Beef’s leaner side

Published in Wellness Watch

Operators use different cuts to create healthier red meat dishes.

New Hampshire’s Roast Beef Sandwich.

It’s no secret that red meat’s reputation isn’t exactly stellar, healthwise. In large part, that’s because many cuts of beef contain high levels of fat; specifically, the saturated kind that’s thought to raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, though, this isn’t the case for all beef.

Currently 29 cuts of beef meet the USDA’s qualifications for lean or extra lean, defined as having less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat or 2 grams of fat, respectively. These cuts of beef include eye of round roast or steak; sirloin tip side steak; top round roast and steak; bottom round roast and steak; and top sirloin steak. Each allows diners to enjoy moderate portions of red meat while still meeting the FDA recommendation that saturated fat should be limited to less than 10% of total calories. Here’s a look at how some non-commercial operators are successfully incorporating these leaner beef cuts into their menus.

“It’s true that the tastiest cuts of beef usually have more fat. But being concerned about the health of our student population, we’re choosing to use lean cuts of beef and preparing them by braising, overnight roasting or in the rotisserie oven,” says Chris Kaschak, executive chef at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), in Durham. One popular cut is eye round, which Kaschak uses for pot roast braised with red wine, fresh herbs, root vegetables and beef stock. Eye round cooked in the rotisserie oven is carved directly in front of students. 

Top round roast, which has the added benefit of being economical, is given an overnight slow roast. “I use it for carved roast beef and French dip sandwiches. The slow roast gives you a fantastically tender product and renders a great au jus,” Kaschak says. Another favorite cut is 0X1 strip loin, which is trimmed of excess fat, seasoned with fresh garlic and rosemary and slow-roasted. “It’s then carved and served as Roasted New York Strip Steak. Again, another big hit,” he says.

Beef stir-fry is another dish that’s popular with students. At Illinois State University, in Normal, beef sirloin tips are stir-fried in heart-healthy canola oil with mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and a sweet ginger-garlic sauce. “This is one of the most popular beef entrées at our wok station,” says Unit Chef Mark Buckley.

Ground beef crumbles are the lean red meat of choice at Dallas Independent School District, where they’re seasoned with garlic powder, chili powder, ketchup and diced tomatoes and served in a Fiesta Bowl with pinto beans and brown rice. “It’s leaner compared to our carne asada and hamburger patty, which have slightly more fat,” says Nutrition Specialist Soo Kim, R.D., who developed the recipe to please both parents and students. “From a parent’s perspective, [the Fiesta Bowl] is more well-rounded and healthier than a hamburger. And since students are aware of trends, we wanted to go with something similar to the Chipotle route. We always have to keep that balance in mind between whether a dish is nutritious and whether it’s kid friendly.” 

Kim acknowledges that red meat can be a tough sell for some eaters. But with the right cut and preparation it can be a nutritious choice. “We’ve gone through a period where red meat received a bad rap. But it’s a good source of protein when it’s leaner, so I think we need to approach it from a healthier way.”