Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Lean Beef?

There's some confusion about this whole lean vs. regular meat, so I thought I'd just take a second to clear something up.

First, the problem. The problem is, we're told over and over again that we need quality sources of protein. To this end, body building experts agree that meat is a necessary part of the diet. No matter what vegetarian sources have to say about veggie proteins, they just don't cut it for muscle building (they do make a good supplemental choice, however).

But then we're told to eat lean meats, like chicken and fish. Why? Isn't it true we're not supposed to be afraid of eating fat anymore?

Yes, that's basically true. We need fats in order to function properly and to keep the metabolism primed for burning fat. However, we should take steps to avoid trans fats and saturated fats, as these are not helpful to us in any way (in fact, they're quite dangerous over time). So why the emphasis on lean meat?

Basically it boils down like this: chicken and fish are excellent sources of protein, it's true. And both are essential sources of Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids (all three are necessary for good health, not just the Omega 3's). The last century of low-fat eating has caused a deficiency of these essential fatty acids in our diet, and they can only be replaced with proper nutrition. It turns out fish and chicken have these fats, so I don't often suggest people go with the super lean chicken breast all the time. Other cuts have fat value that is really important to your overall health.

However, beef provides something these other sources don't: iron. Iron is necessary for optimal health, especially if you're building muscle. Unfortunately, tasty beef is usually pretty fatty. That wouldn't normally be a problem, except that in fatty beef, the fat is a storage shed for all the hormones and antibiotics the steer is injected with. The hormones are especially problematic, because in order to create that lovely marbled texture that makes it so tender the animal is injected with estrogen.

Estrogen. Like, as in, the stuff that makes boobs. Estrogen in meat is a growing health concern across the board of course, but for men in particular it raises issues like man boobs, prostate cancer, and lowered testosterone levels. When you lower testosterone you lose muscle building power. And when that happens the whole house of cards comes down. THIS is the reason lean cuts of beef are recommended.

I try to hit two meals per week with beef.

Now, to be fair, if you go looking for organic, grass-fed beef, you can forgo the warning. Those steers are not injected with anything, and the grass feeding actually keeps them healthier. It also produces a more nutrient-dense cut of meat. However, the meat will also be a bit tougher.

Dealing with this last problem is simple:

For a roast, cook it at a low temperature for two or more hours, making sure to keep adding water. When it's done, the meat should practically fall apart for you anyway. You can also stew it in a slow-cooker, which will have the added benefit of producing a nice stock for you to use later.

For a steak, make sure to bring the meat up to room temperature. Cook it hot and fast. Rare beef (which most chefs will tell you is the goal for a nice tender steak) should have an internal temperature of 140 degrees.  Medium will be about 160, and well-done 170 (with lean meat, this would be the shoe leather stage). The reason for bringing it to room temperature first is because if you come right out of the fridge with it, the internal temperature will be much lower for a lot longer, forcing you over-cook the meat.

And for a quick tip: Shave about five to ten degrees off the above numbers. Remove the meat from the skillet or grill, and let it rest, covered on a plate, for about 10-15 minutes. The meat will continue to heat up, but it will tenderize as it rests, making a much more succulent slab of cow.

So, chicken and fish: whatever. Beef, lean cuts. Clear enough?

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