What do meat nutrition labels mean?

Since 2012, the USDA has required many popular cuts of meat to list nutritional information. Here's what to look out for.

Scanning nutrition labels is common for prepackaged groceries. But have you paid attention to what’s on the label at the meat counter? Here are some fast facts for the next time you shop:

For ground meat such as turkey or beef, nutrition labels list the percentage of fat. For example, a package of ground beef might list 80% lean meat and 20% fat. If you’re looking for a higher protein ratio, look for labels listing 90% lean meat and 10% fat.

Many (but not all) popular cuts of meat also list nutritional information based on average nutritional values per recommended serving size.

Meat labels can include the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat. Trans fats are found naturally in animal products but are often synthetically added in the form of hydrogenated oil. These types of fats have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, sudden death, diabetes—even aggression. While the USDA does not require trans fats to be listed on nutritional labels, it’s estimated that 75% to 80% voluntarily list trans fat. Look for trans fats listed on ground beef and poultry—and try to stay as close to zero grams as possible.

Nutritional labels may also list cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. You can use this information to help you track nutrient levels for a balanced diet.

Woman choosing meat from a grocery cooler

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