How to buy the healthiest beef at the grocery store.
If you love beef there are plenty of good reasons to keep it in your diet. Just be choosy about the cuts you buy—some are
lean while others are loaded with fat. Reasonably sized portions of lean cuts of beef are a great source of protein and
delicious complement to vegetables. Few foods provide as much zinc, a mineral vital to growth and a healthy immune system.
Beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a healthy type of fat that, according to preliminary research, may help
with weight loss and could play a role in reducing risk for heart disease and maintaining strong bones. Here are some
guidelines for choosing the healthiest beef at the supermarket.
Beef is given quality grades determined by the amount of marbling and the age of the animal, both of which affect the
tenderness, juiciness and flavor of the meat. The USDA assigns three possible grades: Prime, Choice and Select. Prime meat
has the most marbling (fat) within the meat, making it juicy and flavorful but also increasing its fat content (including
saturated fat); Select has the least marbling; Choice is in the middle.
In the meat case, fresh beef should be bright red. Vacuum-packaged beef will be maroon because of the lack of oxygen. It
should be firm to the touch with little to no excess moisture in the package and the packaging should be in good condition.
Finally, be sure to check the "sell-by" date.
Tender cuts in the "loin" category, such as tenderloin, top loin and sirloin, and flavorful cuts like flank and strip steak
are lean and best for quick-cooking, dry-heat techniques like sautéing, grilling and broiling. Tough cuts like chuck and
round become tender with long, moist-heat cooking, such as stewing or braising. Always trim visible fat from whichever cut of
beef you choose.
What Labels Mean
Raised Without Antibiotics: This term indicates that the cow was raised without antibiotics
for health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Medications not classified as antibiotics may still be
No Hormones: Producers that show documentation that they do not use hormones in raising their
cows may use this label.
Natural: One of the most widely used labels, the term means that the meat has been minimally
processed and doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients or preservatives. "Natural" has absolutely nothing to do with
standards of care, type and quality of feed or administration of medications.
Percent Retained Water: To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the
temperature of cows during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered cows in a cold bath, which causes them to
absorb water. The USDA requires producers to list the maximum amount of water that may be retained.
Certified Organic: This USDA-regulated term means that all feed given to cows must be
certified organic, which means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, animal by-products or other additives. Cows raised to
meet certified organic standards also must have access to pasture.
Certified Humane Raised & Handled: Overseen by a nonprofit endorsed by the American Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, this label ensures your cow received
basic standards of care. For example, in conditions of extreme heat sun shades and water-cooling systems must be available to
cattle. Feed must be fresh. Cattle must have sufficient room to lie down in their normal positions in a clean area.
Refrigerate or freeze beef as soon as possible after purchase. If refrigerating beef, be sure to cook it or freeze it by the
"Use By" date on the package. If freezing beef for longer than two weeks, wrap in heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or freezer
bags to prevent freezer burn. Frozen beef should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, to prevent