Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Skirt Steak Bad For You?



Short answer

Skirt steak is a protein-rich cut offering vitamins, and it is also loaded with iron, zinc, and other micronutrients. However, it contains saturated fats, which should be limited in a balanced diet. To enjoy steak responsibly, one should focus on portion control, opt for leaner cuts, and use healthier cooking methods. Grilling can introduce carcinogens, so it's essential to apply smart grilling techniques. Skirt steak can be part of a varied diet if consumed in moderation, paired with vegetables, and cooked carefully.



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Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Skirt Steak

When exploring whether skirt steak is beneficial or detrimental to one's health, it's essential to examine its nutritional composition. Skirt steak, a cut from the diaphragm muscles of the cow, is known for its robust flavor and a texture that's best enjoyed when cooked properly. Here we delve into the macro- and micronutrients that contribute to the profile of this popular cut of beef.

Macronutrients: Skirt steak is a protein-rich food, which is fundamental for muscle repair, enzymatic functions, and overall tissue health. A typical serving size, which is about 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked skirt steak, contains approximately:

  • Calories: 217
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Total Fat: 14 grams, which includes a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams, as skirt steak does not contain any carbs

The macronutrient balance makes skirt steak a high-energy food with significant protein, suitable for those looking to increase their protein intake.

Micronutrients: Beyond the macros, skirt steak offers several vitamins and minerals that are integral for maintaining good health. These include:

  • Iron: Crucial for oxygen transport and energy levels, animal sources of iron like skirt steak are highly bioavailable.
  • Zinc: Supports the immune system and metabolic processes.
  • Vitamin B12: Essential for red blood cell formation and neurological function, skirt steak is an excellent source of this nutrient.
  • Selenium: Plays a role in antioxidant defenses and thyroid function.
Nutrient Amount per 3 oz (85g) % Daily Value (DV)
Iron 1.5 mg 8%
Zinc 4.0 mg 27%
Vitamin B12 1.4 mcg 23%
Selenium 14.5 mcg 21%

It's also worth noting that while a rich source of certain B vitamins, skirt steak lacks others such as vitamin A and C, indicating that it should be eaten as part of a varied diet.

Whenever discussing fats in meats, the type of fats present cannot be overlooked. Skirt steak contains saturated fat, which, when consumed in excess, is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions. However, it also provides monounsaturated fats, known for their heart-healthy properties. The balance of these fats is significant in understanding the overall impact of consuming skirt steak on one's dietary health.

In terms of cholesterol, skirt steak contains about 57 mg per 3-ounce serving. Dietary cholesterol has been a subject of debate but recent guidelines suggest that it has less effect on blood cholesterol levels than once thought, especially when compared to the impact of saturated fats.

Overall, the nutritional profile of skirt steak offers a potent dose of protein and essential nutrients. Still, it's best consumed in moderation and balanced with other nutrient-rich foods to maintain a varied and healthful diet. Scientific research such as that located in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates the importance of considering portion sizes and cooking methods to maximize nutritional benefits while minimizing health risks associated with high-saturated fat and cholesterol intake.

Saturated Fat Content and Heart Health Implications

Skirt steak, like many cuts of red meat, is a source of saturated fat. The content of saturated fat in skirt steak can vary depending on factors such as the cut’s thickness and how much external fat is trimmed before cooking. In a typical serving size of 3 ounces (85 grams), skirt steak contains approximately 4 to 5 grams of saturated fat.

It is widely recognized that saturated fats can raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the intake of saturated fats to less than 6 percent of total daily calories. For an individual consuming a 2,000 calorie diet, this would equate to around 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

It's important to understand the implications of consuming high levels of saturated fat:

  • Increase in LDL cholesterol: A diet high in saturated fats can lead to an elevation in LDL or "bad" cholesterol, which contributes to the buildup of plaques within artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Impact on heart health: While the intake of saturated fat is only one factor in heart disease risk, it is a significant one, and its reduction should be part of a holistic approach to improve cardiovascular health.
  • Dietary Balance: A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients and limits the intake of saturated fats is generally recommended for maintaining good health.

Recent studies have also brought to light the potential nuance in the impact of saturated fat on health. For instance, a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that there isn't enough evidence to definitively associate saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. However, this remains a contentious area of research, and most public health guidelines continue to advise moderation in saturated fat consumption.

It is also worth mentioning that skirt steak provides beneficial nutrients, such as protein, iron, and B-vitamins, which are important for maintaining muscle mass, oxygen transportation, and energy production, respectively. For those concerned with saturated fat intake, opting for leaner cuts of meat, trimming excess fat, and moderating portion sizes can help manage consumption.

In conclusion, while skirt steak can fit into a healthy eating pattern, being mindful of portion sizes and preparation methods can help mitigate the risk associated with saturated fat consumption. When it comes to heart health, the key is to enjoy skirt steak in moderation, as part of a varied and balanced diet, while also incorporating other heart-healthy protein sources like fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts.

Grilling and Carcinogens: How Cooking Method Matters

When assessing the health implications of skirt steak, it is crucial to consider the method of cooking, particularly grilling. Grilling meats at high temperatures can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer in numerous studies.

HCAs form when amino acids, sugars, and creatine—a substance found in muscle—react at high temperatures. PAHs, on the other hand, are created when fat and juices from the meat drip onto the fire, causing flames and smoke, which then adhere to the surface of the meat. The National Cancer Institute points to these chemicals as potential carcinogens that can alter DNA and increase cancer risk when consumed in significant quantities.

  • Research Findings: One study published in the Journal of Cancer Research stated that high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats was associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
  • Temperature and Time: The higher the cooking temperature and the longer the meat is cooked, the more HCAs and PAHs are likely to form. Skirt steak, being relatively thin, cooks quickly, which may help reduce overall exposure to these carcinogens when compared to thicker cuts of meat.
  • Flipping Frequency: Another factor to consider is how often the meat is flipped on the grill. Research suggests that flipping meat frequently can reduce HCA formation by avoiding prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
  • Marinating: Marinating meats has been found to be beneficial. A study in the Journal of Food Science showed that certain marinades could reduce the formation of HCAs by up to 99%. Ingredients like garlic, onion, and lemon could potentially reduce carcinogens, adding an extra layer of protection along with flavor.

It is also worth noting that not all grilling will pose the same level of risk. Using methods that reduce smoke contact with the meat, controlling flame flare-ups, and avoiding charring can all mitigate the formation of carcinogens. Pre-cooking meat in a microwave for 2 minutes and discarding the juices before grilling can also dramatically reduce the amount of PAHs formed.

For those who enjoy grilling skirt steak, implementing safer grilling practices is the key to reducing carcinogenic risk. Eating such grilled meats in moderation, opting for less charring, marinating, and including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can all contribute to a balanced and healthful diet. It’s not just about what you cook, but how you cook it that can influence health outcomes.

Portion Control and Red Meat Consumption Guidelines

When it comes to consuming red meat such as skirt steak, portion control is a crucial factor. The portion size can significantly impact your overall health and dietary balance. A standard serving of red meat is often considered to be roughly 3 ounces (85 grams) – about the size of a deck of cards. Eating red meat in moderation is key to reaping its benefits, which include being an excellent source of protein, vitamins B12 and B6, iron, zinc, and niacin, without overindulging in potentially harmful substances like saturated fats and heme iron.

According to The American Heart Association, it is advisable to consume a variety of protein sources, limiting red meat intake and opting for lean cuts when it's included in the diet. They suggest opting for two servings of 3.5 ounces of cooked meat, fish or chicken a week. Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association have also indicated that consuming high amounts of red meat, particularly processed red meat, may be associated with a modest increase in the risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

For those who enjoy red meat like skirt steak, here are some guidelines for healthier consumption:

  • Opt for lean cuts: Skirt steak is known to have a moderate fat content, but seek out leaner cuts and trim any excess fat before cooking to reduce saturated fat intake.
  • Correct portion size: Aim for a portion that is no larger than 3 ounces of cooked meat, which is enough to provide beneficial nutrients without excessive fat and calories.
  • Balance with plant foods: Complement red meat dishes with a generous serving of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to balance the meal with fiber and additional nutrients.
  • Limit frequency: Enjoy red meat in moderation, preferably no more than a few times per week, to adhere to dietary guidelines and reduce health risks associated with overconsumption.
  • Cooking methods matter: Prefer grilling, broiling, roasting, or pan-frying with minimal added fat, and avoid charring the meat to reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds.

While skirt steak can be a flavorful and nutritious addition to the diet, it is essential to be mindful of the quantity and frequency of consumption. By adhering to recommended portion sizes and consumption guidelines, individuals can enjoy the benefits of red meat while minimizing potential health risks. As nutrition science evolves, it's important to stay informed about the latest research and dietary recommendations to make the best choices for your health.

Ways to Incorporate Skirt Steak into a Balanced Diet

Including skirt steak in a balanced diet requires mindfulness about portion sizes, preparation methods, and accompaniments. Skirt steak, like other cuts of beef, is rich in essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, and B vitamins, but it also contains saturated fats and cholesterol, which should be consumed in moderation. Below, find tips and suggestions on how to enjoy skirt steak while maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet.

  • Portion Control: Start with proper portion sizes—about 3-4 ounces (85-113 grams) of cooked meat per serving. This amount fits well within dietary guidelines, ensuring that you receive the benefits of the meat's nutrients without overindulging in fats and calories.
  • Cooking Methods: Opt for healthier cooking methods like grilling, broiling, or pan-searing with minimal added fats. Avoid deep-frying or cooking methods that increase fat content. Using herbs, spices, and marinades can enhance flavor without the need for excess salt or oil.
  • Lean Cuts: Trim any visible fat from the skirt steak before cooking to reduce the saturated fat content. Skirt steak is already a leaner cut, which makes it a suitable choice for those monitoring their fat intake.
  • Balance with Vegetables: Make vegetables the star of the meal by serving a larger portion of non-starchy vegetables alongside the steak. Vegetables like leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, and asparagus provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals with few calories.
  • Whole Grains: Complement the skirt steak with a serving of whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or farro. Whole grains contribute fiber and nutrients that help in maintaining a healthy digestive system and can make you feel fuller longer.
  • Healthy Fats: Incorporate healthy fats by adding avocado slices, nuts, or a drizzle of olive oil on your vegetables or salad. These fats are beneficial for heart health and can also help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Moderation: Enjoy skirt steak occasionally, as part of a diet that includes varied protein sources like fish, poultry, legumes, and tofu. This aids in providing a broader range of nutrients and reduces the risk of consuming too much red meat, which has been linked to certain health issues when eaten in excess.

Remember, incorporating skirt steak into your diet is about making mindful choices that balance the enjoyment of this flavorful cut with your overall health goals. As always, consult with a registered dietitian or health professional to tailor your diet to your specific needs and medical history.

Frequently asked questions

Individuals with heart disease, high cholesterol, or those following a diet restricted in saturated fats should consume skirt steak judiciously due to its saturated fat content. Moreover, portion size and frequency should be carefully considered for those at risk of iron overload conditions such as hemochromatosis.

To enjoy skirt steak while managing heart disease risk, focus on portion control, limiting servings to about 3 ounces. Choose cooking methods that don't add extra fat, such as grilling or broiling, and balance your meal with heart-healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Yes, skirt steak is an excellent choice for those looking to boost their iron intake. It's a bioavailable source of heme iron, meaning it's efficiently absorbed by the body, making it beneficial for people with iron deficiency or those who require more iron, such as pregnant women and athletes.

To reduce carcinogen exposure, avoid cooking the meat at extremely high temperatures and refrain from charring the steak. Flip the steak frequently during grilling, use marinades rich in antioxidants, pre-cook the meat slightly to reduce grilling time, and trim excess fat to prevent flare-ups and reduce smoke.

Ask a question about Skirt Steak and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • potential increase in ldl cholesterol
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • elevated blood cholesterol levels

Possible long-term side effects

  • risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer
  • increased risk of heart disease and stroke

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high protein
  • rich in iron, zinc, vitamin b12, selenium
  • no carbohydrates
  • high bioavailability of iron
  • supports muscle repair, immune system, and metabolic processes

Healthier alternatives

  • leaner cuts of meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • plant-based protein sources
  • cooking methods that reduce carcinogen formation

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Laura's Lean Ground Beef

  • 92% Lean
  • 10 grams protein
  • 1 pound packages
  • Grass-fed beef
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 05-06-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 05-06-2024

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