- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Think a juicy steak has no place in a healthy diet? Think again.

Studies linking consumption of red meat to all sorts of health issues certainly have dealt beef some seriously bad press, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy moderate amounts of extra-lean and lean beef.

Beef is an excellent source of protein and a great source of vitamins B6 and B12, as well as zinc and selenium.

As with so many foods, it’s all a matter of making smart choices. Knowing how to read the labels will help.

A 31/2-ounce serving of beef qualifies as “lean” if it has fewer than 10 grams of total fat and no more than 41/2 grams of saturated fat. For perspective, a person eating a 2,000-calorie diet shouldn’t exceed 20 grams of saturated fat a day, federal guidelines say.

The same amount of “extra-lean” beef must have fewer than 5 grams total fat and 2 grams or less of saturated fat.

The trouble with these cuts is that less fat generally means tougher meat. This means you’ll need to select carefully the most appropriate cut for whichever cooking method you plan to use.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Top, eye and bottom round steaks and roasts are extra-lean but can be quite tough. These cuts do best when prepared using a wet cooking method, such as braising or stewing. This helps tenderize the meat.

• Top round steak has a bit more fat, but still is considered extra-lean. Often sold as London broil, this cut can be grilled but will become leathery if overcooked.

• Shoulder roasts and steaks, as well as chuck, also are extra-lean. These are flavorful, less expensive cuts. They are well suited to wet methods of cooking, such as braising. Consider skimming the fat from the surface of the liquid to further reduce fat.

• Cuts from the short loin, such as strip steaks, T-bones and tenderloin, are pricier and higher in fat (although still labeled lean) and therefore more tender and flavorful. These are the best cuts for grilling and broiling with a simple seasoning.

• Sirloin and top sirloin are less expensive options for grilling and broiling. Because these cuts are the highest in fat within the extra-lean category, they hold up well to these methods of cooking.

Sirloin steaks can be especially tasty when seasoned with a flavorful rub, such as in this recipe, which uses coffee beans and cocoa powder. Because sirloin is so lean, cooking it past medium will dry it out.

Remember, serving size is important for healthy moderation.

Steakhouse-size portions usually are enough for at least two persons. A realistic steak dinner should start with a 4-ounce raw portion that will cook down to about 31/2 ounces.

Coffee-and-cocoa-encrusted sirloin

From start to finish, this recipe takes 25 minutes.

2 tablespoons very finely ground coffee beans (not flavored beans)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 pound sirloin steak, about 1-inch thick, trimmed of fat

½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a gas grill to high, or prepare a charcoal fire.

In a pie plate or glass baking dish, combine coffee, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

Rub the steak with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Coat the steak with the coffee-cocoa mixture, pressing it into the meat.

Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice across the grain and serve with collected juices.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 214 calories; 7 g fat (3 g saturated); 62 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 1 g fiber; 140 mg sodium.

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