All red meat is not created equal -- Yes, it can be part of a heart healthy diet

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Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, contributing to more than 22,000 deaths each day. While these statistics may seem alarming, what’s more shocking is that very few at-risk patients actually follow a heart-healthy diet as advised by the American Heart Association. While genetics certainly play a role, lifestyle can have a significant impact on cardiovascular health. But, when it comes to diet and heart disease prevention, the role of red meat is often debated, leaving patients confused and concerned. In the last several years, there has been a growing body of evidence showing lean beef’s positive role in a heart-healthy diet.

Most of us already know that our cholesterol levels play a significant role in determining risk for heart disease. Increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol” are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Studies show that particular types of saturated fats can further increase bad cholesterol levels. As a result of these findings, many leading health organizations recommend reducing saturated fat in the diet. This is commonly interpreted in vague, general statements such as “reduce intake of red meat” or “eat less beef” without taking into consideration the role of lean red meat. In short, not all red meat is created equal. For example, did you know that half of the fatty acids in a serving of beef are heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids, the same type of fat found in olive oil? Moreover, nearly one-third of the saturated fat in beef is stearic acid, a fatty acid that has been shown to have neutral effects on cholesterol levels.

According to the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, lean beef, which has less than 10 grams of total fat and 4.5 grams or fewer of saturated fat per 3.5-ounce serving, can fit in a heart-healthy dietary pattern. In addition, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is one of the premier heart-healthy diets recommended by health professionals today. This diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein, has been extensively studied in both observational as well as clinical trials and recommends up to six ounces of lean meat, including lean red meat, poultry or eggs, every day.

Dietary research supports the fact that adding more variety to protein choices – like lean beef – in a diet can be especially important in helping people enjoy and stick to heart-healthy diets long term.

We all know that diets can often be tough to follow and health professionals know that ensuring patients actually stick to a healthful diet plan is key for reducing cardiovascular disease risk. Diets that rely on restriction and exclusion of certain foods typically fail. A more effective diet strategy requires only small changes or subtle shifts in portion sizes that help people continue to enjoy the foods they like. The Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet – or BOLD – study applied that strategy to a DASH-style eating pattern by substituting lean beef for other proteins. The study found that 4-5.5 ounces of lean beef per day as the primary protein source in a DASH diet was just as effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels and improving blood pressure as a similar DASH diet plan limited in red meat.

Dietary research supports the fact that adding more variety to protein choices – like lean beef – in a DASH diet can be especially important in helping people enjoy and stick to heart-healthy diets long term.

So, How Can You Identify and Choose Lean Cuts of Beef?

Thanks to enhancements in cattle breeding and feeding as well as improved trimming practices, more than 60 percent of whole muscle beef cuts found in the supermarket are considered lean when cooked with visible fat trimmed.

? Look for cuts with “round” or “loin” in the name, such as Eye of Round, Top Sirloin and Tenderloin.

? For Ground Beef, choose 96% extra lean (4% fat).

? Trim off any excess fat before cooking.

? Enjoy smart portions. If you are not sure what the appropriate portion size for lean protein is, use your smart phone as a guide. A single 3-ounce serving of beef is about the size of a standard smart phone.

? Stick to an overall heart-healthy DASH-style diet, which, in addition to including lean protein, is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.

Heart disease continues to take the lives of millions of Americans each year. It is critical to understand our risk and modify the risk factors that we can impact through diet and heart-healthy lifestyle changes. So, take control, reduce your risk, and embrace small shifts towards improving your overall diet while still enjoying the foods you love.