How To Pick A Better Steak

Yesterday I attended our county Ag Day for 4th graders.  My colleague and I set up a board about beef and talked about breeds, cuts and grading to 700 students.  Needless to say,  Iwas pretty worn out by the end of the day.  But overall I felt good about helping children learn more about their food.  I also realized that some of the teachers appeared to be learning new things when they listened to our five minute spiel.  My husband and I have had the conversation a few times that most people have no idea what a good steak should look like.  And I imagine that not everyone has had the chance to taste a really good steak.  We have the luxury of eating the meat we raise on the farm.  These angus cattle have been specially selected and bred to make great meat.  I think most people have heard of prime steaks but does the lay person have any idea what that means? 

On our beef board at Ag Day, there were pictures of ribeyes cut between the 12th and 13th rib.    This is where the USDA inspector will evaluate the meat to determine the quality grade–Prime, Choice, Select or Standard.  Graders evaluate the amount and distribution of marbling in the ribeye muscle at the cut surface.   Degree of marbling is the primary determination of quality grade.  Marbling is intramuscular fat.  It is the white flecks seen within the muscle.  This fat is responsible for the flavor, tenderness and juiciness of the meat.

For a long time the recommendation for good health has been to eat lean beef.  Dietitians choose USDA Select over higher marbling beef to cut back on fat.  However, Select ground beef had the worst ratio of healthy monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids, at 0.75.  Thanks to marbling, Prime beef had a ratio of 1.33.  The bad fat is the extramuscular fat–the hard white fat outside the muscle that can be trimmed away.  Research has shown that marbling (remember it’s those white flecks inside the muscle) should be considered a good fat.  It contains the valuable fatty acid known as oleic acid. 

Oleic acid is a simple (monounsaturated) fat prevalent in olive oil.  Oleic acid is one of the sources of good cholesterol, as it helps in lowering the total level of cholesterol in the body.  It also lowers the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol while increasing the levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol that is required for the overall health of an individual.  Oleic acid is rich in antioxidants that help in fighting the effects of free radicals in the body.  It also boosts the immune system and helps in fighting diseases.  Oleic acid is also used as an antioxidant supplement.  It strengthens the cell membrane integrity and helps in repairing cells and tissue damage.  It boosts memory power and optimizes the functions of the brain and neurological transmission.  Oleic acid acts as an energy booster for different functions of the body.

When speaking with the 4th graders, I pointed out that you can choose a better piece of meat at the store by comparing the amount of marbling.  If you want a more flavorful and more tender steak, pick the one that has more white flecks.  I hope that some of those kids will be able to tell their parents about marbling and maybe those families will not be subjected to eating bad meat anymore!