July 25, 2014

Does Pink Slime Really Help Fight Childhood Obesity?

At a March 2012 news conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad defended Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), popularly known as “pink slime”, because they say it is “crucial to combating child obesity.”

Pink slime is added to regular ground beef at amounts up to 15% of the total product. The industry claims that LFTB is 92 to 97% lean because it is made from beef trimmings that has the fat removed by centrifuge.

Food Poisoning Bulletin requested a nutrition label from BPI. Rich Jochum, Corporate Administrator with Beef Products, Inc. complied with our request.

The label they sent states that in one four-ounce serving of the product, there are 160 calories, with 8 grams of fat. That works out to 7% fat by weight, which makes it 93% lean.

Food Poisoning Bulletin wondered exactly how many calories LFTB saves in one serving of ground beef, so we crunched the numbers, using the USDA’s Ground Beef Calculator.

Adding 15% of 93% lean LFTB by weight to 85% of 80/20 ground beef (80% lean, 20% fat) by weight to make one pound will save approximately 18 calories per four ounce serving. If a child ate three servings of ground beef every week, that would add up to a savings of 2808 calories over the course of a year, or a little more than 3/4 pound.

Nutritionist Shereen Jegtvig, editor of Nutrition at About.com, said that 18 calories per serving is “not going to made a huge difference in the fight against childhood obesity.”

How much is 18 calories? The American Diabetes Association says that “any food, drink, condiment or seasoning that contains 20 calories or fewer is a ‘free food’ that does not count toward one day’s total caloric intake.” You can burn off 20 calories by walking 5 minutes at 3 miles per hour, or by sitting and reading a book for 20 minutes.

Dr. Ted Labuza, professor of Food Science at the University of Minnesota, agrees that amount isn’t significant. He said, “that’s far fetched. While every little bit helps, that’s not going to make a big dent in childhood obesity.”

Another interesting fact popped up during this research. There are two ways to look at the fat content of foods. The amount of fat in beef that is declared on the label is calculated by weight in grams. But when nutritionists talk about the amount of fat in food, they usually use calories. Any food with 30% or fewer calories from fat is classified as a low fat food.

Calculated by calories instead of weight, the LFTB from BPI Inc. gets 44% of its total calories from fat. Many people may look at a package of ground beef that says 93% lean and think, “gee, only 7% fat. That’s not much.” But fat provides 9 calories per gram, more than twice as much as protein (4 calories per gram) and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) and that adds up quickly.

Ground Beef Calories per 4 ounce serving Fat grams per serving Fat as % of calories
80% lean 287 23 72%
90% lean 199 11 50%
93% lean 160 8 44%
95% lean 155 6 35%

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