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Red Meat Alternatives

We have all heard the advice to “cut down on red meat” for better health. While that is true for many cuts of meat, it’s important to point out that there are many health benefits of red meat, if you choose wisely. Load with complete protein; it’s also a great source of iron and vitamin B12. There are ways to enjoy red meats of all types, and avoid the artery-clogging fat so bad for our health.

What you might not have thought about are the variety of red-meat products that are not beef.

The large amount of both fat and saturated fat in many cuts of red meat support the advice that we must limit consumption–no argument there. So, while many prefer a marbled porterhouse, with a thick rim of fat around the outside, it’s best to save that for a special holiday or birthday celebration.

Lean protein also has an important role in weight management. Did you know that recent research supports these ideas?

• Protein can increase your sense of fullness (satiety).

• Higher protein diets can produce greater weight loss compared to others

• Exercising people require more protein daily than non-exercisers.

• Exercise is important for weight loss and maintenance, and protein fuels muscles.

• Protein can increase mental focus (important in sustaining motivation)

There are some new red meat alternatives (that are actually red!) that are low in fat, low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and look and taste like beef.

For times when you just want beef, there are more than 20 lean cuts from which to choose. Importantly, both red meat and the alternates are very similar in the total amount of complete protein per serving–about 25 grams per 4 ounce serving–but vary in their fat content.

As a comparison, a 4 ounce serving of a juicy porterhouse steak (or other marbled meat with visible fat around the edge) has the same 25 grams of protein–but with 272 calories and a whopping 20 grams of fat (that’s about one third of recommended intake for the whole day!).

Take a peak at some of the new options:


4 ounces serving = 135 calories and 2.5 grams of fat

Ostrich is one of the most recent additions to the “new red meats.” Found as steaks, in ground form, and even dried jerky, it is equivalent to red meat in protein content, and has even more iron than an equivalent serving of beef. Ostrich is a bird, but unlike chicken or turkey, does not have both white and dark meat. Ostriches produce only dark red meat. Most often purchased online, some folks pay a visit for direct sale at ostrich farms.


4 ounce serving = 140 calories and 2.8 grams of fat

Buffalo is available in all of the same cuts as beef: Steaks, roasts, ground, and can be substituted for all recipes. Buffalo jerky is also available. Widely available in most supermarkets, you’ll find many restaurants with buffalo dishes on the menu.


4 ounce serving = 120 calories and 2.8 grams of fat

Veal has always been a low-fat beef alternative, but has been under much scrutiny in recent years because of controversial conditions under which calves (baby cows) were raised. Good news for you veal lovers out there: There are many sources of “free-range” veal, where calves are roaming freely in fields.

While “top” veal from a butcher used to be praised for its “white” appearance, the new free-range veal is “pinker” – due to more muscle development from abundant activity. It’s a great substitute for beef, if you seek out the free-range variety. Available in most markets, you’ll find steaks, roasts, and ground veal. If you can’t find free-range veal in your local market, it’s readily available online.


4 ounce serving = 136 calories and 4 grams of fat

When we think of pork, many of use think only of a flavourful, but very fatty meat. While that’s true for many cuts (think ribs!), the pork tenderloin is a cut that is as lean as poultry. Lean and low cholesterol, it has the mouth-feel (chewy and tender) of beef, without the fat and calories. It’s reasonably priced, and available in all grocery stores.


4 ounce serving = 120 calories and 0.8 grams of fat

Many people think of meat substitutes made with soy, and think “Ick.” Before you judge too quickly, read on. Soy is a vegetable protein low in fat, and no artery-clogging saturated fat – which takes on the properties of what it’s cooked with.

Soy is a real culinary chameleon, so it lends itself to being flavoured and shaped to look and taste like beef. We often think of this as a block of white stuff, which is a soy product–tofu, with other variations called Tempeh. While not for everyone, there are some “flame grilled” burgers (like Boca) and also ready to use “crumbled ground meat” ( like Morningstar Farms) that can be used like ground red meat with a fraction of the fat and calories.

…And when you want the “real thing?”


Lean cuts, like flank steak: 4 ounce serving = 160 calories and 6 grams of fat

Beef is a very healthy choice, if you choose carefully. First, what I call the eye test, and avoid the meats that have lines of fat running through it (called marbling) and a layer of fat around the outside. Choose cuts with very little visual fat, and read the labels for fat content, particularly with ground beef (looks for ultra-lean 90% lean /10% fat).

Some good choices include flank steak, eye of round, top round, bottom round. These cuts, with a lower fat content, are usually best marinated to tenderize, or cooked in low heat with additional liquids to avoid dryness (think stews, and crock pot options).


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