When you’re looking for an excellent source of quality protein and vitamin B-12, meat is one of your top choices. Some cuts of meat contain so much saturated fat and cholesterol, however, that their high fat outweighs the nutritional benefits. Overconsumption of these unhealthy fats raises cholesterol and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Other types of meat -- lean meat -- have less fat. They're the ones to choose when meat is on the menu.
Lean Meat Defined
A lean cut of meat must contain 10 grams or less of total fat and no more than 4.5 grams of saturated fat in a single serving -- or 100 grams of meat -- according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To qualify as extra lean, the amount of total and saturated fat is cut in half. Both types must have less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. Keep in mind that the definition for "low fat" is 3 grams or less of total fat per serving. Some, but not all, extra lean cuts of meat will also qualify as low in fat.
Lean Cuts to Buy
You can count on certain cuts of meat to be lean, according to the American Heart Association. When you’re shopping for beef, choose round, sirloin, chuck or loin cuts and ground beef that has no more than 15 percent fat. For pork, the lean choices are pork chops or the tenderloin cut. While ham and Canadian bacon are lean meats, you should still limit the amount you eat because they're high in sodium. Wild game such as venison and bison also fall into the category of lean meat.
Beef liver is low in total and saturated fat, but a 3-ounce serving exceeds the total amount of cholesterol you should consume in one day. Some fatty meats have less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving, but their total and saturated fat exceed the lean requirements. For example, beef brisket has 24 grams of total fat, 9.5 grams of saturated fat and 78 milligrams of cholesterol. Other types of fatty meat include beef ribs, T-bone steak, 20-percent-lean ground beef and sandwich steaks. Some fatty cuts of meat may qualify as lean if you limit your serving to 3 ounces. For example, 3 ounces of rib-eye steak is lean, but a whole steak may have six times as much total fat.
Recommended Daily Intake
Several sources offer intake recommendations, but one standard guideline has not been established to date. The DASH diet, which is used to lower blood pressure, recommends eating 1.4 ounces of meat daily based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests 1.8 ounces of meat daily. Other guidelines group meat with other sources of protein. For example, the American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 6 ounces of lean meat, fish or poultry each day. Twenty-five percent to 35 percent of your total daily calories should come from fat. Limit saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of your daily calories and keep cholesterol under 300 milligrams each day.
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products
- American Heart Association: Meat, Poultry and Fish
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Food Labeling Guide: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Rib Eye Steak/Roast, Lip-On, Separable Lean Only, Trimmed to 1/8 Inch Fat, All Grades, Raw
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Rib, Small End (Ribs 10-12), Separable Lean and Fat, Trimmed to 1/8 Inch Fat, Choice, Raw
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Variety Meats and By-Products, Liver, Cooked, Braised
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Brisket, Point Half, Separable Lean and Fat, Trimmed to 0 Inches Fat, All Grades, Cooked, Braised
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Short Loin, T-Bone Steak, Separable Lean and Fat, Trimmed to 1/8 Inch Fat, All Grades, Raw