Nutrition Articles

Best and Worst Meat Choices

How to Spot the Healthiest Cuts


Once considered a health no-no, red meat is making its way back to the plates of dieters and health-conscious eaters alike. 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


Beef vs. Bison
Bison (or the American Buffalo) has a similar taste and texture as beef, but is leaner in fat and lower in calories. For example, a cooked serving of ground bison contains 152 calories, 7 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, compared to ground beef, which provides 210 calories, 13 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat on average. While there is a lot of variety in the diets of most American cattle, bison are generally grass-fed and are not given antibiotics or hormones. However, inspection is mandatory for beef, but not for bison. Bison is also not graded by the USDA, which is voluntary for beef.
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About The Author

Lauri Watson Lauri Watson
is a Registered Dietitian with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She eats her way through life's tasty treats and documents her culinary journeys at, which provides recipes and ideas for a balanced lifestyle.

Member Comments

    I chose to limit my meat intake to white meat only. No red meat. I ended up severely anemic and iron pills didn't correct it. Red meat did. I have never believed in a strictly vegetarian diet as I believe that if you are provided with the ripping tearing teeth we have then we are an organism which requires fresh meat. I also tried the Atkins diet at one point and passed out cold with in 6 hours. I'm Hypoglycemic so require a little sugar to balance. Balance in all foods we take into our bodies. Balanced Calories, nutrients, fats, etc. plus a balance in our activity levels which is my biggest problem as my arthritis and wrecked knees tend to get in the way for exercise.. - 9/14/2013 6:18:43 PM
  • Our bodies make all the cholesterol we need. All meat product carries cholesterol. Of which we do not need to be getting any extra. Makes on difference how much fat is in the meat either or what kind of meat. It is just plain not good for your heart and arteries. And the protein in meat makes your liver work harder. Just facts I have been reading about lately. Don't mean to offend anybody. I use to be a meat eater too. And feel much better without the stuff. - 9/4/2013 4:08:44 PM
  • You didn't address lamb, mutton or goat which are mainstays in many cuisines. - 9/3/2013 3:23:49 PM
  • The most enlightening thing for me was that pork tenderloin is low on the fat scale. Often I can buy one tenderloin and get a second for free so that is what I buy a lot. Thank you it shows me I am on the right track. - 9/3/2013 11:59:13 AM
  • I too love red meat and we endulge often BUT now we eat leaner cuts and watch the fat calories also.We just eat red meat a little less often and have a good rib eye steak less often also.This is a good article and a wake up call for those of us who need to watch our intake of high fat foods. - 9/3/2013 11:12:44 AM
  • what about lamb, sheep? - 9/3/2013 7:00:50 AM
  • Great article but what about turkey wings I love them. - 5/28/2013 3:52:03 PM
  • This article was so helpful, I'm grateful to spark for putting this up! - 3/5/2013 7:14:31 AM
  • I was raised on a large dairy farm & ranch, so we didn't have to worried about allot of what U buy from the store. The meat was always marble right, had the right amount of fat. & the color was good. We always ate healthy, had our own gardens, fresh water too drink & not too many store brought items. Even today I grow my own vegetables & herbs. Just go to the store for a few staples. - 2/20/2013 7:01:08 PM
  • I am glad to hear the bacon myth debunked, as well as some grass fed information out there! - 9/12/2012 11:48:04 AM
  • I know this would not be everyone's cup of tea, but we purchased a good quality electric meat grinder a while ago. We really decided to grind our own meats to save money, but it turned out we found we could have much leaner and healthier ground meats by grinding our own. We buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for as low as $1.69 a pound and grind them. Ground chicken breast at my local supermarket is $3.99 a pound and I know it has skin and who knows what else ground in it. We also make fantastic and very lean bulk Italian sausage and ground beef for a fraction of what it costs to buy in packages in the store - and we know what's in it and that the grinder, etc. is clean! We buy beef and lean cuts of pork when it's on sale so we save money as well as getting a quality product. It takes a little effort but it's worth it to us. - 9/3/2012 6:49:49 PM
    When I lost the weight I have so far, it wasn't by picking the leanest meat I could, it was by selecting fatty meats that actually kept me full and didn't have me grabbing for the Pop Tarts.

    Restrict your grain and sugar intake and you won't have to worry about lean meat. - 9/3/2012 1:48:10 PM
  • I think all of us know that meat that is grass fed, or extra lean 95/5 is better for us. The same with chicken and all other meats, but sometimes the budget has to be taken into account too. Not all of us can afford the price on a regular basis even if it is much healthier for us. So I guess I'll just have to eat smaller portions and exercise more to work off the cholestrol clogging my arteries. Oh, btw, even with eating these meats my cholestrol is doing just fine. - 9/3/2012 1:06:55 PM
  • Avoiding fat in meat? Is it the 1990s again? Control your calories, hit your macronutrient goals and you won't have to worry about this drivel. - 9/3/2012 12:33:13 PM
    I've been buying Ball Park "All white meat" turkey hot dogs because the label on the package says 40 calories per hot dog. That seems pretty low based on what this article says. Does all white turkey meat really have such a low calorie count? - 9/3/2012 11:35:27 AM

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