Better Beef: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Red Meat

Thinly sliced roast beef is the star ingredient of these Beef and Blue Sandwiches. Red meat can be a part of a …

Red meat is making its way back to the plates of dieters and health-conscious eaters, but not every cut of red meat is a winner. Here are some considerations to make when selecting beef.
Grade: Grade refers to the amount of marbling, or fat, found in the cut of meat. It has nothing to do with the safety of the meat or how it was raised-it's all about the fat content. Meat that has a higher grade has more fat, and therefore greater tenderness. The three most common grades are:

  1. Prime (the fattiest cut, most often found in restaurants)
  2. Choice (moderate in fat)
  3. Select (the leanest grade).

Cut: Cut refers to the part of the animal the meat has been taken from. Most of the leaner cuts come from the animal's hip or hindquarter region. "Round" or "loin" are keywords to look for when you want the leanest cut of meat (think top round, sirloin, top loin, tenderloin, eye round, etc.). When selecting ground beef, look at the percentages: 80/20% lean means the meat is 80% lean and 20% fat. Look for ground beef labeled 90/10% (or leaner). To assist with the nutritional analysis of your ground beef selection, check out this calculator developed by the USDA. See the chart below for a nutritional comparison of various cuts of beef.

Color: Color is another way to tell how much fat red meat contains. Visible marbling (fat streaks) indicates higher fat meats; less marbling means it's lower in fat. For ground meat, the darker the meat, the lower its fat content and vice versa.

A Note on Grass-Fed Beef
Most cattle in the U.S. are fed a grain-based diet comprised of corn, soy and other byproducts despite the fact that cattle are natural grazers of grass and other greens. Some research indicates that grass-fed beef may be lower in overall fat and higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than its conventional counterparts. Grass-fed beef should be labeled as such, and if it doesn't have that label, you can assume it was grain-fed. Many traditional supermarkets now offer some grass-fed beef, but the best place to purchase is at your local farmers market or health food store. If your local grocer does not carry grass-fed beef, ask the butcher if they would be able to get it in for you. If they know there is a demand for a product, then they will try harder to supply the product to meet consumer demands.

See the chart below for a nutritional comparison of various types of beef. These values are for a single cooked, 3-ounce serving (85 grams) of meat with fat trimmed, unless otherwise specified.

Beef Cut Calories Total Fat (g) Sat Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg)
Eye round roast 138 3.5 1.2 63
Ground beef (95/5%) 145 5.6 2.5 65
Top sirloin steak 156 4.9 1.9 70
Bottom round roast 157 6.5 2.7 66
Flank steak 158 6.3 2.6 66
T-Bone steak 161 7.4 2.6 47
Tenderloin steak 164 6.7 2.5 69
Chuck shoulder pot roast 167 6.6 2.4 83
Round steak, top 169 4.3 1.5 76
Top round roast 169 4.3 1.4 76
Brisket flat half 174 5.9 2.3 85
Round steak, bottom 182 6.5 2.3 79
Porterhouse steak 184 9.5 3.3 53
Ground beef (90/10%) 184 10 3.9 72
Beef brisket 185 8.6 3.1 79
Beef ribs 202 11 4.5 69
Ground beef (80/20%) 230 15 5.7 77

Keep reading: Get the lowdown on pork, chicken, and processed meats.

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