Low-Cholesterol Food Swaps for Red Meat

Close-Up of veggie Burgers

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If you think a low-cholesterol diet has to be meat-free, think again. While some meat choices are, in fact, high in cholesterol and saturated fat, others are not and can fit into a heart-healthy diet. Red meat also is an excellent source of many important vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

If you want to include red meat in your low-cholesterol diet, be selective about the meat you choose. Avoid standard ground beef, bacon, organ meats (such as liver) and processed meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs and high-fat luncheon meats), which can be super high in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Try these yummy heart-healthy food swaps to make menu planning a breeze.

Heart-Healthy Swaps

  • Swap beef burgers for vegetable or soybean burgers. Or, to make a healthier beef burger, choose 90% lean (or leaner) ground beef and make smaller-sized "sliders" instead of burgers—stick to 3 oz. max per serving. Pair with baked sweet potato fries for a healthier take on classic burgers and fries.
  • Swap high-fat steak cuts, such as filet mignon, T-bones, skirt steak, and rib eye for sirloin, top round, or bottom round, which are lower in saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol than the first group. Also, look for the words "Choice" or "Select" rather than "Prime," which tends to signal fattier cuts.
  • Swap beef or chicken thighs in stir-fry with tempeh, seitan, or tofu. These vegetarian substitutes are excellent sources of protein and readily take on the flavor of sauces and spices. Adding meatless options to your weekly rotation is a smart move for heart health.
  • Swap traditional beef stew for cozy beef stew, a slimmed-down, lower- cholesterol alternative to the classic.
  • Swap meatloaf for mini chicken meatloaves and fill the rest of your plate with nutrient-rich dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli or spinach and a small serving of a healthy starch (peas or a small baked potato, for instance).
  • Swap beef meatballs with these tasty chicken mushroom zucchini meatballs to cut saturated fat from your meal. Pair with whole wheat pasta and add as many vegetables as you can fit. (Onions, broccoli, green and red peppers, and mushroom work well).

Although getting started on food changes like this can take work, it'll soon become a habit. Begin by stocking your freezer and grocery list with heart-healthy lean meats and meat substitutes. Replace the meat in your family's favorite recipes with these low-cholesterol alternatives, and you'll soon see that these meat swaps let you forgo some cholesterol without sacrificing flavor.

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  1. Sharma S, Sheehy T, Kolonel LN. Contribution of meat to vitamin B₁₂, iron and zinc intakes in five ethnic groups in the USA: implications for developing food-based dietary guidelines. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013;26(2):156-68. doi:10.1111/jhn.12035

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beef grading shields.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food data central: tempeh. Updated April 1, 2019.

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