Every time Mom comes to visit, we have the same discussion about beef. She says she can't eat it because of cholesterol. We say she can, as long as she's not hunkering down on some 10-ounce T-bone at every meal.

And every year as the National Western Stock Show rides into Denver, we think about that discussion and how we need to clarify the position of beef once again.Particularly this year.

In December, a major new study grabbed the headlines, not for cholesterol, but for cancer. The study found the strongest link to date between the fat in red meat and the incidence of colon cancer.

The study of 88,751 women from 1976 to 1986 found that those who eat beef, pork or lamb every day are more than twice as likely to develop colon cancer as those who eat meat less than once a month.

For some, that will be enough evidence to swear off red meat. But, as with any study, there is controversy. The overall incidence of colon cancer - 150 out of 88,751 people - was low. And the study was conducted at a time before beef was bred to the lean proportions of today.

"We're producing a much leaner product today with an even leaner product to come in this decade," says Karen Baker of the Colorado Beef Board. "Beef in the retail case today as opposed to the early 1980s has 27 percent less fat."

The operative word here is fat. "It's the red meat fat, not the meat itself, that's been linked to colon cancer," said Jennifer Anderson, nutrition professor at Colorado State University. "That's nothing new. We've said for ages you need to trim off the fat, you need to buy lean cuts, use small portions and cook in a way to remove the fat that's present."

The study left a lot of unanswered questions, Anderson said. "We don't know what's in the red meat fat that causes colon cancer. Is it a special type of fatty acid or the way it's activated in cooking? . . . And why wasn't animal fat from dairy sources, i.e. cheese, a factor in colon cancer?"

Until those questions are answered, beef is still the most efficient source of protein, iron and zinc. That's why John Lough of the American Institute for Cancer Research cautions against eliminating meat based on this one piece of research.

"What the public sees is a quick news release on a complicated issue, and I don't think we should make a lifestyle change based on one isolated study," Lough said.

Again, the important factor here is moderation. Anderson and Lough agree that meat can still fit into an overall diet.

The guidelines:

- Choose lean cuts and trim the visible fat. Lean cuts include flank steak and anything with loin or round in the title, as in sirloin or round steak.

- One 3-ounce portion of meat a day is adequate for nutritional needs; two 3-ounce portions are OK.

- To assess portion size, choose a serving no larger than a deck of cards.

Ginger-seasoned Sirloin Steak and Rice

1 boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1 inch thick (approximately 11/4 pounds)

1 tablespoon each fresh ginger, minced, (1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger may be substituted) and light soy sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 boil-in-bag (3.5 ounces) enriched pre-cooked natural long grain rice

1 green onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

Combine ginger, soy sauce, garlic and red pepper; reserve 1 teaspoon. Rub half of remaining mixture over each side of boneless beef top sirloin steak.

Place steak on rack in broiler pan 3 to 4 inches from heat. Broil 15 to 17 minutes to desired degree of doneness (rare or medium), turning once.

Meanwhile, prepare boil-in-bag rice according to package directions. Gently toss cooked rice, reserved soy sauce mixture, green onion and toasted almonds.

Slice steak across the grain into thin slices. Serve with seasoned rice. Serves 4.

Note: 8 ounces well-trimmed beef tenderloin, boneless sirloin or boneless beef top blade steaks may be substituted for beef top sirloin steak in the following recipes.

30-Minute Beef Burgundy

8 ounces well-trimmed boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1 inch thick

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon pepper

5 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided

1 medium onion, sliced

2 teaspoons flour

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/3 cup single-strength beef broth

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Burgundy wine, divided (or beef stock)

1/4 pound mushrooms, quartered

1 medium carrot, julienne cut

1 green onion top, cut lengthwise into very thin strips

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

Cut beef top sirloin steak into 1/4-inch thick strips; cut each strip into 1-inch pieces. Using back of French knife, crush garlic with pepper to form paste; combine with 2 teaspoons oil and add to beef. Cover and refrigerate beef while preparing sauce.

Saute onion in 2 teaspoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat three minutes. Sprinkle flour, thyme and 1/4 teaspoon salt over onion. Cook and stir one minute. Add beef broth and 1/3 cup wine or optional beef stock. Cover and cook slowly 20 minutes.

Heat heavy, large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir-fry mushrooms one to two minutes in remaining 1 teaspoon oil; add to sauce. Stir-fry beef one to two minutes; season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and add to sauce. Deglaze frying pan with 1 tablespoon beef stock; stir juices into stew.

Meanwhile, place julienned carrots in 1-quart microwave-safe dish; add 1 tablespoon water and microwave at high one to one and a half minutes. Season with salt, if desired. Arrange carrots around beef stew; sprinkle with onion strips and parsley. Serves 2.

Variation: Omit carrot and serve stew surrounded by sauteed pepper strips. Cut one red and one yellow (or green) bell pepper into 2 1/2-by-1/2-inch strips. Saute in olive oil until crisp-tender; season with salt.

30-Minute Beef Stew Italiano

Serves 2

8 ounces well-trimmed boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1 inch thick

1 clove garlic, minced

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, sliced

2 teaspoons flour

1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper pods

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon white wine, divided (or beef stock)

1 medium zucchini, sliced

Polenta wedges, if desired

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese\ Cut beef top sirloin steak into 1/4-inch thick strips; cut each strip into 1-inch pieces. Using back of French knife, crush garlic to form paste; combine with 2 teaspoons oil and add to beef, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate beef while preparing sauce.

Saute onion in 2 teaspoons oil in large saucepan three minutes. Sprinkle flour, basil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper over onion; cook and stir one minute. Add tomatoes and 1/3 cup wine (or beef stock). Cover and cook slowly 20 minutes.

Heat heavy, large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir-fry zucchini two to three minutes in remaining 1 teaspoon oil; add to sauce. Stir-fry beef in same pan one to two minutes; season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and add to sauce. Deglaze frying pan with 1 teaspoon beef stock; stir juices into stew. Serve stew over wedge of polenta, if desired. Sprinkle stew with grated cheese.