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Beef Makes the Cut for Paleo Diet

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Recently, I received an inquiry from a reader about what cuts are beef are appropriate for the Paleo Diet. The reader knew that it was important to eat lean cuts, but he didn’t know what was considered a lean cut of beef.  In cooking school, students are taught every cut of meat, where it came from on the animal and how to cut it. This knowledge lets them make informed decisions when doing grocery shopping. Mysteries don’t exist along the meat aisle for me. After reading this article, they’ll be gone for you too.

The key to purchasing meat when following the Paleo Diet is to select lean cuts.  If you’re purchasing fresh fish, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting a steak or fillet.  All fish is lean. However, if you have a hankering for beef, the right cut makes all the difference. Eating a diet of high fat beef is not what the Paleo Diet is about. 

Not only is it important to get the right cut of beef, you need to learn what the animal was fed. We have all heard the adage “You are what you eat”, well; it’s the same for cows. I prefer to eat organic, grass feed beef. When eating organic beef, you are eating an animal that are steroid free, hormone free, and not injected with antibiotics. Grass fed animals are the most abundant source of natural conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally occurring free fatty acid and a source of Omega 3. Simply switching from grain-fed to grass-fed products can greatly increase your intake of CLA[i]. Grass fed animals are less fatty than grain fed animals. 

So what cuts of beef are acceptable to the Paleo Diet? As a general rule, lean beef acceptable for the Paleo Diet are the less expensive cuts of meat. Choose eye of round, bottom round, top round, top butt, or boneless brisket if you want to have a pot roast, stew or braised meat. These beef cuts are very flavourful if cooked properly. They are full of collagen so they need to be cooked slowly to allow for this connective tissue to breakdown making the meat tender and tasty.  These cuts are very lean because they come from the parts of the animal that does most of the work – shoulder, leg and girdle.

If you’re in the mood for a nice thick steak, get a big sirloin steak which has 65% protein.[ii] You can even eat filet mignon. Yes, beef tenderloin is allowed on the Paleo Diet. The tenderest of all beef cuts is also one of the leanest. The tenderloin is located along the inside of the back. This part of the animal gets very little exercise which is why it’s so tender. 

Flank steak is great for Paleo Diet recipes. This cut is very delicious once it’s been marinated and grilled. The trick with flank steak is to not cook it past medium rare and to slice it very thin across the grain. Use flank steak in salad.  Unfortunately, due to increasing popularity over the last few years, it’s not as cheap as it used to be, but it’s still less expensive than a New York Strip.

Speaking of New York steaks, this is a perfect example of beef that you shouldn’t be eating when following the Paleo Diet. Beef cuts that come from the loin or rib primal are the most expensive cuts of meat and probably the ones you are most used to. All the great and tasty restaurant cuts come from these primals. Porterhouse, T Bone, New York strip, rib eye, Prime Rib and beef ribs are not lean and are not acceptable for Paleo Diet followers. The simple reason these cuts are available at every steakhouse is that they are fatty. That’s what makes them so yummy!

Don’t forget organ meats when choosing beef. Calf liver is a delicacy and tender when properly cooked. Beef heart is 69% protein and beef liver is 67% protein. Even sweetbreads are rich in protein with 77% protein.[iii]

So the next time you’re planning your grocery trip, select some beef. Just stay away from those fatty cuts and go with one of the lean cuts. They cost less and are better for you.


[i] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0309174005004328

[ii] Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet, Wiley Press, 2002, p. 23

[iii] Ibid.

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About Layne Pennell

  • John R. Dykers, Jr. M.D.

    Cod and other cold water fish have much more oil than freshwater bass, for example.
    Beef may also be lean in the loin cuts if it grows rapidly and is harvested younger before the long bones have stopped growing and fat deposition has not progressed yet, e.g. CharLean, our Trademrk on our purebred Charolais that are not kept for breeding. CharLean is raised on grain and grass and harvested at about 10.5 mos of age. Kidney fat and marbling are essentially absent and even the intramuscular fat that we do not ordinarily see is miniscule. Ribeye fat 0.95%, Strip 0.62%, sirloin 0.38%, filet mignon 0.22% compared to an Omaha Steaks Filet 20% abd those decimal points are correct! There are “cuts” that are universally more lean than others, but it also matters about management and breed and age.
    John Dykers, Jr.

  • Rowan Crowley

    Why are you portraying paleo type “diets” as low fat? That seems odd to me, as paleo is generally fat agnostic, or high fat. 70% kcal from fat, and that’s on the more moderate side of things.