Contribution of Meat to the Diet


(1) To define the role of red meat in the dietary guidelines.

(2) To discuss the nutrient composition of red meat.

(3) To discuss research trials where lean meats have been used in cholesterol-lowering diets.

Reading material: Principles of Meat Science (4th Edition), chapter 13, pages 247-259.

1. Dietary Guidelines

American Heart Association (AHA): An Eating Plan for Healthy Americans (Oct. 2000)

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose 5 or more servings per day.
  • Eat a variety of grain products, including whole grains. Choose 6 or more servings per day.
  • Include fat-free and low-fat milk products, fish, legumes (beans), skinless poultry and lean meats.
  • Choose fats with 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving, such as liquid and tub margarines, canola oil and olive oil.
  • Balance the number of calories you eat with the number you use each day. (To find that number, multiply the number of pounds you weigh now by 15 calories. This represents the average number of calories used in one day if you’re moderately active. If you get very little exercise, multiply your weight by 13 instead of 15. Less-active people burn fewer calories.)
  • Maintain a level of physical activity that keeps you fit and matches the number of calories you eat. Walk or do other activities for at least 30 minutes on most days. To lose weight, do enough activity to use up more calories than you eat every day.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in calories or low in nutrition, including foods like soft drinks and candy that have a lot of sugars.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and/or cholesterol, such as full-fat milk products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and egg yolks. Instead choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol from the first four points on page 2.
  • Eat less than 6 grams of salt (sodium chloride) per day (2,400 milligrams of sodium).
  • Have no more than one alcoholic drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two if you’re a man. (“One drink” means it has no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol.)

Guidelines for Heart-Healthy Living (NCEP, 2000)

Whatever your blood cholesterol level, you can make changes to help lower it or keep it low and reduce your risk for heart disease. These are guidelines for heart-healthy living that the whole family (including children ages 2 and above) can follow:

1. Choose foods low in saturated fat.

All foods that contain fat are made up of a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol level more than anything else you eat. The best way to reduce blood cholesterol is to choose foods lower in saturated fat. One way to help your family do this is by choosing foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — foods naturally low in total fat and high in starch and fiber.

2. Choose foods low in total fat.

Since many foods high in total fat are also high in saturated fat, eating foods low in total fat will help your family eat less saturated fat. When you do eat fat, substitute unsaturated fat — either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated — for saturated fat. Fat is a rich source of calories, so eating foods low in fat will also help you eat fewer calories. Eating fewer calories can help you lose weight — and, if you are overweight, losing weight is an important part of lowering your blood cholesterol. (Consult your family doctor if you have a concern about your child’s weight.)

3. Choose foods high in starch and fiber.

Foods high in starch and fiber are excellent substitutes for foods high in saturated fat. These foods — breads, cereals, pasta, grains, fruits, and vegetables — are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They are also lower in calories than foods that are high in fat. But limit fatty toppings and spreads like butter and sauces made with cream and whole milk dairy products. Foods high in starch and fiber are also good sources of vitamins and minerals.

When eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, foods with soluble fiber — like oat and barley bran and dry peas and beans — may help to lower blood cholesterol.

4. Choose foods low in cholesterol.

Remember, dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol, although usually not as much as saturated fat. So it’s important for your family to choose foods low in dietary cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is found only in foods that come from animals. And even if an animal food is low in saturated fat, it may be high in cholesterol; for instance, organ meats like liver and egg yolks are low in saturated fat but high in cholesterol. Egg whites and foods from plant sources do not have cholesterol.

5. Be more physically active.

Being physically active helps improve blood cholesterol levels: it can raise HDL and lower LDL. Being more active also can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, improve the fitness of your heart and blood vessels, and reduce stress. And being active together is great for the entire family.

6. Maintain a healthy weight, and lose weight if you are overweight.

People who are overweight tend to have high blood cholesterol levels than people of a healthy weight. Overweight adults with an “apple” shape — bigger (pot) belly — tend to have higher risk for heart disease than those with a “pear” shape — bigger hips and thighs.

Whatever your body shape, when you cut the fat in your diet, you cut down on the richest source of calories. A family eating pattern high in starch and fiber instead of fat is a good way to help control weight. Do not go on crash diets that are very low in calories since they can be harmful to your health. If you are overweight, losing even a little weight can help to lower LDL-cholesterol and raise HDL-cholesterol.

National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP, 2000).

Total Blood Cholesterol Categories:
Less than 200 mg/dL Desirable
200 – 239 mg/dL Borderline-High
240 mg/dL or greater High


Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans (USDA, 2000)



  • Aim for a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active each day.


  • Let the Pyramid guide your food choices.
  • Choose a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Keep food safe to eat.


  • Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.
  • Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

What about Meat?

  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and eggs
  • Have two or three servings, with a daily total of about 6 ounces. Three ounces of cooked lean beef or chicken without the skin — the size of a deck of cards — provides about 6 grams of fat.
  • Trim fat from meat; take skin off poultry.

2. Meat Composition

National Consumer Retail Beef Study (Savell et al., 1987, 1989)

Consumers wanted leaner beef — less excess fat or trimmable fat.

Consumers wanted taste fat but not waste fat!

National Beef Market Basket Survey (Savell et al., 1991)

Beef retail cases in twelve cities were evaluated.

Retail cuts had an overall fat thickness of .11 inch.

Retail cuts from the major primal cuts had an overall fat thickness of .14 inch.

Beef steaks and roasts had 27.4% less fat than USDA Agriculture Handbook 8-13, and ground beef had 10.2% less fat.

National Lamb Market Basket Survey (Harris et al., 1990)

Lamb retail cases in six cities were evaluated.

Retail cuts had an overall fat thickness of .15 inch.

Average percentage separable lean was 55.64%, separable fat was 16.51%, and bone and connective tissue was 27.67%.

Of the separable fat, 42.83% was external fat and 53.00% was seam fat.

Less than 1% of all lamb found in the survey was imported (New Zealand) lamb.

Nationwide Survey of the Composition and Marketing of Pork Products at Retail (Buege et al., 1990)

Fourteen fresh pork products from retail cases in fifteen cities were evaluated.

Retail cuts had an average fat thickness of .10 inch.

Eight sampled products had comparable listings in Handbook 8-10, and they had 19% less fat than the Handbook.

Five cuts from the blade loin and center loin regions had 26% less fat than the Handbook.

3.Meat in the Diet

Do Americans eat too much meat?

Meat Consumption Data
Basis Ounces
Carcass 4.6
Retail Cut 3.4
Boneless Retail 2.9
Cooked Edible Portion (1/2 of the fat trim consumed) 2.1
Processed Meat .4
Total 2.5
U.S. per capita consumption of meat, 1970-1996Retail weight
1970 79.6 2.0 48.0 2.1 131.7 27.4 6.4 11.7 177.3
1975 83.0 2.8 38.7 1.3 125.8 26.4 6.5 12.1 170.9
1980 72.1 1.3 52.1 1.0 126.5 32.5 8.1 12.4 179.4
1985 74.6 1.5 47.7 1.1 124.9 36.1 9.1 15.0 185.1
1990 64.0 0.9 46.4 1.0 112.3 42.5 13.8 15.0 183.6
1991 63.1 0.8 46.9 1.0 111.8 44.2 14.2 14.9 185.1
1992 62.8 0.8 49.5 1.0 114.1 46.7 14.2 14.8 189.8
1993 61.5 0.8 48.9 1.0 112.2 46.5 14.1 15.0 187.8
1994 63.8 0.8 49.5 0.9 115.0 49.5 14.2 15.2 193.9
1995 64.0 0.8 49.1 0.9 114.8 49.4 14.1 15.0 193.3
1996 64.2 1.0 46.1 0.8 112.1 50.5 14.7 14.8 192.0
Source: Livestock and Poultry, Situation and Outlook Report, USDA.

4. Other Issues

Taste Fat Versus Waste Fat

Consumers want intramuscular (marbling) fat because it helps provide the desired taste characteristics associated with beef; however, the consumers do not want waste fat — excessive external fat or intermuscular (seam) fat.

Window of Acceptability

To help address the issue of fat and taste, the “Window of Acceptability” (Savell and Cross, 1988) was developed.

Window of Acceptability

A minimum amount of 3% fat in raw meat must be present as marbling fat in retail cuts or the palatability will be undesirable.

When the amount of marbling increases above 3%, there is a slight increase in palatability with further thresholds occurring at 5% and 7%.

The maximum amount of fat that could be included in retail cuts and still fit within dietary guidelines was determined using the following information and assumptions.

(1) A 2,000 Kcal daily diet.
(2) According to the American Heart Association, no more than 30% of calories from fat (thus, 600 calories per day from fat).(3) Only 25% (an estimate) of the calories from fat should come from meat fat (thus, 150 calories per day from meat fat).
(4) Two servings (4 ounces each, uncooked) from the meat group per day.
(5) 150 calories per day from meat fat divided by 9 Kcal per gram of fat = 16.6 grams of fat in meat per day.(6) 16.6 grams of fat in meat per day divided by 8 ounces of uncooked meat per day (226.8 grams) = 7.3% fat or mid-point Moderate marbling (mid-point high Choice).

Therefore, the “Window of Acceptability” indicates the point where fat stops being an asset in taste and becomes a liability in nutritional merit. The “window” is wide enough for most beef from U.S. Select through the mid-point of high U.S. Choice to be used by almost everyone in the United States.

Source: Trends. Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket. (Food Marketing Institute, 1990).

Factors for Food Selection:
1988 1989 1990
Taste 88 87 88
Nutrition 72 76 75
Product Safety 83 74 71


5. Good Nutrients versus Bad Nutrients

Good Nutrients

The following graph shows the %RDA provided by Beef Composite, All Grades, Separable Lean Only, 0″ fat trim, Cooked. The percentages for females are based on a 1,500 kcal diet, and the percentages for males are based on a 2,000 kcal diet. Cholesterol does not have an RDA; therefore, the value is based on the recommendation of 300 mg per day.

RDA for 3 ounces of beef

Heme Iron Sources (3 oz cooked) Milligrams Iron
Beef Calves liver 5.3
Sirloin 2.9
Ground, lean 1.9
Pork Tenderloin 1.3
Ham, boneless 1.2
Lamb Loin 2.1
Veal Loin .9
Chicken Breast .9


  1. There are two types of iron — heme iron and nonheme iron. Meat, poultry and fish contain heme iron which is more easily absorbed by the body. Plants contain mainly nonheme iron which is not as easily absorbed by the body.
  2. Meat, poultry and fish also help the body absorb more nonheme iron; therefore, it is beneficial to consume meat and vegetables together to get the maximum iron absorption.
  3. Other items such as Vitamin C also aid in nonheme iron absorption, but items such as coffee and tea, legumes, and spinach are considered iron absorption blockers.

6. Kcals, Total Fat, and Cholesterol

The following charts compare the caloric content, total fat content, and the amount of cholesterol in specific retail cuts.

Fat content of 3 ounce serving

Calories per 3 ounce serving


Cholesterol for 3 ounce portion


7. Lean Meat in the Diet

Can lean meat really fit into a healthy diet plan?

Effect of dietary stearic acid on plasma cholesterol and lipoprotein levels (1988). University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Used liquid diets to study the metabolic effects of stearic acid (C18:0) on plasma lipoprotein levels of 11 subjects.

Concluded that stearic acid appears to be as effective as oleic acid in lowering plasma cholesterol levels when either replaces palmitic acid (C16:0) in the diet.

Effect of a lean beef diet and of a chicken and fish diet on lipoprotein profiles (1991) Cooperative study between Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M University.

Test diet contained either lean beef (4% fat) or chicken and fish (1.7% fat).

Changes in low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol were similar in the two groups, but the chicken/fish group showed a greater decrease in high-density lipoprotein.

Indicates that lean beef or chicken and fish in diets with less than 30% of calories from fat have similar effects on serum lipoproteins.


Mean serum lipids (mg/dl) for the two diets
Period Total cholesterol LDL HDL
Beginning of study
Lean Beef 220.7 +/- 14.6 145.7 +/- 19.9 55.5 +/- 13.4
Chicken/fish 225.3 +/- 13.6 148.2 +/- 16.9 58.6 +/- 15.8
End of Stabilization Diet
Lean Beef 197.6 +/- 21.0 128.2 +/- 21.1 51.4 +/- 12.2
Chicken/Fish 215.8 +/- 21.8 137.0 +/- 21.0 58.5 +/- 16.1
End of Test Diet
Lean Beef 196.9 +/- 23.6 126.5 +/- 24.2 50.4 +/- 10.4
Chicken/Fish 210.9 +/- 23.4 136.6 +/- 21.8 54.6 +/- 15.8



American Heart Association. 1988. Dietary Guidelines for Healthy American Adults. American Heart Association.

Buege, D.R., Held, J.E., Smith, C.A., Sather, L.K., and Klatt, L.V. 1990. Nationwide Survey of the Composition and Marketing of Pork Products at Retail. Final report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the National Pork board through the Pork Industry Group of the National Live Stock and Meat Board.

Food Marketing Institute. 1990. Trends: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket. Food Marketing Institute.

Harris, J.J., Savell, J.W., Miller, R.K., Hale, D.S., Griffin, D.B., Beasley, L.C., and Cross, H.R. 1990. A national market basket survey for lamb. J. Food Qual. 13:453-465.

National Cholesterol Education Program. 1990. Report of the Expert Panel on Population Strategies for Blood Cholesterol Reduction. NIH Publication No. 90-3047.

Savell, J.W., Branson, R.E., Cross, H.R., Stiffler, D.M., Wise, J.W., Griffin, D.B., and Smith, G.C. 1987. National Consumer Retail Beef Study: Palatability evaluations of beef loin steaks that differed in marbling. J. Food Sci. 52:517-519 & 532.

Savell, J.W. and Cross, H.R. 1988. The role of fat in the palatability of beef, pork and lamb. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

Savell, J.W., Cross, H.R., Francis, J.J., Wise, J.W., Hale, D.S., Wilkes, D.L., and Smith, G.C. 1989. National Consumer Retail Beef Study: Interaction of trim level, price and grade on consumer acceptance of beef steaks and roasts. J. Food Qual. 12:251-274.

Savell, J.W., Harris, J.J., Cross, H.R., Hale, D.S., and Beasley, L.C. 1991. National Beef Market Basket Survey. J. Anim. Sci. 69:2883-2893.

USDA. 1990. Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guideline for Americans. United States Department of Agriculture. Home and Garden Bulletin No. 232.

Students should know:

(1) Some of the nutrients found in beef.

(2) Comparisons of cholesterol in different kinds of meats.

(3) Fat content of different kinds of meats prepared different ways.

(4) Roles of the National Consumer Retail Beef Study and the National Beef Market Basket Survey on the beef industry.

Links to related sites on the Internet

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