Chewing the fat over 'lean' ground beef
When it comes to ground meat, the term "lean" doesn't always mean low fat.
Claims of percent-lean labels on ground beef often mislead consumers because they're based on a product's weight, not its nutrient content.
An 80 percent-lean label on ground beef may sound healthy, but it's actually one of the fattiest meats available -- 70 percent of its calories from fat.
To calculate percentage of calories from fat, divide calories from fat by total calories then multiply by 100.
For example, if four ounces of 80 percent-lean ground beef contains 288 calories and 22 grams of fat you would multiply 22 grams of fat by nine (there are nine calories per gram of fat) to arrive at 203 calories from fat. Divide 203 by 288 then multiply by 100.
Ground beef that's 93 percent lean may be a less fatty choice, but it still derives 50 percent of calories from fat (four ounces worth contains 200 calories and 11 grams of fat).
Sure makes you think twice about ordering a burger at a restaurant, where regular ground beef is typically served to the tune of about 30 grams of fat in four ounces.
Current dietary guidelines for American adults promote limiting fat in the diet to 20 to 35 percent of daily calories. If you consume 2,000 calories daily, that equates to about 75 grams of fat maximum.
Fatty or lean, red meat consumption has been linked to increased health risks.
One study a few years back tracked more than a half million Americans for 10 years and found that those individuals who ate the most red meat (about five ounces daily) were about 30 percent more likely to die -- mostly of cancer or heart disease -- than those who ate the least (two-thirds of an ounce daily).
More research is needed to find out exactly what about red meat is disease-promoting, not to mention whether something else about meat-eaters raises health risks.
While this study found that white meat such as chicken and turkey posed no health risk, that doesn't mean you should ignore ground poultry labels. So if you decide to throw a chicken or turkey burger on the grill, make sure you buy "ground chicken breast" or "ground turkey breast."
Products labeled as "ground chicken" or "ground turkey" means you're getting meat plus other bird parts like the fatty skin. Ground chicken contains 60 percent of calories from fat while ground chicken breast contains just 11 percent.
Bottom line: limit red meat to not much more than one four-ounce serving a week. The rest of the week, replace your traditional burger with lean poultry, fish and some vegetarian options. Some meatless recipe ideas include salmon burgers, chickpea patties or black bean burgers.
Pre-made vegetarian burgers tend to taste much better when grilled. And don't forget to grill up lots of colorful produce, like corn on the cob, marinated Portobello mushrooms and veggie kebobs with a fruity twist of pineapple.
Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Foodspeak column appears monthly. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.