, margarine or oil. You can broil it, have it or barbecue it. If you want your steak pan-fried, spray a nonstick frying pan with a vegetable spray such as Pam or Canola Harvest. Contrary to popular belief, broiling or barbecuing doesn’t cause fat to simply drip out of the meat, which is why you still have to select lean cuts. Throwing a big, fat, marbled piece of prime rib, some short ribs, or a New York steak on the barbecue grill, thinking that most of the fat will drip out, is fooling yourself. As reported in the journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers have found that the “effects of cooking methods (including broiling and barbecuing) on total lipid and cholesterol levels were generally small”

So don’t be afraid of eating red meat. Just follow these simple dos and don’ts:

  1. Do select the leanest cuts possible.
  2. Do cook it without adding fat.
  3. Do feel free to enjoy meatloaf, tacos, spaghetti, and hamburgers without guilt by using 96 or 93 percent fat-free ground beef.
  4. Do eat pork, but make it tenderloin only.
  5. If you can afford the sodium, do have a hot dog once in a while a 97 percent fat-free hot dog.
  6. Do consume high-fiber foods with your red meat, as they may help offset some of the fat content by sequestering” it. High-fiber foods include legumes such as baked beans, raw carrots, and fresh fruits.
  7. Don’t use the higher-fat, heavily marbled cuts of red meat.
  8. Don’t eat hamburgers, tacos, spaghetti, meatloaf, or other ground beef foods at fast-food establishments or restaurants, as they use high-fat cuts.
  9. Don’t add fats when you cook your meat-although vegetable sprays are permissible.
  10. Don’t add too much salt or salty seasonings to your red meat. (It’s okay to use a little.) Try seasoning it with herbs instead.

So enjoy a break from fish and fowl. You can put red meat back on the table while you’re putting mass on your physique

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