What does 90 percent lean actually mean? What’s a better choice, pork loin or chicken thighs? Navigating the meat aisle gives new meaning to the term “mystery meat.” Sure, there are general rules, like white meat is leaner than dark, skinless is better than skin-on. But the nutritional content of what lies between plastic wrap and a Styrofoam tray has largely been withheld from supermarket shoppers.
That will change in 2012, thanks to new regulations that will require nutrition labels to appear on the 40 most common cuts of meat and poultry. The new labels will look similar to those found on other food items, and include data on calories, total fat and saturated fat. Additionally, any package of meat that boasts a percentage of lean protein will also have to provide the percentage of fat in the product.
Government officials and health experts believe these labels will help consumers make more healthful choices when it comes to meat. If you just can’t wait until 2012, you can play around with the USDA’s online What’s In The Food’s You Eat tool to find the nutrition profile your favorite cuts of meat (and virtually every other food too).
Keep in mind that a serving of meat is 4 oz. (or 1/4 lb), which is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Most of us eat substantially more than this, so be mindful of this when figuring the calories of your next hamburger. The way you prepare your food can have a huge impact on nutritional content. Generally, the healthiest ways to prepare meat include broiling, roasting, grilling and poaching. And take it easy on the sauces, which can also add lots of calories and fat.
Meat certainly has it’s place in a healthy diet. But uncovering the nutritional truth about meat may shock some blissfully unaware meat-lovers right into the produce aisle. If that’s the case, there are lots of great veggie-based sources of protein including legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products like tofu and edamame. Low-fat cheeses, yogurt, and eggs also provide ample protein. If possible, steer clear of imitation meats, as these are overly processed and tend to be high in sodium and other preservatives.