With all of the different grades and cuts of meat lining market shelves, it often is difficult to know what the leanest, healthiest cuts are. Overall, there are lean cuts of beef, pork, lamb, poultry and fish and shellfish. However within each protein group, some types are leaner than others. Regardless of the type of meat, trim off visible fat before preparing to cut additional fat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades meat based on fat content. You’ll want to pick from those grades labeled “lean” and “extra lean." According to the USDA, lean beef has fewer than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or fewer of saturated fat and fewer than 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 g of meat, which is about 3 1/2 oz. Extra lean beef has fewer than 5 g of fat, 2 g of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol.
According to the American Dietetic and American Heart associations, some of the best beef cuts include eye of round, top round steaks and roasts and sirloin, top loin and tenderloin steaks. And when buying ground beef, remember that hamburger meat can have added fat, while the fat in ground beef is natural, although it still is only 70 percent lean. In general, choose lean (85 percent lean) or extra lean ground beef (95 percent lean).
Although pork largely used to be considered high in fat, the National Pork Board’s “The Other White Meat” campaign has helped clarify for those who want their pig dishes healthier. The board’s “Slim 6” says that six common cuts of pork are about 16 percent leaner and have 27 percent less saturated fat than 15 years ago.
Those common cuts are pork tenderloin, boneless top loin roast, bone-in sirloin roast, boneless top loin chop, bone-in rib chop and bone-in sirloin roast. In fact, 3 oz. of pork tenderloin have 1.02 g of saturated fat and 2.9 g of fat compared to .86 g saturated fat and 3 g total fat in the same amount of skinless chicken breast and 2.58 g and 9.25 g, respectively, in skinless chicken thighs.
If pork is the other white meat, lamb is "the other red meat.” But has cuts with less marbling or fat distributed within the leanness of the meat. Cuts from the shank half of the leg tend to be leaner. When well-trimmed, a shank half cut will have about 6 g of fat. Lean lamb cuts include leg of lamb, arm and loin. Roasted leg of lamb contains about 162 calories, including 6.6 g total fat and 2.4 g saturated fat, while roasted lamb shank contains 153 calories, 5.7 g total fat and 2 g saturated fat. Lamb loin contains slightly more calories, total fat and saturated fat at 172, 8.2 and 3.2 respectively.
Wild Game and Other Types of Protein
Wild game, such as venison, bison, rabbit and duck, are considered to be much leaner than many cuts. Emu, goat and ostrich also are low in total and saturated fats. Poultry, including chicken and turkey, also are considered lean, particularly once the skin is removed either at the market or at home. Most types of fish are high in protein, yet low in fat. One of the exceptions, however, is salmon. Shrimp and crawfish are high in cholesterol but low in total and saturated fat.