A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Exposing the Big Fat (Beef) Lie

This past weekend we hosted my daughter's high school soccer team for dinner. Yes, we actually invited seventeen teenage girls to our house for dinner (well, I didn't, but that's a moot point). My wife and daughter (the inviter) informed me that I would be grilling burgers, a role I was more than willing to accept since it would get me out of the house!

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song
It did cross my mind that out of seventeen teenage girls there may be a vegetarian in the group (about 5% of the U.S. population consider themselves vegetarian), but we didn't plan anything special. As it turned out, one of my daughter's teammates brought their own veggie "burger" (if it ain't beef, it's not a burger!) for me to grill. For the record, I don't have a problem with that. I'd rather throw a veggie patty on my grill than foul it with fowl!

All American Flame Grilled veggie burgers (complete with fake grills marks).  Just what I want for my Memorial Day barbecue. Not!
As I carried a big plate of beef burgers to the grill my wife handed me the box of Boca "All American Flame Grilled veggie burgers." OK, I'll admit I had to laugh at that. But what really caught my eye were three big numbers: 15g protein, 55% less fat, 120 calories. So 15 grams of protein and 120 calories per serving? Not bad (a 3 oz. serving of lean beef provides 25 grams of protein for about 150 calories). But 55% less fat than what? A ground beef hamburger? Wait a doggone minute.

A 3 oz. ground beef burger provides 25g protein for only about 150 calories.
I don't have any issue with someone choosing to follow a vegetarian diet. But I do have a problem with marketing efforts that spread the misconception that beef is fat. As I first pointed out two years ago on this blog, ground beef (and other ground meat products) comes in many different lean/fat combinations. My grovery store carries 80/20, 85/15, 90/10 or even 93/7. So 55% less fat than what type of ground beef? The label didn't say.

My preference for hamburgers is 85/15 gound beef. I think it gives you the perfect combo of consistency, juiciness and flavor. In fact, the ground beef my wife bought for the party was 85/15. Upon further inspection the veggie patties were 93% lean, 7% fat (93/7). At 7% fat the veggie patties would have 55% less fat than 85/15 ground beef (55% of 15% is ~8%).

So the veggie patty really did have about 55% less fat than the beef burgers I was serving before cooking. This is key, Because when you grill burgers a lot of the fat drips into the fire. I didn't see any fat dripping from the veggie patty. My beef burgers shrank up during the cooking process as the fat cooked out. The veggie patty never changed size. So my guess is the fat content of the cooked products were about the same.

I saw a similarly confusing label on a package of ground chicken burgers at my grocery store. The front of the package says they are 90% lean, 10% fat. OK, fine.
But then there's this flag on the package that says "50% Less Fat" in big letters then "Than USDA data for 80% Lean/20% Fat Ground Beef." Congratulations. You can do simple math. Yes, 10% fat is 50% less than 20% fat! But again, if you are concerned about fat content you can buy 93/7 ground beef, which meets the USDA definition of lean (less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat per serving).

I do think choosing lean cuts of meat is important. I typically grill lean beef cuts like tenderloin, strip steak or T-bone (a terndeloin on one side of the bone and strip on the other). There are more than 29 lean cuts of beef that have less fat than a chicken thigh. Here's a a simple guide to Choosing and Cooking Lean Meats including beef, pork and poultry.

I suppose beef should be proud that chicken and veggies feel the need to market their "burgers" by comparing them to the original, one and only, hamburger. But please stop calling beef fat. As the old ad says, It's not only mean, it's untrue!

Ride on!


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