Meat eaters will soon know the nutrition facts on their favorite cuts of beef, pork and poultry, whether they want to know them or not.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 40 popular cuts of meat would soon be required to have nutrition fact panels on their labels, much like the thousands of other products found in the grocery store. Whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry will also have nutrition fact labels, either on the package or at the point-of-purchase.
"Consumers are used to seeing these types of nutrition fact labeling on other products out there in the market, and now they can have this same important information in meat and poultry," said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety. "We're excited to provide this tool to American consumers."
The new facts will be required on Jan. 1, 2012, and will include information much like the facts found on other grocery products, such as calorie content and total grams of fat and saturated fat.
Products that list a lean percentage must include the percentage of fat in the product, as well. The USDA hopes that this added number will help consumers better understand the amount of lean protein versus fat in the meat.
"This is long overdue," said Dr. Peter McCullough, chief academic and scientific officer for St. John Providence Health System in Detroit. "The more comprehensive reporting we have regarding nutritional content, the better."
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the FDA and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said that the new rule would help consumers make more informed choices for their families.
"Our country is facing an obesity epidemic, and if we are to make any progress against this problem, it is critical that consumers have access to nutrition information about the foods they buy at restaurant said grocery stores," DeLauro said in a statement.
And Beth Kitchin, assistant professor of nutrition sciences at University of Alabama at Birmingham, was also happy to see the change.
"This is good because meats have always been under the jurisdiction of the USDA, and it seems that there was always some special privileges because of that," said Kitchin. "I think everything should be labeled."
"Most Americans eat more meat than they should," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. "Meat is a significant component of the typical American diet. Consequently, the specific meats chosen can have a substantial influence on overall diet quality."
Different kinds and cuts of meat have a broad range of calories, fat and saturated fat. A 3-ounce piece of cooked chicken contains 160 calories, 7 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. A 3-ounce piece of cooked beef roast contains 290 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat. Ground beef can contain as little as 5 and up to 30 percent fat.
Because of the discrepancies, doctors said it can be difficult for consumers to know which meats are the healthiest and unhealthiest choices.
High-fat red meats tend to be the most harmful because they contain the most saturated fat, said Christine Tenekjian, a registered dietitian at Duke University Medical Center's Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. But sausages and ribs can also be incredibly high in fat and saturated fat.