bbq meatloaf burgers

If you know me and read the title of this article, you may be thinking, “He’s gone soft!” After all, red meat is probably my favorite food. But here’s the deal: I’m not as young as I once was, the pounds are harder to take off since my metabolism began hibernating, and health concerns like cholesterol are what responsible adults concern themselves with, right? So, where I once brazenly consumed ground beef in staggering quantities, I now am a bit more discerning. That doesn’t mean I go veggie or eliminate ground beef entirely. However, it does mean I’ve gotten a bit more careful about what I’m consuming. How I manage to do so without sacrificing much in the way of flavor is what I’m going to share with you today. Get ready for a healthier diet that still makes your tastebuds happy.

Is Ground Beef Bad for You?

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we proceed: Ground beef, despite getting a bad rap, has nutritional value. In fact, the nutritional content of ground beef can compare favorably to other types of ground meat. That’s not to say, however, that all ground beef (or red meat for that matter) is created equal.

Depending on where you shop, asking for ground beef could get you something that’s about 70 percent lean. This likely means you’re getting a mixture of mystery bits high in saturated fat and cholesterol. That’s a problem. Consider this: After cooking bacon, you drain the bacon grease into a container that goes into the freezer instead of dumping it down the drain. Why? Because bacon grease that doesn’t get flushed through your pipes properly and completely gets stuck, hardens up and causes clogs. If you’ve ever had plumbing problems, you know that clogs are a real drag. The same concept applies to your arteries.

Saturated fat, when consumed, can lead to higher levels of cholesterol. Higher levels of cholesterol can turn into hardened plaque and clog the arteries, causing some serious problems for your heart and the flow of blood (and, therefore, oxygen) to other parts of your body. And while clogged pipes are a major drag, clogged arteries are life-threatening. So, reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol one consumes is key. Luckily for beef eaters, there are other options than the high-fat stuff described above.

red curry sloppy beef banh mi

Chowhound’s Red Curry Sloppy Banh Mi

Different Types of Ground Beef

Before going to your butcher and ordering ground beef, you want to know what’s out there. As mentioned above, the generic term “ground beef” could get you something pretty dicey. Typically, there are three additional varieties regularly stocked at your supermarket: ground chuck (80 percent lean), ground round (85 percent lean), and ground sirloin (90 percent or more lean). If you go to a butcher, you could even go with a ground tenderloin, which will yield the highest lean value you’re likely to get from beef (but why would you do that to a filet?!).

Given this, the healthiest option is an extra lean ground beef, either sirloin or tenderloin. This will help you minimize your saturated fat and cholesterol intake while capitalizing on the beef flavor and nutritional value you love. Something I should point out, however, is if you transition from ground beef or ground chuck to ground sirloin, you may notice a difference in flavor and texture. It might be a bit more bland (fat does add flavor, you know).

In order to maximize the healthy benefit and taste of the leaner meat, it’s important not to overdo it with the salt, and avoid overcooking. Tacos are a nice option here because the seasoning is the major player, and you’re likely to use the same amount whether the beef is 99% or 75% lean.

Healthy Ground Beef Alternatives

Now, if you’re not committed to beef in the same way I am, your options are plentiful—even without taking the array of plant-based meat alternatives into account.

Ground bison is a great beef alternative because it’s nutrient rich and extremely lean. The issue you’ll run into with this is that it’s not as widespread, it’s more expensive, and it’s a bit lacking in flavor. From my perspective, however, the flavor is no more or less flavorful than the more popular ground turkey, and it could be argued that the bison is packed with more nutritional value. A good bison ground meat makes a pretty solid burger.

If you need something more widely available, and reasonably priced, take a look at ground turkey. It’s a great option to replace ground beef, chuck, and round. However, you have to be careful. By and large, you’ll find three varieties: 85 percent lean, 93 percent lean, and 99 percent lean. Like beef, not all ground turkey is created equal. This means if you have a choice between 85 percent or 93 percent lean ground turkey and an extra lean ground sirloin, you might want to think twice before substituting. Not only will you be going with a fattier option, but also one that’s arguably less nutrient-rich. If you’re going to make the switch from beef to turkey, your best bet is to go with 99 percent lean from turkey breast.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about ground chicken, it pretty much works like the larger fowl variety, both in terms of leanness and nutrients. Whether we’re talking chicken or turkey, stick with ground breast for the healthiest option. I like using turkey instead of beef in chili and in meatloaf.

spicy turkey chili

Chowhound’s Spicy Turkey Chili

Finally, if you’re not into beef or turkey and don’t want to search out bison, look into pork. Like everything else, you’re going to want to stick with a leaner cut—center loin or tenderloin. Lean ground pork can compare nicely to the leaner options described above, and can even compare more favorably in the nutrients department to ground turkey or chicken. You might not find it on the supermarket shelves, but odds are your supermarket butcher can ground some up more readily than bison. Ground pork is a good option for meatballs, and another good meatloaf choice. In fact, you can combine lean turkey, pork, and beef for a meatloaf that’s rich in nutrients, lower in fat, and flavorful.

The next time you have a hankering for burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, chili, tacos, or nachos, pay attention to the ground meat you use. Be healthier this year by looking for leaner options. If you go with ground beef, use sirloin. If you’re looking for turkey, chicken, or pork make sure to avoid the fattier varieties. And if you want to be bold, check out bison.

Perfecting Ground Poultry

These Ground Turkey & Chicken Recipes Send Beef to the Backseat
Greg is a Chicago guy who likes to cook, dine, and help others navigate their food choices. Why? Because food is an integral part of our lives, and he's the best version of himself when he's well fed. When he's not writing for Chowhound, he's writing about handling the domestic responsibilities of a husband and stay-at-home parent for his new online community. Visit
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