The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages consumers to choose “a variety of protein foods” which includes lean meats and poultry.1 Lean beef is a great option as it delivers more than 10 essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, selenium, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, choline, iron and riboflavin.2
“Lean” isn’t a marketing term: there is a government definition of what makes a cut of beef lean. To be considered lean, a 3-oz serving of cooked beef must have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol.3
Thanks to enhancements in cattle breeding and feeding, as well as improved trimming practices, more than 60 percent of whole muscle cuts found in the supermarket are considered lean when cooked with visible fat trimmed. In fact, the number of beef cuts that qualify as “lean” has increased sixfold from 1989 to 2013 .4 This is because of a multi-decade, coordinated effort by cattle farmers, ranchers and processors to meet the growing consumer demand for lean beef. It starts with careful breeding and includes ongoing monitoring and improving the feed type and amounts. Providing cattle exercise by allowing them to graze in pastures helps enhance muscle and encourage leanness, as well.
Contrary to popular belief, all cattle spend a majority of their lives eating grass on pastures. Some cattle may be “grass-finished,” meaning the cattle spend their entire lives on a pasture, whereas other cattle are grain-finished, moving from the pasture to a feedlot. And while grass-finished cattle tend to be leaner,5 there are a number of variables that contribute to leanness, including breed, age, grade and cut. 6