The National Academy of Medicine recommends adults get about 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. That means a 140-pound person would need about 50 grams of protein per day. A 3-ounce serving of beef packs half that — 25 grams — in just about 175 calories (exact amounts will vary based on cut). It also provides all the essential amino acids needed by the body.
In addition to being a nutrient-dense source of protein, beef provides nine more essential nutrients: vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, selenium, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorus, iron, and choline. These nutrients play roles across the body — the brain, muscles, bones and teeth, energy and metabolism, and the nervous and immune systems.
Lean Cuts of Beef
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “lean beef” as 100 grams of beef with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
“Extra lean” beef has less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
Nearly 40 cuts of beef available at the grocery store are considered lean. A quick tip is to look for cuts that include the words “round” or “loin.” Other lean cuts include chuck shoulder steak, flank steak, flat-half brisket, T-bone steak, top blade steak and some ground beef. Extra lean cuts include:
- Bottom round roast
- Top round roast/steak
- Eye round roast/steak
A beef eye of round roast or steak is leaner than a skinless chicken breast (100 grams of round roast has 2.48 grams total fat and 0.9 grams saturated fat compared to 3.24 grams total fat and 1.01 grams saturated fat), according to the USDA FoodData Central database.
What About the Grade?
USDA quality grades are primarily determined by the degree of marbling — the small flecks of fat within the beef muscle.
- Prime is the highest grade, producing the most abundant marbling.
- Choice is high quality and will be easier to find than Prime. However, it has less marbling than Prime.
- Select is slightly leaner than Prime and Choice because it has less marbling.
Beef higher on the meat quality grading scale will have more total fat, but marbling fat tends to be monounsaturated fat, which is considered healthier than saturated fat. Most of the saturated fat hangs out in the fat cap, which is generally trimmed before it gets to the grocery store, says Sheri Glazier, registered dietitian: “So we can have really great marbling and still have controlled fat.”
Courtney Girgis earned her bachelor’s degree in science and agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri and master’s in English and creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University.