Be Nice To Your Waistline By Keeping Lean Beef On Your Holiday Menu

Mary_Lee_ChinMary Lee Chin, MS, RD, Food and Nutrition Consultant in Denver, Colo.

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As a registered dietitian, I understand it can be difficult to be health and weight conscious during this hectic time when we juggle travel, party planning and gift buying along with our regular schedules. On top of that, we hear a lot of myths about how to be healthy, such as don’t eat this or that. My best advice to help avoid holiday weight gain is to be nice instead of naughty and build your meals on a foundation of healthful foods. A way to lighten holiday fare is to focus on serving nutrient-rich choices from these important food groups: lean meats, low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Lean beef, with its high concentration of essential amino acids delivers high quality protein content, and easily fits into your healthier holiday meal planning and entertaining.

Research continues to illustrate the critical role high-quality protein plays in optimal health: maintaining muscle, fueling activity, and managing weight. Animal sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy tend to have a higher percentage of essential amino acids than plant sources and are more well correlated to inducing fat loss. Protein-rich lean beef can help in preserving lean muscle mass which contributes to the burning of fat. Coupled with exercise, lean beef can help you build muscle strength while you work to lose or maintain weight this holiday season.

Holiday celebrations can too often mean fat and sugar loaded treats that are too high in calories and too low in nutrient content. Including lean beef can help balance the nutrition scales. Beef is a natural source of 10 essential nutrients, such as a readily available and easily absorbed source of iron and zinc. Iron is a part of all cells and many enzymes. It carries oxygen from lungs throughout the body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. Zinc is vital for many biological functions, especially effecting our all-important immune system and physical and mental development. Beef also is an excellent source of B vitamins which help convert foods into energy to fuel your activity during these busy days. And its content of Vitamin B12 specifically promotes growth and helps maintain brain function.

Several studies show that protein generally increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat and may aid a reduction in overall calorie consumption.  Translate that into action by eating half of a lean roast beef sandwich on whole grain bread before you go out to the holiday buffet party. Blunting your appetite can help prevent your head first dive into the rich dips, creamy desserts and holiday cakes and cookies.

The American Psychological Association reports that half of women experience heightened stress during the holidays due to extra time spent on parties, cooking and shopping. Add in health and weight considerations and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s no wonder we are seeking healthier, and simpler, alternatives.

With beef, you have so many choices to lighten up your menu during the holidays, and simplify your cooking as well. Today there are 29 cuts of beef which meet government guidelines for leanness which includes many popular cuts. One tip: when shopping, make sure to look for lean sources of meat with the word “loin” in the name, such as sirloin or tenderloin. Loin cuts provide lean menu options for both everyday eating and holiday entertaining.

Before you face a busy day of mall shopping, place a bottom round roast with seasoning, winter root vegetables and red wine in a slow cooker. You’ll come home to an impossibly tender roast, and savory vegetables. Add some whole wheat rolls and you have a nutrient-rich, tasty—and easy meal after a tiring day.

Need appealing appetizers? Thinly slice sirloin and skewer with red and green peppers for color and crunch. Glaze with barbeque sauce, broil quickly and watch them disappear. Or make your mother’s famous meatball recipe with 95% lean ground beef. You’ll have great taste and the nutrition benefits of high quality beef.

Holiday happenings are special…and the food should be too. Whether you’re throwing a big bash or hosting an intimate evening, holiday entertaining for friends and family can present a challenge for serving spectacular, yet easy to prepare and healthier food and refreshment. Our family tradition is to carve a whole beef tenderloin for our holiday meal. It’s served with a sauce made from horseradish and low-fat yogurt, and rounded out with salad, roasted vegetables and whole grain rolls. It’s a spectacular entrée; indulgent, elegant and yet still very nutritious and low in calories. Since beef tenderloin is easy to prepare and cooks so quickly I spend more time with friends and family in the living room than isolated in the kitchen.

So is there room for dessert? Of course, satiated by good food, and good company, we always have a bit of room for the traditional family apple pie and chocolate cake. You should absolutely savor holiday treats; just keep portions within reason and treat them as,  well “treats,” not the focus of eating.

Include lean beef in your holidays and you’ll receive the benefits good taste, ease of preparation and nutritious eating, without sacrificing your waistline.

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