Imagine your dinner plate divided into three sections. A 3-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish should account for just one-third of the plate. Another one-third should contain starches, like potatoes and rice, and the other one-third should contain vegetables. As important as the total amount, however, is the amount of fat that accompanies the meat selected.
In an attempt to appeal to our health consciousness, beef and pork producers are raising leaner animals and offering leaner cuts of meat in the grocery store. The leanest cuts of beef usually are labeled USDA "choice" and "select," with select having the least amount of fat. Select cuts may not be as tender and juicy as choice cuts. Cuts with the words "loin" or "round" in the name generally have the least amount of fat.
Although both loin and round cuts are the most lean, they differ in tenderness and cooking methods. Loin cuts are more tender and are most appropriate for dry heat cooking methods. Round cuts are generally less tender, but can be tenderized in three ways: by pounding, by marinating or by moist heat cooking methods.
When choosing ground meat, look for packages that have a greater percent lean to percent fat ratio. This description should be used as a guideline for choosing leaner varieties of ground meats since the greater the percent lean, the leaner the product. Rinsing the cooked ground meat can help remove fat.
The rule of thumb for choosing the leanest cuts of pork and lamb is to look for the words "loin" or "leg," as in lamb leg shank, half roast, sirloin roast, pork tenderloin or loin chop.
Loin cuts are usually the most tender. Some leg cuts may be less tender and can be tenderized by marinating or moist heat cooking.
All cuts of veal generally are considered lean. Some of the lean cuts include cutlets, blade or arm steaks, rib roast and rib or loin chops. All cuts of veal can be cooked by dry heat methods.
White poultry meat has less fat than dark meat, and since poultry skin has a high fat content, it should be removed before eating. Recent research indicates that the skin does not have to be removed before cooking; however, it should be removed before eating to reduce overall fat content.
Although poultry usually is considered low in fat, some cuts of today's beef and pork have less fat and cholesterol than a chicken leg. For example, a 3-ounce portion of well-trimmed eye of round contains 4 grams of fat compared to 7 grams of fat in a 3-ounce portion of chicken leg (usually 2 legs) and 9 grams of fat in a 3-ounce portion of chicken thigh (usually 2 thighs), both roasted without the skin.
Even ground turkey, generally considered much leaner than ground beef, may or may not be. Like ground beef, the amount of fat in ground turkey depends on which parts and how much fat are incorporated into the grinding. There is no set standard for the amount of fat in ground turkey. Most ground turkey products on the market are a combination of white meat, dark meat and skin. The more dark meat and skin, the more fat and calories. If you want your ground turkey low in fat, ask for ground turkey breast.
You also can cut calories by using low-fat cooking techniques. Trim off visible fat from beef, lamb, pork or poultry before cooking. Remove the skin from poultry before serving - you can leave the skin on while it's cooking. Use cooking methods that do not require adding fat such as broiling, roasting or grilling (dry heat cooking methods). Dry heat cooking also includes panbroiling and stir-frying.
Low-fat, moist heat cooking methods include braising, stewing, poaching, boiling and steaming and may be used for cooking meat, poultry and fish. Moist heat methods generally involve cooking the meat, covered in a liquid of some type - flavored broth, wine, vinegar, fruit juice or water.
Whatever cooking methods you select, use nonstick cookware so it is not necessary to use extra fat.
For information on low-fat cooking techniques for lean and easy meats, send a self-addressed stamped (32 cents) envelope to Cooperative Extension Service, Washington County Office, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740. Mark the envelope "Meat."
Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.
Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences for University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.