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Different Grades of Meat - what is the healthiest?

Everyone wants to eat healthy these days, so what are the different grade of meats available and what are the healthiest.

Depending on the manufacturer there is a wide range of systems they use to grade and label their product. These grades you should see on the labels of the product and are often seen as budget, premium, MSA (Meat standards Australia), Free range, organic, Star ratings of 3-5, heart smart, Hormone/antibiotic free, grass fed, grain fed.

These grades are more of a marketing tool and don’t have a lot to do with the nutritional quality, more of a guide to what they regard as their level of quality and are not regulated.

So what is the difference between these grades? And what Grade does Sunnyside Meats use?

All our meat is hormone and antibiotic free, fed on grass and grain.


  • A budget grade doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad or of poor quality, it might just have more fat cover, a darker colour, coarser grain, older stock, not cut to requirements and not always guaranteed to be tender (because it is not from a selected supplier: budget grade is a lot more open than the strict premium grading systems)
  • A premium grade should have low but consistent fat content, a light red colour, finer grain through the meat and a guarantee on the quality.
  • MSA is a grading system used throughout Australia for Lamb and Beef. All these products have met a strict criteria to meet expectations for quality and flavour.
  • Free range is a term used together with Organic and hormone/antibiotic free, meaning animals shouldn’t be confined and be able to roam outside as they please and are not fed anything but their natural diet. Consumers that are concerned about the welfare of animals are prepared to pay extra for these products.
  • -Star ratings and Heart Smart labeling generally are products that are of low fat content and should show this with a nutritional chart on the packaging. Star ratings will range from 1 to 5 stars, with 1 being lowest and 5 being the nutritionally manufactured product. Some of these may also have terms as lean, extra lean, extra trim.


For an example an extra lean piece of meat will contain half the amount of fat than a lean piece : being 20g of fat per 200g for lean cut (but this description can vary from different manufacturers).

  • Grass fed livestock is quite popular being only fed on grass available to them in the paddock and you could say it also falls into the free range category as the livestock has a natural diet having access to pasturised paddocks. This will generally have a darker colour of meat than those that are grain fed.
  • Grain fed livestock can range from being in open pasturised paddocks with access to grain or being lot fed for a certain period ranging from 30-300 days depending on fat and marbling effect is needed to be achieved.

These terms can be used on any cut or type of meats as they are not regulated by the Food Standards Australia. An example of a premium cut would be an expensive ones like Rib fillet, Rump, Sirloin, Lamb fillet, Pork Medallion and a Budget might be referred to a Ybone, blade, chuck, Lamb forequarter chop, Pork spare rib. Neither of these terms might not have the top star rating because they have a higher fat content. There is no reason why a premium cut is any better than a budget cut, they just need to be cooked differently.

So what is the healthiest meat?

Kangaroo is technically the healthiest it has the lowest amount of Kilojules per serving. If you’re not into kangaroo, some other options are- Fish with a low level of mercury, an extra trim eye fillet steak, chicken breast, pork fillet.
They are the healthiest cuts but you must take into consideration that each category of meats contains a different amount vitamins and minerals, so depending on your diet and what your body needs do some research before just eating the healthiest one.
Our butchers are available for any questions you might want to ask about our products so feel free to give us a call, come instore or send an email.