Lean Beef – How to Select the Healthiest Cuts and Stay Within Your Diet

Beef can be a tasty and protein-packed addition to a healthy diet when enjoyed in moderation. However, not all cuts of beef are created equal when it comes to fat and calories. Being mindful of which cuts are the leanest enables you to incorporate beef into meals while still maintaining overall diet goals.

This guide breaks down exactly what is considered lean beef, how to identify it, and tips for selecting, preparing, and serving it. With the nutrition facts and expert buying advice provided here, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the healthiest beef options.

What Makes Beef Lean?

Before getting into specifics on cuts, let’s look at what makes beef lean in general. Two factors determine whether a cut of beef is lean or not:

  • Fat content – The total fat and saturated fat levels per serving
  • Cholesterol – The amount of cholesterol per serving

According to USDA labeling rules, beef labeled “lean” must contain less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5 ounce serving.

For a cut to be considered “extra lean,” it must have less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol for a 3.5 ounce serving.

When shopping, checking nutrition labels for the fat and cholesterol content per serving size is the best way to identify how lean a particular cut is.

The Leanest Cuts of Beef

Certain cuts of beef are far leaner than others by nature of the particular muscle and area of the cow they come from. Here are some of the leanest cuts to choose:

  • Round cuts – Eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip

  • Loin cuts – Top loin, tenderloin

  • Chuck cuts – Chuck shoulder roast, chuck shoulder steak

  • Sirloin cuts – Top sirloin

These cuts come from areas of the cow that get the most exercise, making the meat quite lean. Other very active muscles like the flank are also low in fat.

Identifying Lean Ground Beef

When it comes to ground beef, you can’t see marbling or connective tissue. That’s why the percentage lean on the label is so important. Here’s what to look for:

  • 90% lean – Great lean option

  • 93% lean – Even less fat than 90%

  • 95% lean – The leanest choice possible

Stick with ground beef options that are at least 90% lean to limit fat and calories. Some stores even sell 96% or 97% lean ground beef, but these can become dry and chalky when cooked.

Buying Tips for Lean Cuts

Keep the following tips in mind when scanning the meat case for the leanest cuts:

  • Seek out labels like “round,” “loin,” “chuck shoulder roast” which indicate leaner areas.

  • Choose “Select” graded beef over “Choice” or “Prime” since it has less marbling.

  • Pick roasts and rounds over ribs or brisket which have more fat.

  • Opt for “sirloin” instead of “ribeye” for steak dinners.

  • For pot roasts and stews, choose bottom or eye round cuts.

  • Check nutrition labels for fat and cholesterol content per serving.

Knowing which terminology and cuts typically indicate leaner options helps you hone in on the healthiest beef selections.

Preparation Tips for Lean Beef

Trimming, draining, and chilling are key steps to remove excess fat from beef, even after selecting lean cuts:

  • Trim off visible fat before cooking to reduce saturated fat.

  • Drain cooked ground beef then rinse to wash away grease.

  • Chill cooking juices then skim solidified fat off the top before making gravy or sauce.

  • Skip breading or frying lean cuts to avoid adding fat from oils.

  • Sautee or broil lean beef instead of slow cooking methods that keep fat.

Proper preparation techniques truly optimize the leanness of beef cuts for guilt-free enjoyment.

Healthy Ways to Include Lean Beef In Your Diet

Once you’ve selected wisely and prepared lean beef correctly, it’s time to integrate it into healthy recipes. Here are some smart ways to work it into your diet:

  • Replace fatty meats like sausage, bacon, ribs and brisket with lean beef in recipes.

  • Use lean ground beef for lower calorie tacos, meatballs, chili, burgers, meatloaf and pasta sauce.

  • Slice roast beef thin for sandwiches instead of deli meats high in sodium.

  • Top salads with sliced sirloin or tenderloin instead of higher fat steak cuts.

  • Skewer cubes of top round or eye round for kebabs instead of lamb and pork.

  • Stir fry sirloin strips with tons of vegetables in a light sauce.

With some creative recipe substitutions, you can still enjoy delicious beef dishes while optimizing nutrition.

Sample Meals Showcasing Lean Beef

To give you an idea of how to integrate lean beef into healthy recipes, here are some meal ideas under 500 calories:

  • Top round kebabs with peppers and onions over quinoa
  • Chili with 93% lean ground beef, beans, and plenty of veggies
  • Vietnamese noodle bowl with sirloin strips and fresh herbs
  • Open faced roast beef sandwich with melted Swiss on whole grain bread
  • Steak salad with sliced tenderloin, spring mix, tomatoes, avocado

As you can see, trim, nourishing beef recipes are possible by combining lean cuts with nutritious ingredients. Moderating portions is also key to keeping calories in check.

The Takeaway on Lean Beef

Selecting properly trimmed, lean cuts along with adopting smart cooking methods and recipe choices enables you to enjoy beef as part of an overall healthy diet. Opt for round, loin, sirloin, and chuck shoulder cuts with minimal marbling or ground beef at least 90% lean. Portion protein appropriately and pair lean beef with plenty of produce.

With the criteria in this guide, you now have all the tools to identify truly lean beef options. Head to the market armed with the knowledge of labels, preferred cuts, and lean beef terminology. Before you know it, you’ll have delicious, diet-friendly beef dishes on the menu. Just remember that moderation and balance are key principles for any ingredient, even healthy lean meats. Use this beef know-how as you build nourishing meals that align with your nutrition goals.

Choosing Lean Cuts of Beef


Is ground beef considered lean beef?

Regular ground beef is 70 to 85 percent lean. There are 230 calories and 13 grams of fat in three ounces of 70 percent lean ground beef. Lean ground beef is 90 to 95 percent lean.

What is considered a lean meat?

Examples include: Lean meats – Beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo, lean (lower salt) sausages. Poultry – Chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds.

What percent is considered lean beef?

Extra Lean – maximum fat content of 10% (90% lean) Lean – maximum fat content of 17% (83% lean) Medium – maximum fat content 23% (77% lean) Regular – maximum fat content 30% (70% lean)

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