Red Meat often gets a bad rap. But if you stick to the leanest offerings available, your favorite cuts of steak aren’t just good for you, they provide a bounty of nutritional benefits:
A FIRMER, LEANER BODY
Steak is a great source of protein—a typical serving actually exceeds your daily recommended intake. Protein helps you feel full and limits your calorie absorption, possibly by boosting levels of a hormone called peptide YY. And if you want to get the most out of your workout, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough—since it can help maintain muscle mass and reduce body fat during weight loss.
How dramatic are the results? Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people who increased their protein intake from the USDA’s recommended level of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight per day to 0.73 grams (still well within the USDA’s accepted range) lost more body fat and less muscle mass than the control group. These folks also decreased their carbohydrate intake from 1.3 grams per pound of body weight per day to 0.95 grams. A likely explanation is that protein-rich foods contain high levels of leucine, an amino acid that helps preserve muscle tissue. And larger muscles burn more calories, helping you lose weight.
LARGER, STRONGER MUSCLES
Protein may help you get the most out of your workout even if you’re not trying to lose weight. In another University of Illinois study, participants who followed a high-protein, high-intensity exercise program lost a significant amount of weight; almost 100% of the weight loss was fat. A high- foods such as eggs, dairy, and other meats—may help make the time you spend at the gym pay off even more.
A HEALTHIER HEART
Half the fat in beef is monounsaturated—the same good-for-you kind found in olive oil. And the levels of saturated fat in lean beef are comparable to those in fish and chicken.
A HEFTY DOSE OF VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Three ounces of lean beef provides as much zinc as 13 servings of tuna, as much vitamin B12 as eight skinless chicken breasts, and as much iron as three cups of raw spinach. Zinc helps with cell growth and improves immunity; it also speeds wound healing and can help suppress out-of-control hunger pangs. If that weren’t enough, the vitamin B12in steak promotes the body’s production of red blood cells, helps keep the brain and nervous system functioning at their peak, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and heart disease. And iron helps the body produce red blood cells and carry oxygen from the lungs to the blood cells and tissues.
DESIGNER BEEF: WORTH THE HYPE?
Steak used to be a pretty simple choice: Do you want T-bone or filet mignon? Medium-rare or well-done? But now the beef case at your grocery store offers a dizzying array of options, from grass-fed to Angus and dry-aged. Which are worth the extra money, and which are just window dressing?
Up until World War II, all beef cattle raised in the U.S. were grass-fed; now only 25% are. After the war, ranchers began taking advantage of an abundance of cheap corn and fattening their animals with it, rather than leasing out more expensive grasslands. Grass-fed beef is making a comeback in the U.S., and it’s already very popular in Latin and South American cuisine. The choice here is based mainly on how you like your steak to taste: Beef from grain-fed cattle is richer and milder in flavor; grass-fed beef is leaner and has a stronger flavor, more like wild deer and buffalo.
Any steak marked “Certified Angus Beef” is from a species of large, black cattle known as Angus. Since the meat is certified, there’s also added quality control over noncertified Angus cuts. Although you’re paying more, Steven Raichlen doesn’t think it’s always worth it. “It’s not the best beef you can buy, but as a nationally available product, it is very good.” KOBE
To truly be called Kobe beef, a piece of meat must come from the Japanese Wagyu breed of cattle. “These cows are fed beer and are massaged with sake,” says Raichlen. “They lead absolutely princely lives.” And the work pays off: Kobe beef is incredibly tender, smooth, and finely marbled. Some U.S. farms are raising Wagyu, and a few even claim to follow the Japanese fundamentals, but they don’t get the same results. “You can have a domestic Kobe beef that’s very good and hints at the real thing, but I’ve never tasted one that’s even a fifth as good as what’s in Japan,” says Raichlen. Most Kobe beef you see in American restaurants has been raised here; very little is imported, and if it is, it’s $100 a pound. The Japanese version is worth the extra cash; the domestic version probably isn’t. DRY-AGED
Ninety percent of American beef is aged in its own juices, in a vacuum-packed bag kept under refrigeration for about seven days. The other 10% is dry-aged, meaning it spends 10 days to six weeks under controlled temperatures and humidity before being shipped to restaurants and stores. The advantage is a more tender piece of meat, but dry-aged beef also has a certain taste that some have described as “musty.” It’s good, but unless you’re a fan of this unique flavor, it’s probably not worth the extra cost.