Lean vs. Low-fat: Red Meat Fat Facts

hamburger pattiesWe hear a lot about lean red meat, but can red meat really be low-fat?

In order for a food to be called “low-fat”, it must contain no more than three grams of fat per 100 calories, or contain no more than 30 percent of calories from fat. The definition of lean ground beef, according to the USDA, is beef containing no more than 10 percent fat. That means it is 90 percent lean, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The percentage of how “lean” a beef item is refers to the product weight, not the percentage of calories from fat. As an example, if you have a four ounce lean ground beef patty (90 percent lean, 10 percent fat), it contains 199 calories and 11 grams of fat. So, since, there are nine calories per each gram of fat, 99 of those calories, or 49.7 percent, come from fat.

By comparison, a four ounce extra-lean ground beef patty (95 percent lean, 5 percent fat) is worth 155 calories and 5.6 grams of fat, or 33.3 percent of its total calories. If you were to consume four ounces of ground chuck (80 percent lean, 20 percent fat) that translates into 287 calories, with its 22.6 grams of fat accounting for 71 percent of its calories.

Another thing to consider is the nutrients beef provides. Red meat is a good source of protein, zinc, vitamin B12, iron and selenium. If you want the nutritional benefits of beef with less fat, opt for lean and extra lean cuts. Also, think twice before adding bacon, mayonnaise or cheese to that burger. Instead, go for lower-fat toppings such as tomato, onion, lettuce and mustard.