Is Ground Beef Healthy? (Lean, 80/20 Or Extra Lean)

Is ground beef healthy?

Smart and healthy living starts off in the kitchen, and this means a wide variety of foods. Therefore, staple foods are needed – for instance, ground beef delivers a great source of protein and amino acids and is an invaluable addition to many meals.

Being one of the tastiest ground meats out there ground beef is infamous for being the primary ingredient in a legendary food type such as hamburgers. Who doesn’t like meatballs, hamburgers, chili, or creamed beef?

Ground beef is marvelous in all such recipes and is readily available online or offline. It has the ability to make many of your bland meals more delicious in an instant and is one of the surest ways to add high-quality protein to your daily diet. However, despite its high protein content, it still has high saturated fat as well, which begs the question – is ground beef healthy?

Realizing the Difference

Livestock and human felines have been living in symbiosis since the dawn of time, and our breeds have adapted to the consumption of animal protein and fat to a degree that would boggle the minds of modern citizens.

Meats and other animal-based foods are the original staple food for humans; calcium and proteinaceous content that are both consumable in animal foods give us the formula for bone and tissue strength.

However, with a growing penchant for convenient, packaged, and ready-to-serve foods, dependence on factory farming is pervading every facet of our day-to-day lives, including meat. Factories rely on high-yield soy feeds to grow bigger half-animals in less time.

If you are more interested in what many call healthy meat you should have a look at the grass-fed and finished beef difference page.

But unfortunately, the beef produced in these environments is commonly classified as conventional and is far from being called natural. The meat sourced from these conditions is fattier and crammed with harmful chemical residues, artificially induced hormones, and antibiotics and is definitely not the kind of meat you would want to share with your loved ones or family.

Thus, it is of paramount importance to distinguish the most common types of meat available:

White Meat: People from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe would enjoy some part of their diet consisting of poultry, in particular birds like chickens and turkey. Meat sourced from poultry is often considered a healthy non-red meat source that is white in color when cooked; hence the name white meat.

Processed Meat: A staple diet item, processed meats have a rich history of more than five centuries and are an integral part of the daily diet – thanks to their low cost and availability. Such meats are heat-treated and cured along with being processed to increase their shelf life.

Grass-fed and Finished Beef: The most nutritious and flavorful meat that can be used for cooking. Grass-fed beef is primarily found in fresh meat counters and is a good source of healthy omega fatty acids.

These meats are sourced from grass-fed, naturally raised cows or steers and are free from medications or additives. I wrote an article about where to buy grass-fed beef if you are looking for that.

Red Meat: Vitamin-rich red meat is a group of meats that include livestock, beef, and lamb. Red meat also refers to cattle, poultry, and animal flesh that is not poultry. The most expensive kind of meat that is cholesterol-rich, too, red meat is also popular due to various social customs and rituals that involve cooking and serving red meat.

Now that you know the many meat varieties available, you must also know the varying levels of nutrition found in each but realizing you want answers only pertaining to ground meat, let’s move on to its many nutrition facts.

Understanding the Basics

With beef, ground beef is a cut of meat made from beef trimmings, such as fat and connective tissue, and makes up about 25% of all ground meat products. Consisting of beef trimmings that have been ground together, Ground Beef comes in various types, such as Ground Chuck (taken from the Chuck only), Ground Round (which includes the parts of the round and Ground Sirloin (which is made with the bottom half of the Sirloin). The kinds of cows that the cuts are from will be specified on the label as well.

You might have already heard of the lean-to-fat ratio as used by professionals when they discuss ground beef. Simply put, it is interpreting the meat in terms of a ratio breakdown as 80 percent lean beef to 20 percent fat content, again, typically ground Chuck.

“85/15” labeled ground meat means 85% lean and 15% fat, which is a lean cut of meat (ground round) while “90/10” labeled ground meat implies that 90% lean and 10% fat, which is still ratio cut but healthier (ground Sirloin). These rations don’t refer to the nutritional content of beef; instead, they are simply characteristics that help identify its leanness as well as its fattiness.

It must be noted that the ratio must follow the United States Food and Drug Administration labeling guideline, which forbids fat percentages in the labeled ground meat (referring to lean cuts) to exceed 30% [1].

Ground beef has all kinds of derivatives, as detailed above; it is not only used for meatballs or burgers but also for Italian dishes, used in French Casseroles or soups, as a basis for a friendly stuffing, or wrapped around seasoned flakes or fillets (like poultry) to make them flavorful. Thus, one can conclude, that it does help in getting to your recommended amount of daily protein in general when included as a healthier substitution in meals or as a mix in a non-pan fried meal.

Know the Lingo

In the United States, the USDA – the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) legally surrounds the “Certified Organic” label. Livestock in these operations must get organic feed along with free access to pasture and are also free from the use of hormones or antibiotics.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines grass-fed cows as animals raised on grass and forages, but this doesn’t imply the cows never received antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, nor did they always spend time out in a pasture area to graze.

To assure the authenticity and integrity of whole grass-fed beef products, third-party organizations, including the American Grass-fed Association, Food Alliance, etc., can verify that the beef conforms to the highest standards of sustainability, humane animal treatment, and safe food practices.

Ground meat from grass-fed cows is always a better option to choose if you want to consume organic, yet cheap food. You can recognize it by analyzing the grass-fed label. If it’s not among the certified producers, buy it at farmers’ markets to unwind from the concentration of unhealthy meat cultures and hormones that can affect your health.”

Nutrition Facts of Ground Beef

Ground beef is a derivative of stockyard meats primarily consisting of 90% lean beef trimmings and can contain traces of bone, cartilage, connective tissue, and other such byproducts. All freshly (air-chilled) ground beef contains at least 30% water, which translates into three ounces of one pound of fresh ground beef containing about 33% moisture. The low moisture content of water in fresh ground beef means that all of its nutritional attributes are preserved for longer.

Ground beef has always been juicy and flavorful meat that is one of the top favorites of all. However, the versatility of this cut goes beyond taste, and to properly evaluate it; one also needs to take a look at the fat-to-protein ratio since the content of this meat can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer or the supplier.

Known for its high-fat content, which makes up 60% of the final product, and high concentrations of saturated fat, it is recommended to keep your intake of fatty beef in moderation especially if it becomes one of your primary sources of protein or if you’re following a diet consisting of high-protein foods. If you are undertaking any weight loss regime, it’s highly recommended not to include ground beef as one of your lean sources of protein.

Ground beef, due to its many options, can have different amounts of fat content, depending on what cuts of meat were mixed or ground in a particular proportion. Leaner ground beef such as sirloin meat will be lower in cholesterol but also lower in taste, so it all depends on what you prefer.

When choosing your ground beef, high-quality cuts of meat are always highly recommended. An excellent example of such quality ground beef is a mixture of beef chuck and Sirloin that is ideally used for rolling and stuffing. It is produced with lean meat of either 95% or 90% content to meet HDA requirements.

100 g of this beef provides 21.4 g of protein supplying up to 43% of the daily value; however, the fat content is scarce at 5 g and accounts for 8% of the daily value. Not to worry, as this beef is produced in a manner that retains healthy fat content and provides ~137 calories.

Conversely, the non-lean variety of ground beef consists of 5 to 30 % fat with an average of 19 % fat and provides around 288 calories per 100g serving as compared to 137 calories in lean beef. Further enriching your muscles with 17.4 g of protein per 100g serving accounts for 35 percent of the DVs, while 17.1 g of fat per 100g serving makes up for about 26 percent of the DVs, which covers roughly ~80 kcal.

Beware of Bacteria

The ground beef you purchase cooks quickly and requires little preparation, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to nutrition. Experts warn of the many types of bacteria present on raw ground meat, particularly Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection) and E. coli [2]. As the meat is combined with other food ingredients for cooking, the growth and activity of these bacteria can be detrimental.

As a result, precautionary measures must be taken to ensure the food is kept at the proper temperature (140 degrees F or above) and consumed promptly. Such attention to food processing ensures uninterrupted health a happy dining experience. To avoid any nausea or foodborne infections, it’s safer to buy whole meats and then grind them yourself or buy fresh ground meat from the local butcher shop.

Ground beef hamburgers on the grill.

Downsides to Eating Ground Beef

Typically, lean ground beef is the healthiest type of ground beef, as it contains less saturated fat and cholesterol than other varieties and more nutrients. The problem with 95% lean ground beef is that it can easily get dry and overcooked if you don’t have the necessary cooking skills.

This means that despite the huge nutritional value of lean ground beef, only 1% comes from this type of beef. A total of 18% of ground beef sales come from 90-95% lean and 5-10% fat ground beef.

When buying pre-ground meats, consumers run the risk of cross-contamination. A recent report stated that 91% of retail shops carry ground beef containing meat from more than one animal. Bacterial contamination could occur more easily with cross-contamination and can cause foodborne illnesses such as salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and brucellosis [3].

Upsides to Ground Beef

Ground beef is very easy to prepare and very economical. Plus, it is a pretty flexible option given its many applications, be it burgers, BBQ, or spaghetti. Moreover, given its cost and the ease with which you can prepare it, it’s very convenient as a family meal. There is nothing like the flavor of ground beef that you grind yourself, and the specific cuts of meat or proportions of fat you begin with greatly influence both your nutrition and flavor.

Regardless of the fact whether it is costly or not, high-quality beef containing low levels of fat and cholesterol, low carbs, high nutritional value, and high protein is increasingly being perceived as a healthy and superior alternative to fish and even other meats.

So in case you savor this particularly lavish meal and wish to continue eating it, you may consider a more upscale option such as Wagyu beef or Hanwoo beef which are known to contain a greater concentration of oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fatty acid [4] that may help fight the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Is Grass Fed Beef Healthy? – My Opinion

So, is ground beef healthy?

Yes, it is, given that it is carried out correctly and you keep tabs on its fat-to-protein ratios. Meat is essentially a healthy treat that you can eat fairly often, but there are various kinds of meat. Precisely, it is important to understand how to pick the best, as well as essential to comprehend the types of meat you’re currently eating.

Ground beef definitely has some health benefits, particularly in a lean form (containing 90% lean or less). Even for pets, it can be a benefit to have real ground beef in their diet.

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Peter Jameson

Peter Jameson is passionate about eating healthy food. While he is doing his search for this, he will share that with the Couch Potato Delivery's readers. As an experienced home cook, he knows what to look for in the food delivery services he reviews. You can find more about him here.