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Mission: Nutrition

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What Does it Mean to Eat Lean?

Posted by Lisa Peterson -

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a healthy meal pattern with a variety of vegetables, fruits (especially whole fruits), grains (half being whole grains), low fat or fat free dairy, oils, and a variety of protein including seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products, and lean meats. What are "lean" meats? The word lean is often used when referring to healthy eating, but how is lean defined?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Labeling Guide:

Seafood, game meat, poultry, red meat, meals, and main dishes labeled "LEAN" contain less than:

10 grams total fat

4.5 grams or less saturated fat

95 milligrams of cholesterol

Each serving must be per reference amount customarily consumed and per 100 grams. For meals and main dishes, the food must meet the criteria per 100 grams and per labeled serving.

Seafood, game meats, red meat, poultry, meals and main dishes labeled "EXTRA LEAN" contain less than:

5 grams total fat

2 grams saturated fat

95 milligrams cholesterol

Extra lean meat follows the same serving reference as the lean meat above.

Power of Protein

Just like carbohydrates, water, and fats, the body needs protein to function. All cells contain protein. Protein is needed for not only muscle functionality, but also blood clotting, keeping fluids balanced in the body, cell repair, and hormone and enzyme production. Protein from animal sources are complete or high quality protein since they contain all nine essential amino acids. Protein from animals also are a rich source of iron, B vitamins, calcium, zinc, and magnesium.

The USDA recommends 5.5 ounces of protein per day following a 2,000-calorie diet. Three ounces of protein is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Additionally, the Institute of Medicine suggest a minimum of 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.

Why Choose Lean Meat?

Choosing 95% lean cooked ground beef or skinless chicken breast over 75% ground beef, or bacon cuts down on the naturally present saturated fat and cholesterol. A diet high in saturated fat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease, the number one killer among Americans. Saturated fat also increases risks of obesity, inflammatory arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, and some cancers. The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of total daily calories.

Tips for Finding the Leaner Meat

  • Select beef with the USDA label "Select" or "Choice" over "Prime"
  • Cuts of meat with the terms "loin" or "round" in their name typically contain less saturated fat
  • Pick poultry with the USDA grade of A or B
  • Trim off visible fat and skin from chicken and turkey before preparing
  • Avoid regularly purchasing deli meats such as salami, bologna, hot dogs, bacon, fatty cuts of beef, pork, or lamb or options with a high amount of marbling.

To help tenderize lean meat, try preparing meat in a marinade with herbs, spices, oils, and an acid. Prepare lean meats using low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, baking, and broiling. When trying to find the "leaner" or more heart healthy options, try having a "meatless" day of the week. Consume other sources of protein such as beans, peas, eggs, or nuts. Have a great National Nutrition Month putting your best fork forward and don't forget to eat lean!

All Purpose Marinade

½ cup olive oil

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

2 Tbs. minced garlic

2 Tbs. powdered mustard

2 Tbs. ground ginger

¼ cup brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Marinate for 24 hours, on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Excellent on tough cuts of beef, pork, chicken, or as a vegetable marinade.

Nutrition Facts: Calories 20, Fat 1.5g, Sodium 70mg, Carbs 1g, Fiber 0g

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