Beef in a Healthful Diet

Aug 09, 2017

focus-beef-cutsThanks to extensive farm-to-fork efforts, beef is leaner than ever before.  Since the late 1970s, the per capita contribution of beef to the diet has seen a 44 percent reduction in fat and a 29 percent reduction in saturated fat.  More than 65 percent of whole muscle beef cuts sold at retail today meet government standards for lean. 1,2 

Given the significant improvement in its fat profile, beef is an optimal choice for consumers who wish to increase their protein intake without increasing their fat intake. Seldom do non-beef protein sources come with the added benefits of the nutrients beef provides. A 3-ounce serving of beef contributes 8 percent of calories (169 calories) in a 2,000-calorie diet, yet provides between 10 and 50 percent of the Daily Value for 10 essential nutrients – protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, riboflavin, choline, selenium and phosphorus.1

When looking at beef options, the variety of beef cuts may be overwhelming so choose your cut to fit the cooking method planned.  When visible fat is trimmed, a large portion of today’s cuts are considered lean. In fact, 17 of the top 25 most popular cuts (including Sirloin Steak and Tenderloin) are lean.1,2

The USDA defines “lean” as:

  • "Lean" - 100 grams (3½ oz) of cooked beef with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
  • "Extra Lean" - 100 grams (3½) of cooked beef with less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.

Chicken is commonly looked upon as the leanest animal protein, but most lean beef cuts have total fat and saturated fat levels between the meat of a chicken breast and thigh. For a more in-depth discussion of beef’s role in a healthful diet, go to Beef’s Downloadable Education Materials.


  1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2015. U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.
  2 IRI/FreshLook, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending 12/27/2015, beef cuts; Categorized by VMMeat System

Photo Credit: Certified Angus Beef LLC.

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