Choosing lean meats and poultry can help someone keep their saturated fat intake within guidelines and reduce their risk of chronic disease. Healthier choices include beef that is at least 90% lean and skinless chicken.

Many people are aware that experts advise limiting the amount of red and processed meats they eat. These health guidelines aim to reduce people’s risk of heart disease, obesity, and other chronic conditions.

Swapping fatty meat for lean meat is another simple way to improve health.

This article explores the nutritional profile of lean meats and gives tips for choosing the best types. It also discusses the benefits and drawbacks of lean meat.

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Lean meat and poultry are types and cuts of meat that have less fat.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains that meat and poultry consist of:

  • muscle
  • connective tissue
  • fat
  • bone

The muscle in meat is approximately 75% water, although that varies according to the cut of meat, 20% protein, and 5% fat, carbohydrates and minerals.

However, some cuts of meat contain extra fat around the muscles and bones. Additionally, the skin of poultry is a source of fat. Lean meat has proportionately more protein and less fat than some other meats.

Choosing lean meat helps people adhere to experts’ guidelines for health, including saturated fat intake.

Evidence indicates that eating higher amounts of red and processed meat raises the risk of death, heart disease, and colorectal cancer. Red and processed meats often have higher amounts of saturated fat and other compounds that can cause adverse health effects.

For example, heme-iron in meat helps the process of oxidation of fats and cholesterol, generating free radicals that are detrimental to health.

To support health, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend that people eat lean meat and limit the amount of saturated fat they consume to less than 10% of calories per day.

Additionally, the guidelines explain that eating a healthy diet including lean meats and poultry, eggs, and vegetarian protein sources such as nuts and seeds provides approximately 5% of calories as saturated fat. Therefore, there is little room to consume additional saturated fat sources and stay within a healthy limit.

The same guidelines recommend that people consume as little dietary cholesterol as possible.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that eating food such as red meat that are higher in saturated fats can increase someone’s LDL cholesterol levels and put them at more risk of heart disease.

There can be drawbacks to eating lean meat if someone is following a specific diet. For example, people who choose to follow a ketogenic diet will usually choose fatty meat rather than lean meat to reach or maintain ketosis.

Avoiding lean meat may help people on a keto diet reach their goals, but evidence for the safety and effectiveness of the keto approach is controversial.

The USDA and the American Heart Association (AHA) advise people to look for labels on meat and poultry that say they are at least 90% lean. Sometimes, beef or poultry is available that is 93-95% lean.

Additionally, research suggests that choosing grass-fed meat may be healthier because it contains more phytochemicals and antioxidants and has a better fat profile.

A 2016 review indicates that the meat of animals reared to organic standards and allowed to roam and forage for food has better fatty acid profiles and beneficial amounts of omega-3.

People should prepare lean meats by broiling or baking to avoid the extra fat involved in frying and roasting.

The following is a list of the best lean meats to choose:


People can include lean poultry in their diet by eating:

  • skinless chicken and turkey not containing visible fat
  • lean ground turkey or chicken
  • wild game

Pork and beef

Lean cuts of pork and beef include:

  • beef and pork with a label that says “loin” or “round,” as these have the least fat
  • beef sirloin
  • flat-iron steak
  • bone-in pork loin chops
  • “choice” or “prime” cuts of beef with excess fat cut off
  • 95% lean ground beef for hamburgers or meatloaf

Grocery stores may market beef as either lean or extra lean. The USDA gives guidance on the fat profiles per 100 grams (g) of beef, which is about 3.5 ounces.

Lean beef has less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per 100 g.

Extra lean beef has less than 5 g of fat, less than 2 g of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 g.

Additionally, 100 g of 97% lean ground broiled beef contains 153 calories and 26.4 g of protein.

When choosing poultry, opting for skinless pieces helps to reduce the fat content. Skinless and boneless braised chicken has the following nutrition profile per 100 g:

  • 157 calories
  • 32.1 g protein
  • 3.24 g fat
  • 1.01 g saturated fat
  • 116 mg cholesterol

Choosing lean meat and poultry as part of a healthy diet can help reduce someone’s risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and early death.

Experts advise that people choose meat that is at least 90% lean and cut off any visible fat.

Skinless poultry, beef sirloin, and 95% lean ground beef are healthier choices. They can help someone stay within the government’s recommendation that a person get no more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat.

Grass-fed and organic meat can have more beneficial fat profiles and antioxidants.

Additionally, broiling and baking instead of roasting and frying helps reduce someone’s overall fat intake.