Tips to Decrease Fat Intake During the Holidays: Focus on Meats & Fish

IMPORTANT:  This blog is not intended to serve as medical advice on how to eat for the holidays.  If you have a disease that is directly affected by food (e.g. Celiac disease, Kidney failure, etc) then please see your doctor and dietitian for appropriate foods for the holidays.

It is that time of year again when all I can I think about is holiday food and drinks.  Despite my profession as a dietitian, I cannot let go of my food-loving, party-going nature during the holidays.  My friend asked me to blog on how to make holiday eating healthier while still using holiday favorites.  For the sake of controlling blog length, I will focus on limiting fats from meats and fish.

Holiday meats can be extremely high in fat and therefore calories.  Every gram of fat provides about 9 Calories - that is 2.2 times more caloric than carbohydrates or proteins.  This is a problem since one could find their weight creeping up over the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day).  Theoretically, 3500 extra calories over time will result in a 1 pound weight gain.  The extra consumption of saturated fats over the holiday season could also affect one's blood cholesterol and lipoprotein levels as well (this will be especially apparent if labs are taken in October, then again in January).  So, here are some tips to control fat intake from your favorite animal foods. 


* Skinless white meat is significantly lower in fat and calories than dark meat with skin.

* White meat with skin is similar in calories to skinless dark meat. 

* See USDA's National Nutrient Database for more information on calories and fat.



* Domesticated duck is significantly higher in calories, total fat, and saturated fat than other birds - it's more like a Porterhouse Steak.

* If you love duck, then try to find wild duck - the calorie and fat levels are similar to dark turkey meat with skin.



Grades:  choose lower-fat marbling:  "Prime" is highest in fat, "Choice" is second highest, and "Select" is lowest in fat.

- There is almost half the total fat and saturated fat in a Select grade vs. Prime grade for Porterhouse Steak.


Cuts:  choose leaner cuts such as eye round, top round, round tip, top sirloin, bottom round, top loin, and tenderloin.

- See the Beef Council's flyer for a list of the leanest cuts. 

- I also like the Mayo's Clinic's quick cheat sheet on buying leaner cuts of beef.

- Learn how to cook the leaner grades and cuts - lower fat cookbooks are helpful (e.g. Cooking Light)


Ground:  choose extra lean - the leanest available is 97% lean/3% fat.

- Hamburger or ground chuck can be as high in fat as 70% lean/30% fat.  

- See University of Wisconsin at Madison's Cooperative Extension's, "Reducing Fat Levels in Ground Beef.


Grass fed:

- Supposed to have a healthier mix of fat types as well as lower fat content - see CSU's Chico Agricultural Research Initiative.

- Keep in the mind the grade and cut issues described above for grass fed beef.



Cuts: the leanest cuts contain the words "loin" or "round" in their names (e.g. pork tenderloin)

- Pork tenderloin rivals skinless poultry meat in calories, total fat, and saturated fat.

- My favorite pork tenderloin recipe is the Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Maple-Chipotle Sauce.

- Although ham can be relatively lean, it is high in salt.  The non-cured pork cuts are much lower in salt.


Avoid bacon:  we all know that this is the fattiest cut

- This cut will have 3.6 times as many calories, and 10 times as many grams of total fat and saturated fat as pork tenderloin.

- According to the USDA National Nutrient Database each slice of pan-fried bacon contains 44 Calories, 3 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated.

- If you have to use bacon, then drain it on paper towels to lose some of the fat.  Use as a flavoring agent in small amounts.


Avoid pork ribs:  this cut is also very fatty. 

- Contains about 2 times the calories, and about 7 times as much total fat and saturated fat as pork tenderloin.



* Most species of fish/shellfish are lower in fat or contain healthier fats as long as they are NOT deep-fat fried. 

* Deep-fat frying fish and seafood will increase calories and fat grams by 150% (1.5 times higher) than if broiled or grilled.

* Choose fish that are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats but low in mercury.

- Salmon and trout are both high in omega-3 fats but low in mercury.

- Light tuna (the cheaper kind) is lower in mercury than the more expensive albacore tuna.

- Mackerel, shark, and sea bass can be quite high in mercury.

* In my last blog, I recommended an article to read on the subject of fish and contaminants (see Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health).  When you click on the link, you'll see an advertisement.  Please click below that to skip the advertisement.  You do not need a subscription to view the article.  This article was published 10/18/06 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 



* Skim the fat off pan drippings before using for gravy (fat will float to the top when it cools).

* Buy low-fat gravy if you do not make your own.


Portion Size

* Portion size becomes especially important for high-fat, high-calorie menu items.

* A standard portion of meat/fish is only 3 ounces - that is the size of a deck of cards.

* Increase portion size of the lower-fat, lower-calorie menu items (e.g. non-creamed veggies and whole grains).



Do you have a favorite recipe that you have modified so that it is healthier?  Would you like to share it?  I would love to hear from readers!


Best -


2 Responses

  1. Kathy's sister
    Here's a great recipe that's easy to make and quite healthy. Put a pot of water on to boil. Throw your favorite vegetables in (or whatever you've got), if they are fast cooking vegetables, put them in later vs earlier. Throw in 1.5 cups of whole wheat pasta, let it cook for 9 minutes with the vegetables. When the pasta is done, the vegetables are sure to be done (though you don't want to overcook them, so plan accordingly). Drain the water. Dump it back in the pot. Drizzle olive oil, soy sauce, and throw spices of choice in (I like crushed garlic, but powdered does fine too), put the lid back on and shake the contents to coat everything in the drizzled stuff. Serve. This is very versatile depending on vegetables in season. It's easy to make and quite cheap depending on how you might shop. The trick to this, especially if you are trying to feed someone who thinks he's always hungry, is to add LOTS of vegetables and go even lighter on the pasta -- he thinks he's eating up a storm but in reality the calorie intake is minimized (go heavy on collards, onions, and mushrooms -- or throw in lots of turnips). This recipe works especially well if you have someone fighting you every breath of the way on portion CONTROL. It looks like you are eating a huge bowl of pasta, but really you are eating lots of vegetables.
  2. Kathy's sister
    Here's another one! Pasta fazool -- but it's not my recipe, it's a traditional one. 1/2 pot of water to boil, throw a few cubes of your favorite bouillion, then throw in 1 cup ww pasta, bag of frozen peas, small can of chick peas, cut up some mushrooms and onions -- throw those in too, throw in about a big handful of sliced black olives. When it's done, there won't be a lot of liquid, but broth. Split this between two people -- works great. Healthy and cheap. No oil either!