What You Need to Know About the New Meat and Poultry Labels

Courtesy of SELF.com
Courtesy of SELF.com

By April Daniels Hussar,SELF magazine

Wondering how many calories and grams of fat you're adding by making your marinara sauce a Bolognese, or if you should try ground turkey this Taco Tuesday instead of ground beef? Starting this month, new labels on many of the meat products you buy that will tell you just that.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), "packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry, such as hamburger or ground turkey, will now feature nutrition facts panels on their labels. Additionally, 40 of the most popular whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry, such as chicken breast or steak, will also have nutritional information either on the package labels or on display to consumers at the store."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained the initiative in a statement on the department's website. "More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand. We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions. The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services work hard to provide the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, and now consumers will have another tool to help them follow these guidelines."

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The nutrition facts panels will include the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat a meat or poultry product contains. Plus, any ground or chopped product that lists a "lean percentage statement" on its label and is not considered "low in fat" also will list its fat percentage -- for example, if the label says "76% lean," it has to also state, "24% fat." Small businesses who grind their own meats are exempt from the rule, as long as they offer lean and fat information and don't make any other nutritional claims on the package.

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Health experts say the new labels are a step in the right direction. "This is a good thing," Angela Ginn, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells HealthySELF. "Labels are the GPS to better nutrition."

With the new meat labels, she says, you'll be able to easily compare the fat and caloric content of different cuts of meat and have a better idea of what to put back in the case. "If you really want a porterhouse steak," Ginn says, "you might realize that a smaller portion is a better idea, given the amount of fat in a larger cut."

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According to Ginn, the more educated the public is, the better. "Many health conditions can be linked to high-fat diets, especially those high in saturated fat," she says, "and saturated fat and cholesterol are found in animal sources such as ground beef, turkey and chicken."

When reading labels and deciding what to buy and cook, Ginn recommends looking for products that are 95 percent lean or less than 4 grams of saturated fat. And pay attention not only to what you're buying, but to how much you're eating and how you're preparing your food.

"Limit your portion size to 3-4 ounces cooked, choose lean sources and prepare healthy by baking, broiling, grilling or roasting," says Ginn, adding that overly charring meat on the grill can add carcinogens, and pan-frying it increases the amount of saturated fat you end up consuming.

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