In our last issue, we addressed the history behind consumer demand for lean beef, and what the industry has accomplished in delivering it. But how lean is lean enough?
Taking a Different Tack On Lean Beef
Are there still opportunities when thinking about lean beef? Yes, agree industry experts, but not necessarily in the direction it has taken over the past 40 years.
“We’re now to the point we just can’t get any leaner,” according to Jeff Savell of Texas A&M University. “Even if the only grade eaten by consumers was Select, it wouldn’t change fat intake (by Americans) appreciably.”
The checkoff’s Shalene McNeill agrees. “Because today’s beef is so closely trimmed, there’s not much more progress we can make toward leaner product,” she says. “But the availability of lean beef cuts is extremely important in helping consumers feel better about beef.”
The industry’s message on lean could hardly be more positive. Today more than 38 cuts, when cooked and visible fat trimmed, have been shown to fit the USDA definition of lean, which is less than 10 grams of total fat, less than or equal to 4.5 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3Â½ ounces. This compares to seven cuts just 20 years ago.
McNeill says, however, the industry’s best messages may sometimes get lost in the discussion on lean. “While the focus on lean is important, it’s only part of our great beef nutrition story,” she says. “All beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including high-quality protein, important to good health.”
Still, she says having the tremendous lean message is very important – even if it isn’t the particular message the industry decides to utilize in every instance. “Historically, it’s been an important focus,” McNeill says, “because unfortunately, when consumers and health professionals think of nutrition and beef, they often think of fat first.
“Today we’re suggesting to our state beef council partners they don’t need to talk as much about the numbers, because lean cuts have become so prevalent,” she says. “We need to stress that many popular cuts of beef are lean and all beef has 10 essential nutrients.”
While fat is still a leading barrier for consumers choosing beef, “the lean story is giving us many chances to tell a good nutrition story,” says McNeill. “We have a great opportunity to show that beef is surprisingly more lean and nutritious than [consumers] think.”