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Cuts of beef: A guide to the leanest selections

Find out which cuts of beef are lowest in fat and cholesterol.

Updated: 2023-11-21

You might think red meat is off-limits if you're concerned about your health or trying to watch your weight. But in small amounts, leaner cuts of beef can be part of a healthy diet.

Use this guide to make smart choices with plenty of flavor.

Nutrition labels for cuts of beef

Wondering which cuts of beef are the leanest? Check the label. The labels on cuts of beef are considered nutrition claims. So in the United States these labels are covered by government rules. Regulations for labeling beef can vary by country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates whether cuts of beef can be labeled as "lean" or "extra lean." The labeling is based on the fat and cholesterol content in the beef.

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.

You also might see words that describe grades of beef on meat packages. Grades include Prime, Choice and Select These are not the same as "lean" and "extra lean" labels.

Beef grading is a voluntary program that beef producers or processors can use to have the perceived quality of their products judged. An agency within the USDA does the judging. The agency reviews the meat for traits related to tenderness, juiciness and flavor.

Beef that's graded Prime has the most flecks of fat that can be seen, called marbling. Choice has less marbling. Select has the least.

Choosing cuts of beef

Many cuts of beef now meet the USDA's definitions of lean or extra lean. Of these, the following are considered the leanest beef cuts:

  • Eye of round roast and steak.
  • Round tip roast and steak.
  • Top round roast and steak.
  • Bottom round roast and steak.
  • Top sirloin steak.
  • Top loin steak.
  • Chuck shoulder and arm roasts.

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 choices.

Keep in mind that the same cuts of beef can have different names. For example, a boneless top loin steak also may be called a strip steak, club sirloin steak or New York strip steak.

Other tips when choosing cuts of beef include:

  • Choose cuts that are graded "Choice" or "Select" instead of "Prime." Prime often has more fat.
  • Choose cuts with the least amount of fat you can see, also called marbling.
  • When you choose ground beef, pick products with the lowest percentage of fat. For example, look for labels that say 93% or 95% lean.

Preparing cuts of beef

Even the leanest cuts of beef can be bad for your weight and health if you prepare them in unhealthy ways. Here are a few simple tips to control the fat:

  • Trim it. Cut off any solid fat that you can see before you cook the meat. Then remove any leftover fat you can see before eating it.
  • 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 the beef juices so that you can skim off and throw out the hardened fat. Then add the juice to stews, soups and gravy.

Everything in moderation

Even if you choose lean or extra-lean cuts of beef, don't eat too much. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat no more than a total of 26 ounces of meat, poultry and eggs per week. One portion of cooked meat is three ounces. That's about the size of a deck of cards.

Think of the beef in your diet as a side dish, not a main dish. And enjoy various protein foods, including:

  • Skinless poultry.
  • Fish.
  • Beans, lentils and peas.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Soy products.

If you like organ meat, such as liver, limit how much of it you eat. Organ meats are a concentrated source of nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. But they are not a lower fat or lower cholesterol choice. And for some people, the concentration of nutrients can be a problem. For example, too much vitamin A during early pregnancy is not recommended. And the level of a chemical called purines are linked to a type of arthritis called gout. So talk to your healthcare professional before eating organ meat if you have any questions about how it might affect your health.