The “unhealthy” Western dietary pattern is commonly characterized by high intakes of refined grains, sugar, red meat, and other animal products. This dietary pattern has frequently been associated with negative health outcomes such as an increased risk of colon cancer, heart attack, and diabetes. On the other hand, dietary patterns incorporating higher intakes of fish, poultry, whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been shown to improve health. Therefore, many food and nutrition scientists incorrectly assume that all components of the Western dietary pattern are equally bad; often advising individuals to avoid red meat, even in the absence of clear scientific evidence.
Many Americans who enjoy beef commonly choose lean cuts and report better adherence to dietary guidance versus those who eliminate red meat consumption. Beef’s contribution to saturated fat intake in the U.S. is often overstated, and beef is not one of the top five contributors to saturated fat intake in the American diet. Nearly two-thirds of beef cuts sold at retail today are considered lean by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sirloin steak contains approximately one-third less fat than it contained in the 1960’s. Today, beef consumption contributes only about 5% of the calories consumed in the American diet.
So what’s the real beef with red meat? The bottom line is that there really isn’t much if you’re eating lean cuts. My advice is to limit all foods high in saturated fat (i.e. a fast-food cheeseburger) and focus on eating lean cuts of red meat. Cutting the external fat off of a steak before you eat will save you a ton of calories! Grilling is a better option for burgers since a large portion of the saturated fat melts off the meat during cooking.
I should mention that a recent clinical trial of healthy individuals on the DASH (i.e. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet showed improvements in systolic blood pressure when 153 grams of lean beef was added back to the diet, as compared to a healthy control diet that was lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates.