This series of articles has been taking a look at nutrition, and any look at nutrition just wouldn’t be complete without examining meat. Long considered the ultimate staple of the American diet (meat and potatoes anyone?), meat is the usually the centerpiece of our meal.
High in iron, zinc and protein, meat is important (or should be important) to all of us. The question is, what kind of meat is healthiest and which is most affordable?
Some meats are simply too high in saturated fat for regular consumption. Examples include most beef steaks, fatty pork chops, and of course the traditional breakfast meats (sausage and bacon). There are, however, quite a few meats that deliver all the good nutrition we seek without loading us down with artery-clogging fat.
Hands down, the best choice for healthy and affordable meat is that old favorite the chicken. Choosing white meat portions (breast) will significantly reduce our fat intake. Chicken breast is one of the primary foods of bodybuilders, some of the healthiest people on the planet. The most economical way to purchase chicken breast is usually to buy the bags of flash-frozen fillets; these can be found for $1.49 to $1.99 per pound.
A boneless skinless chicken breast (3 oz. serving) delivers only 3 grams of fat (5% of RDA) and 0.86 grams of saturated fat (4% of RDA). That’s about 1/2 the fat in even the leanest cuts of beef! Be aware, however, that the ‘dark’ meat on a chicken is not nearly as healthy as the breast – a boneless skinless chicken thigh has 9.2 grams of total fat and 2.6 grams of saturated fat. That’s triple what we find in the chicken breast.
A good way to incorporate more chicken into our diet is to substitute skinless ground chicken for ground beef. When used in a recipe (tacos, spaghetti, etc.) it’s hard to tell the difference, and the health benefits are huge. Be sure to look for skinless ground chicken though, because if the package doesn’t say skinless then it’s guaranteed to be high in fat.
Finally, don’t forget about that popular chicken alternative: the turkey. It’s not just for Thanksgiving anymore!
Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. Many of us just couldn’t imagine going without our daily beef serving, but have we considered the cost to our health? It’s all too tempting to save some money and buy the ‘high fat’ ground beef instead of the leanest. It’s also true that the fattiest cuts are the least expensive (chuck is a great example).
But beef doesn’t have to aid our expanding waistline! Take the time to compare nutrition facts on the different cuts, which you can get from your butcher or from beef.org. One of the healthiest cuts of beef is the flank steak which, when prepared correctly, is absolutely delicious! Top round is also quite low in fat, although it tends to get tough when served as a steak.
Love burgers? A great way to enjoy healthy and tasty ground beef is to purchase a top round roast and ask the butcher to grind it into ground beef (make sure he or she trims off the excess fat first). If you have trouble making this grind ‘stick’, try adding a raw egg to the mixture before forming into hamburger patties.
When shopping for beef, look for the words ’round’ or ‘loin’ in the name of the cut. Eye of round roast, for example, boasts only 4 grams of total fat and 1.4 grams of saturated fat. Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher to trim off some of the excess fat – most grocery stores will do this for free.
No other meat has been transformed into such ‘fatty’ variations, from sausage to bacon to salami. For those of us who are pork lovers, however, there is hope! It is possible to buy lean(er) cuts of pork!
The tenderloin is the leanest cut of pork: a 3-ounce serving contains 139 calories and 4.1 grams of fat, which is roughly comparable to a skinless chicken breast. Other lean cuts (based on a 3-ounce serving) include boneless loin roast with 165 calories and 6.1 grams of fat; boneless sirloin chops with 164 calories and 5.7 grams of fat; boneless loin chops with 173 calories and 6.6 grams of fat, and boneless ham (extra lean) with 123 calories and 4.7 grams of fat. A 2-ounce serving of Canadian-style bacon contains 86 calories and 3.9 grams of fat.
In the lean meats contest, fish is hands-down the undisputed winner. Unlike the fats in most ‘meat with feet’, the fats we find in fish are primarily the healthy omega fats.
Although there are literally hundreds of different ways to buy and prepare fish, many of us find fresh fish to be expensive. Halibut, swordfish, shark and others start at $8.99 per pound. It is possible, however, to buy fish without ‘breaking the bank’.
Look for salmon on sale, and consider buying the whole fish to save money. It’s not unusual to find quality salmon for $2.99 or less per pound – which is less expensive than the leanest cuts of beef.
Of course, canned fish is typically very inexpensive and delivers a powerful nutritional punch. Consider, for example, canned tuna fish. One can of tuna provides 32.5 grams of protein and only 2.5 grams of fat. Even better, that same can of tuna has zero grams of saturated fat. Talk about a wonder-food! Look for canned tuna on sale, when it’s possible to stock up the pantry at 4 cans for $1.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The bottom line is that we can all enjoy meat without adding to our own ‘bottom’ line. Take the time to learn which cuts are the leanest, look for them on sale, and stock up when the price is right.
We’ll see you at the butcher counter!
Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit http://www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.