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Ground Beef Tricks
How to cut the fat and save some money.

Ground Beef
Is this a healthy choice?

Nutrition labels have made shopping easier for a wide range of products. I can see how much sodium is hiding in canned vegetables, how much sugar is in my cereal and how much fiber is in my bread.

Unfortunately, it can still be challenging to find out how much protein, fat or sodium is in the meat I buy. It's all because of a regulatory loophole.

The USDA ruled in 1993 that single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products, such as raw beef roasts, ground beef, raw chicken, raw turkey or ground poultry could be labeled on a VOLUNTARY basis.

The nutrition information didn't have to be on the product label, it just should be close to the counter where the items are displayed.

When the regulations are voluntary, you can bet few companies will participate. A decade and a half after the regulations were first put in place, it's still difficult to get clear nutritional information about the various cuts of meat.

In 2001, a division within the USDA called the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) said that "the Agency did not find significant participation in its voluntary nutrition labeling program, which covers the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw products." They went on to propose that the USDA "require nutrition labeling of the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products." As of August 2009, we're still waiting for a final ruling on that proposal.

In the meantime, Americans continue to take in more fat and saturated fat from red meat products than any other food.

The companies that sell ground beef are allowed to mislead consumers another way, by using language that on any other meat product would be illegal. They use the word "LEAN" any way they want.

Federal regulations say that if a meat product is "Lean," it must have less than 10 grams of fat per serving while "Extra Lean" must have less than 5 grams of fat per serving. Ground beef is exempt from that rule.

Check out the ground beef labels. They generally proclaim in large letters things like "75% Lean" or "85% Extra Lean." Here's the scary part. How much fat do you think is in a six-ounce serving of 75% lean ground beef? Remember, six ounces is less than a half-pound.

The answer: 28 grams of fat and almost 11 grams of saturated fat. That's nearly half the fat a typical person should eat for an entire day and more than half the saturated fat. Six ounces of that "85% Extra Lean" ground beef still has more than 23 grams of fat and 9 grams of saturated fat.

It's a problem that can't be fixed at the state level. Individual states are prohibited from enacting tougher laws on meat labeling.


"State requirements adopted under state law may not differ from, or conflict with, existing federal labeling laws and regulations. States are, therefore, prohibited from imposing requirements different from or in addition to federal labeling requirements."

Individual states can't make things more clear because the federal government prohibits them. So here's what you can do.

When money isn't an issue, only buy ground beef that's 95% lean or better. A six-ounce serving has 278 calories, 10 grams of fat and 43 grams of protein. It's easy to prepare and works great with almost any recipe that calls for hamburger.

If you're on a budget, you can save a significant amount of money by buying the 80% lean (20% fat) hamburger, you just have to add a couple of steps in the preparation to make it healthier.

Cook Start by pan-frying the hamburger crumbles on medium heat for 8 to 12 minutes. If your recipe calls for vegetables like onion or garlic to be browned with the meat, go ahead and add them as directed. The meat is ready once the juices are no longer pink and it's at least 160 degrees.

Strain Using a slotted spoon or grease splatter shield, drain the fat from the pan.

Blot with Paper Towel Place three layers of paper towels on a plate and pour the ground beef on top. Let the beef sit for about a minute while the fat is absorbed into the towels. Use another towel to gently blot the top.

Spray and Drain Next, put all the beef in a strainer or colander. Pour hot water over the top and let the beef drain for 5 minutes. Once it's drained, you can add in any additional herbs or spices that your recipe may call for.

Look at the difference in fat on the chart below.

Ground Beef Fat Chart

You can save up to half off the price of ground beef, reduce the fat by two-thirds and keep almost all the protein.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.