Friday, June 15, 2012

Get Your Grill On: Keeping It Lean

Traditional cookout fare includes hot dogs, bratwursts, hamburgers and, here is St. Louis, pork steaks. In short, these are all high fat, high saturated fat cuts of meat. The first step in keeping your cookout menu healthy is to look for leaner cuts of meat. Your heart (and waistline) will thank you! Foods high in saturated fat are known to increase cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Plus fat has more calories per gram than any other nutrient, so higher fat foods contain more calories. Here are some simple and effective swaps:

Instead of regular pork or beef hot dogs, opt for reduced-fat or low-fat turkey franks. When I decide to splurge on a hot dog, my long-standing favorite is the Kosher brand Hebrew Nationals’s 97% Fat Free Beef Franks. Many processed meats, including most hot dogs, contain nitrates (a precursor to carcinogenic nitrosamines), and these still do. But the reductions in fat and saturated fat make it a better alternative if you plan to indulge in a dog.

The hamburger is still is a very viable option for your cookout; just select lean ground beef! Look for at least 90% lean beef (90/10) or ground sirloin. If you can, purchase 94 or 96% lean beef for the greatest reduction in calories, fat and saturated fat. My favorites are Laura's Lean and Trader Joe's; they don't tend to be as crumbly and dry. Turkey burgers are another good substitute for beef burgers; just make sure you purchase ground turkey breast. Regular ground turkey isn’t necessarily lower in fat than ground beef. 

To all my St. Louisan readers—I know pork steaks are a tradition here. But they’re also one of the higher calorie, higher fat cuts of pork! Swap the steaks for center cut pork chops or a tender and delicious pork tenderloin that you can slice and serve to your guests. If you’re buying beef steaks, also be on the lookout for the leanest cuts, such as sirloin, flank steak, filet mignon, top loin, tenderloin or T-bones. Use a marinade to help meats retain moisture and stay tender.

Chicken can be a very low-fat, low-saturated fat grilling option too and is one of the least expensive lean meats. Select white meat chicken cuts, like chicken breast, and make sure to remove the skin before eating. The dark meat is higher in fat content, but is an excellent source of iron.

Last but not least, consider fish! Fish is a heart-healthy, low fat protein food. Select any type of fish you like—halibut, tilapia, cod, salmon, scallops or shrimp. They’re all great grilling options. Try marinating in one teaspoon lemon juice per serving with herbs to add more flavor.

When selecting meats to grill, bring home the leanest cut you can. Secondly, make sure to keep an eye on portion size. Most adults require only about six ounces of meat or protein foods per day in order to control calorie and fat intake. You can have your meat and eat it too…just choose carefully!