How to Incorporate Red Meat Into a Low-Cholesterol Diet

In This Article

Following a low-cholesterol diet may require you to make a number of changes to the way you currently eat. While some red meat choices are, in fact, high in cholesterol and saturated fat—and, therefore, not recommended for this type of eating plan—a low-cholesterol diet doesn't have to be entirely red meat-free.

The key to incorporating red meat (beef, pork, lamb, veal) into your diet without negatively affecting your blood cholesterol levels is to be selective about the meat you choose to eat. That means picking healthier, leaner types of meat and monitoring your portion sizes.

These red meat options can fit into your low-cholesterol diet and are great options to start with when planning your meals.

Avoid
  • Standard ground beef

  • "Prime" grades of beef

  • Processed meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, and high-fat luncheon meats)

  • Large portions (more than 3 ounces cooked of red meat)

Opt For
  • Extra-lean (95%) ground beef

  • "Choice" or "Select" grades of beef

  • Lean cuts of beef (round, sirloin, chuck, or loin)

  • Lean pork (tenderloin or loin chop)

  • Lean lamb (leg, arm, or loin)

  • Any veal (e.g., sirloin, rib chop, loin chop, and top round)

Hamburger

To make a healthy beef burger, choose 95% lean ground beef. If you only have 85% or 90% lean ground beef on hand, pour off the extra fat after browning the meat.

Be sure to also make smaller-sized hamburgers ("sliders") instead of full-size burgers. This means sticking to 3 ounces of cooked meat maximum per serving, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

To optimize your healthy eating, consider pairing your burger with Baked Sweet Potato Chips for a healthier take on classic burgers and fries.

Steak

If you are craving a steak, avoid high-fat steak cuts, such as skirt steak and rib-eye. Instead, choose leaner cuts like beef sirloin, top round, or bottom round, which are lower in saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol.

When buying beef at the grocery store, look for the words "choice" or "select" rather than "prime," which tends to signal fattier cuts. If you are unsure of what fits the bill, ask the butcher.

Finally, to balance out your high-protein meal, 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).

Beef Stew

Traditional beef stew is also usually filled with beef chucks that are high in saturated fat.

However, this Cozy Beef Stew recipe from the American Heart Association offers a slimmed-down, lower cholesterol alternative to the classic. The key here is to trim off as much visible fat as possible when preparing red meat for cooking.

In this recipe, all of the ingredients are mixed and cooked on low in a slow cooker for four to six hours.

Pork

When consuming pork, choose leaner cuts, like "round" or "loin." From the loin, you can make pork chops or cutlets (trim off any extra fat first) or pork tenderloin, which is basically free of fat.

Avoid fatty pork cuts, like pork belly, as well as processed pork products (e.g., ham, sausage, and bacon), which contain a lot of sodium and tend to be high in saturated fat.

Lamb and Veal

Lamb and veal tend to be lower-fat red meat options when compared to beef and pork. These tender meats can be grilled, roasted, or boiled and eaten in a variety of ways including cutlets, chops, or even meatballs.

Preparation and Cooking

When preparing any red meat, try to avoid or limit adding marinades or sauces that may add extra fat or salt, Instead, opt for lemon or lime juice, herbs, or spices to add flavor.

Use healthy cooking methods, such as baking, broiling, grilling, steaming, stewing, or roasting.

Avoid deep-fat and pan-frying your meats, which add saturated and trans fats. These raise your "bad" cholesterol level, which contributes to heart disease.

Consider Red Meat Substitutes

The fact that there are better red meat choices for a low-cholesterol diet still doesn't negate the fact that a diet high in any type of red meat can pose health consequences, including an increased risk of cancer.

According to Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as told to Harvard Men's Health Watch, "The evidence shows that people with a relatively low intake [of red meat] have lower health risks...a general recommendation is that people should stick to no more than two to three servings per week."

The following substitutes are great options to consider for the days you don't eat red meat:

  • Skinless chicken or turkey breast
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Tofu
  • Beans and lentils

All of these provide substantial protein, which can make for a satisfying meal.

Research suggests that a high protein meal can improve appetite control and satiety, which may lead to a decrease in food consumption at later meals.

Some of these protein options offer additional nutritional benefits as well. For instance, certain fish, like salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is a type of unsaturated fat that can actually lower your risk of heart disease.

You might also consider "fake meat" burgers, such as the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger, which have been specifically designed to closely mimic red meat. (Just be sure to monitor your overall sodium intake if you opt for non-meat burgers.)

A Word From Verywell

Red meat can have a place in your diet. In fact, it is an excellent source of protein and contains many important vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc. You just need to make careful choices.

Although getting started on food changes like this can take work, they will soon become a habit. Begin by stocking your freezer and grocery list with heart-healthy lean red meats. Then, consider factors like your cooking style and portion control. Chances are, you'll soon see that healthier choices let you forego some cholesterol without sacrificing flavor.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beef grading shields.

  3. American Heart Association. (2020). Cozy Beef Stew.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (March 2019). Healthy eating for a healthy weight: planning meals.

  5. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. What's the beef with red meat?

  6. Brennan IM et al. Effects of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrate and Protein Load on Appetite, Plasma Cholecystokinin, Peptide YY, and Ghrelin, and Energy Intake in Lean and Obese Men. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 Jul;303(1):G129-40. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.00478.2011

  7. 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

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