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Dietitians are celebrating all month long because March is National Nutrition Month! This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food”. This theme encourages us to achieve the numerous benefits healthy eating habits offer while including a variety of healthful foods from all of the food groups on a regular basis.
Previously working as a Supermarket RD, I quickly learned that a grocery store is a confusing place, especially in certain areas like the meat section.
It can be challenging grocery shopping for beef if you are unsure of the difference between flank steak and skirt steak. The different costs, categories, or even proper cooking techniques of various cuts of beef can throw off even a savvy home cook.
At the supermarket meat case, each beef package label typically identifies the primal cut and the sub-primal cut name. It also includes the weight, price per pound, total price, sell-by date, and safe handling instructions. It may also include a grade, nutrition and preparation information, and the country of origin.
It’s time to “Beef Up Nutrition Month” with decoding what the labels mean in the supermarket meat case.
BEEF QUALITY GRADING
The USDA divides beef into categories by different grades. Prime, Choice, and Select are the ones you will see at the grocery store. The certain qualifications that determine the quality grade of beef are:
- Distribution of marbling within the lean muscle at the 12th/13th rib
- Age/maturity of the carcass
- Color, texture, & firmness of the lean muscle
Prime-Grade Beef is the USDA’s highest designation. Coming from younger, well-fed cattle, this beef has more marbling with a firmer flesh. Prime-grade beef accounts for less than approximately five percent of the market in the United States, with the vast majority going to steakhouses and fancy hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for roasting, grilling, or broiling.
Choice-Grade Beef is of high quality and produced in highest quantity. Choice-grade beef has less marbling than Prime. This is the standard option at supermarkets. Choice roast and steaks, especially from the rib and loin, will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful when roasted, grilled, or broiled. Less tender cuts are great for slow cooking.
Select-Grade Beef is slightly leaner than Prime and Choice because it has less marbling. It can lack some tenderness, flavor, and juiciness as compared to the higher grades. Select grade beef often benefits from marinating prior to grilling or broiling. 1
Check out this easy to explore chart, outlining the various Grades of Beef.
NATURAL, GRASS-FED, ORGANIC – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Beyond just the quality grade, beef comes along with additional labels. Package labeling can be very confusing.
All cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pastures. But beef can be finished in a variety of ways, giving you choices when at the meat case in your local grocery store or at a restaurant.
“Natural” This label implies the beef has no artificial ingredients or colors added to it an is minimally processed. 2
“Naturally Raised” does have validity. As of 2009, the label ensures that the animals are free of antibiotics, never received growth-promoting hormones, never fed animal by-products, and may spend time at a feed yard. Naturally raised cattle may be either grain- or grass-finished.
“100% Organic Beef” means that the animals must be fed completely organic feed grains and have never received antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones. This is certified and inspected by the government. Organic beef cattle may be either grain- or grass-finished, as long as the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service certifies the feed is 100% organically grown and can be fed in a feed yard. 3
“Grass Finished” cattle spend their lives eating grass or foraging, but not always necessarily stay on a 100 percent grass-fed diet or finished on grass. Some “grass-fed” cattle are still fed grain for their last few weeks to help fatten the cattle. Grass-fed cattle may or may not be given FDA-approved antibiotics to treat, prevent, or control disease and/or growth-promoting hormones. 2
Beef provides you with 10 essential nutrients that support a heart-healthy lifestyle including protein, zinc, iron and B vitamins. The nutrients found in beef provide our bodies with the strength to thrive and grow throughout all the stages of life.
Beef is an excellent source of protein.
One 3-ounce cooked serving of beef provides approximately 50% of your Daily Value (25 grams) of this important nutrient—making it an excellent source! Protein helps maintain a healthy weight, as well as preserve and build muscle.
New research suggests it’s not only important to just get enough protein in at dinner or lunch but to spread it throughout your day for optimal health. Aim for 25-30 grams of protein at each meal. 4,5
What is considered lean?
6 Look for the word “round” or “loin” in its name when choosing lean cuts of beef.
Lean cuts include top sirloin steak, tenderloin steak, strip steak (or top loin steak), or 95% lean ground beef.
Whip up this simple and delicious stir-fry for dinner.
- 1 (8-ounce) can pineapple tidbits, 3 tablespoons juice reserved
- 5 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 lb. flank steak, cut into strips
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 3 tsp sesame oil, divided
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 cup snap peas
- 1 sweet pepper, sliced
- Whisk the reserved 3 tbsp pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, and sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Place beef in a medium bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Let marinate for 20 minutes.
- Add cornstarch to the remaining sauce and whisk until smooth.
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Transfer the beef to the pan. Whisk any remaining marinade into the bowl of sauce. Cook the beef, stirring every 1 to 2 minutes, until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate.
- Add the remaining 1 tsp oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add garlic, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, snap peas and sweet pepper to cook, stirring often, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Pour in the sauce and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 30 seconds. Add the beef and pineapple and cook, until heated through.
- Serve over rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice.
Keywords: stir fry, beef, dinner
Learn more about the health benefits of beef via Snacking in Sneakers
Fun Facts About Beef: Nutrients, Recipes, and a Free Printable Placemat! via Mama Teaches
Fresh Homemade Cheesy Beef-a-Roni via Brooklyn Active Mama
Slow Cooker Cuban Shredded Beef via Snacking in Sneakers
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1. Inspection & Grading of Meat and Poultry: What Are the Differences?
2. Meat & Poultry Labeling Terms
3. Organic Labeling Standards
4. Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2009;12:86-90
5. Mamerow MM, et al. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr 2014;144:876-80
6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety, and Inspection Service. Beef from Farm to Table. Available at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/c33b69fe-7041-4f50-9dd0-d098f11d1f13/Beef_from_Farm_to_Table.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
Grades of Beef
Decode the Label