Lack of nutrition information on fresh meat and poultry products makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions. Get some helpful tips here.
Pick up almost any packaged food and you will find the required Nutrition Facts label. It’s there to educate you about the calories, fat, sodium and cholesterol in your food, among other things. But pick up a package of fresh raw meat or poultry, and you may or may not find this useful information. That’s because the nutrition labeling of single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products is voluntary.
Though supermarkets are required to provide nutrition information on these foods (through brochures, pamphlets or posters), the label is where the information is really most helpful (and visible) to consumers.
The following tips can help you make a more informed decision next time you wander down the meat aisle.
Know your definitions of lean and extra lean
Since you won’t be able to get exact info on the label, these government guidelines can help you make a decision:
- A meat qualifies as “extra lean” if it has less than 5 grams of total fat, 2 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 ounce cooked serving. Meats that fall under this category generally include eye of round, top round steak, top sirloin steak and bottom round roast.
- A meat qualifies as “lean” if it has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 ounce cooked serving. Meats in this category generally include 95 percent lean ground beef, round steak, chuck shoulder roast, arm pot roast, shoulder steak, strip steak, tenderloin steak and T-bone steak.
- Watch out for lean ground beef labels. Ground beef lists the “percent lean” along with the “percent fat” Most people see the word “lean” and assume it means low-fat. Not in this case. Ground beef that is 80 percent lean (20 percent fat) has up to 18 grams of fat in one 4-ounce cooked serving.
Pay attention to serving size
Most nutrition experts recommend eating red meat no more than two times a week. Serving sizes should also be limited to about 4 ounces cooked, or 6 ounces raw (raw meat will lose up to about 1-3 ounces when cooked, depending on cooking time, fat content and temperature).
- A 4-ounce serving is about the size of the palm of a woman’s hand.
- Restaurants on average serve two to three times this serving size.
- If you normally bring home a pound of raw meat for two people, you will be eating the equivalent of about 6-7 ounces cooked per person.
- To cut back on portions, serve smaller amounts of meat in combination with grains and vegetables. This way, you still get a decent volume of food without eating too much meat.
Choose select over prime and choice
The USDA also stamps beef products with three quality grades that reflect tenderness, juiciness and flavor. They are prime, choice and select. While prime is the highest quality, the leanest cuts are select. Select cuts usually have the least amount of fat “marbling” (fat distributed within the lean part).
- Since select has less fat, cook it quickly over high heat, like a sauté, so it doesn’t get too chewy.
- Alternatively, cook it very slowly, like a stew or pot roast, which helps keep in the moisture.
Beware of excess sodium
Some fresh beef, chicken, turkey or pork will have added water and salt. Check the label for words such as “seasoned with up to 15 percent chicken broth”, “self-basting” or “enhanced with up to 15 percent solution”. Though there may be no Nutrition Facts label, you should know that these products can have anywhere from 250-500 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Choose lean chicken and turkey
Not all chicken and turkey is low in fat. White meat chicken without skin is always your safest bet. Different parts also carry different amounts of calories and fat.
- For 4 skinless ounces, the breast will be the leanest (4 grams of fat), followed by drumstick (6 grams), wing (9 grams) and then thigh (12 grams).
- Eating the skin will add about 4-5 grams of fat per serving.
- Choose ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast. If the label simply says ground turkey (or chicken), it will likely have darker meat or skin ground into the meat. This will have a much higher fat content.
- For extra flavor, cook poultry with the skin on. This retains moisture. Then remove and discard the skin after cooking.
Practice healthy cooking techniques
How you cook your food has a large impact on the fat and calorie content. Follow these healthy tips:
- Trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
- Broil, grill, roast, poach or boil meat, poultry or fish instead of frying.
- Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.