What is lean meat, why it’s better and what is the best cooking method for lean meat?
A 3.5 ounce (100 grams) serving of meat needs to have less than 10 gm of total fat, 4.5 gm of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol in order to be considered lean, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Meat can be considered extra lean if it has less than 5 gm of fat, 2 gm of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5 ounce serving.
Here are some tips for picking out certain cuts of meat that are considered lean or extra lean.
Look for loin or round
Lean cuts of beef or pork will often have loin or round in the name. Examples include top sirloin, top loin roast, pork tenderloin, bottom round steaks or eye round. Chuck shoulder, flank steak or arm roasts are also lean. Choose these cuts of red meat for leaner options.
These terms for lean meat are generally true for any other red meat like lamb or veal.
For any ground meats, choose 90 or 95% lean as often as possible. Drain excess fat before eating to ensure leanest ground meat option.
Go for the white meat
Chicken or turkey breasts are lean meat choices. Remember to take the skin off though, as eating the skin adds a lot of fat.
Choose lean or extra lean ground chicken or turkey. As with red meat, choose 90-95% lean ground meats, as sometimes ground chicken or turkey will include the skin. Don’t assume just because it is poultry the ground meat is automatically lean.
Most seafood is considered lean, with the exception of some fatty fish. However, most fatty fish are a rich source of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Shrimp is also higher in cholesterol than the definition of lean meats from the USDA, but shrimp is low in calories and fat. (See also: Is red meat bad for weight loss?)
Look at the grade
Prime grade is considered the premium grade for beef, but also can have the highest amount of marbled fat. Marbled fat is hard to cut out because the fat is woven into the meat. While select and choice grades may be considered lower grade, they are usually lower in marbled fat content and a leaner choice.
Talk to a butcher at the grocery store for questions regarding meat quality, cooking times and lean meat sources. Farmers markets and local ranchers can also be a good way to purchase local meats from a knowledgeable meat source.
Cut off the fat
To make any meat leaner, you can simply cut off the visible fat before cooking. Trim the white visible fat that usually surrounds the meat to cut down on fat and calorie content. Processed red meats like hot dogs, bologna, sausages and bacon are high in fat and are harder to trim excess fat from.
Roasting, grilling, broiling or braising can help cut down the fat content of meat. These cooking methods help drain the fat off the meat. Stir fry meat in minimal added oil for a lower fat alternative to frying.
Marinate lean meat to add in flavor, and no one will miss the fat. This can also help make lean cuts of meat juicier and tenderer. Marinades can be made simply from a small amount of oil, an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice and seasonings from herbs or spices.
See also: How to cook healthier meals
Grass fed or wild
Grass fed animals are usually leaner than animals eating a diet of corn. Choose grass fed meat over standard meat for leaner options and meat that is higher in omega 3 fatty acids.
Wild animals also tend to be leaner than farm raised meats. Venison (deer meat), antelope, bison or elk are examples of wild game that is lean.
Health benefits of lean meat
Lean meat is lower in saturated fats that other meats, which is beneficial for heart health. Meats are a rich source of iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. These nutrients help form new red blood cells, build strong bones and support immune health.
Lean meats are a complete protein, providing all essential amino acids. Protein is the macronutrient highest in satiety, meaning high protein foods keep you feeling full the longest after eating.
It is good to have variety in any food group, including proteins. Diversify your protein selections with lean red meats, white meat, eggs, seafood and vegetarian sources of protein like beans, nuts and soy. See also: How to eat more protein without meat
Lean meats have less than 10 gm of fat per 3.5 ounce serving. You can get lean meats from any type of animal, as certain cuts of meat like loins are leaner cuts of meat than others. Processed red meats are not usually considered lean, but white meats are almost always considered lean without the skin.
Grass fed or wild animals are leaner choices than commercially fed animals from feed lots. To make any meat leaner, cut away excess fat before cooking and cook the meat so the fat drips away from the meat. Examples include grilling, broiling or roasting.
References used in this article