Whether you're watching your health or your weight, you can still enjoy beef on occasion. This guide points you to the leanest options.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The tastiest cuts of beef are often the ones with more fat. But when you're concerned about your health or you're trying to watch your weight, you want the leanest cuts of beef. You don't necessarily have to sacrifice flavor by choosing lean cuts of beef, though. Use this guide on cuts of beef to make smart choices.

Wondering which cuts of beef are the leanest? Check the label. The labels on cuts of beef are considered nutrition claims, so they're subject to government regulations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates whether cuts of beef can be labeled as "lean" or "extra lean" based on their fat and cholesterol content.

Lean cuts of beef

The USDA defines a lean cut of beef as a 3.5-ounce serving (about 100 grams) that contains less than:

  • 10 grams total fat
  • 4.5 grams saturated fat
  • 95 milligrams cholesterol

Extra-lean cuts of beef

The USDA defines an extra-lean cut of beef as a 3.5-ounce serving (about 100 grams) that contains less than:

  • 5 grams total fat
  • 2 grams saturated fat
  • 95 milligrams cholesterol

Note that these nutrition labels aren't the same as grading beef. Grading beef is a voluntary program under the USDA that manufacturers can use to judge the perceived quality of their product.

More than 20 cuts of beef now meet the USDA's regulations to qualify as lean or extra lean. Of theses, the following are considered extra lean:

  • Eye of round roast or steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak
  • Top sirloin steak

If you still have questions about which cuts of beef are lean or extra lean, ask your butcher or grocer. If you're dining out, ask the restaurant server or chef for recommendations for lower fat options. But keep in mind that the same cuts of beef can have different names. For example, a boneless top loin steak may also be called a strip steak, club sirloin steak or N.Y. strip steak.

Other tips when choosing cuts of beef:

  • Choose cuts that are graded "Choice" or "Select" instead of "Prime," which usually has more fat.
  • Choose cuts with the least amount of visible fat (marbling).
  • When selecting ground beef, opt for the lowest percentage of fat.
  • Limit consumption of beef organs, such as liver, to about 3 ounces (85 grams) a month since organ meat is high in cholesterol.

Even the leanest cuts of beef can become high-fat dietbusters if you prepare them in unhealthy ways. Here are a few simple methods to control the fat:

  • Trim it. Cut off any visible, solid fat from meat before preparing, and then remove any remaining visible fat before eating.
  • Drain it. After cooking ground meat, put it into a strainer or colander and drain the fat. Then rinse the meat with hot water. Blot the meat with a paper towel to remove the water.
  • Chill it. After cooking, chill beef juices so that you can skim off and discard the hardened fat. Then add the juice to stews, soups and gravy.

Even if you choose lean or extra-lean cuts of beef, don't go overboard. If you want to include beef in your diet, do so in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat no more than a total of 5 1/2 to 6 ounces (156 to 170 grams) of cooked lean meat, fish, shellfish or skinless poultry a day.

Consider the beef in your diet as a side dish, not a main dish. And remember that beans and fish are generally healthier protein options.

Feb. 21, 2014