These days it’s much different, and opinion is split between whether beef is healthful or harms our health. There are plenty of benefits to eating beef. It tastes great and is a versatile choice in the kitchen – but not everyone realises just how important it is for a healthy, balanced diet.
In moderation, benefits of eating beef that can help meet your nutritional needs. Replacing processed meats with freshly cooked steak (especially when it’s grass-fed) is a good step towards improving your eating habits.
Today, meat continues to play an important role in our diets, providing us with essential amino acids and fatty acids, as well as an abundance of micronutrients vital for maintaining optimal health.
Usually eaten as roasts, ribs, or steaks, beef is also commonly ground or minced. Patties of ground beef are often used in hamburgers.
Processed beef products include corned beef, beef jerky, and sausages.
Meat has been a staple in human nutrition for at least two million years. In fact, research has suggested without the inclusion of meat, it is unlikely that early humans could have developed their brain size and complexity, pretty cool.
Fresh, lean beef is rich in various vitamins and minerals, especially iron and zinc. Therefore, moderate intake of beef can be recommended as part of a healthy diet
Some of the more extreme vegan views even call for the authorities to remove meat from the food supply.
Steak might not be the first food to come to mind when putting together a healthy menu. Although red meat has been associated with muscle-building for quite some time, concerns about heart health leave many people unsure about whether or not steak can be a healthy addition to their diet.
Whatever our opinion on red meat might be, there are some important health benefits of eating beef.
Steak Nutrition Facts
The fat and protein content of steak will vary depending on the cut of meat and how it’s prepared. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 3 ounces (85g) of grilled beef tenderloin, with the fat trimmed.
- Calories: 179
- Fat: 7.6g
- Sodium: 60mg
- Carbohydrates: 0g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 26g
Steak is naturally free of carbohydrates, including sugar and fiber.
Steak can be made leaner by trimming the fat before cooking and choosing leaner cuts of meat. Beef contains a mix of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. As opposed to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is lower in total fat and has a more favorable fatty acid profile.
Remember that cooking method will also influence nutritional values. For example, cooking steak with butter adds 100 calories and 11 grams of fat for every tablespoon of butter used.
Beef contains varying amounts of fat — also called beef tallow.
Apart from adding flavor, fat increases the calorie content of meat considerably.
The amount of fat in beef depends on the level of trimming and the animal’s age, breed, gender, and feed. Processed meat products, such as sausages and salami, tend to be high in fat.
Lean meat is generally about 5–10% fat (4Trusted Source).
Beef is mainly composed of saturated and monounsaturated fat, present in approximately equal amounts. The major fatty acids are stearic acid, oleic acid, and palmitic acid (3Trusted Source).
Food products from ruminant animals — such as cows and sheep — also harbor trans fats known as ruminant trans fats (5Trusted Source).
Unlike their industrially-produced counterparts, naturally-occurring ruminant trans fats are not considered unhealthy.
The most common is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in beef, lamb, and dairy products (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
CLA has been linked to various health benefits — including weight loss. Still, large doses in supplements may have harmful metabolic consequences
Steak is an excellent source of high-quality protein. As with other animal proteins, beef is a complete protein and offers all of the essential amino acids required by the body.
Meat — such as beef — is mainly composed of protein.
The protein content of lean, cooked beef is about 26–27% (2Trusted Source).
Animal protein is usually of high quality, containing all nine essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of your body (3Trusted Source).
As the building blocks of proteins, amino acids are very important from a health perspective. Their composition in proteins varies widely, depending on the dietary source.
Meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein, its amino acid profile being almost identical to that of your own muscles.
For this reason, eating meat — or other sources of animal protein — may be of particular benefit after surgery and for recovering athletes. In combination with strength exercise, it also helps maintain and build muscle mass
Vitamins and Minerals
Beef is a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, selenium, iron, and zinc. Grass-fed beef is higher in the precursors to vitamins A and E than conventionally grown grain-fed beef.
- Vitamin B12. Animal-derived foods, such as meat, are the only good dietary sources of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that is important for blood formation and your brain and nervous system.
- Zinc. Beef is very rich in zinc, a mineral that is important for body growth and maintenance.
- Selenium. Meat is generally a rich source of selenium, an essential trace element that serves a variety of functions in your body (12Trusted Source).
- Iron. Found in high amounts in beef, meat iron is mostly in the heme form, which is absorbed very efficiently (13Trusted Source).
- Niacin. One of the B vitamins, niacin (vitamin B3) has various important functions in your body. Low niacin intake has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease (14Trusted Source).
- Vitamin B6. A family of B vitamins, vitamin B6 is important for blood formation and energy metabolism.
- Phosphorus. Widely found in foods, phosphorus intake is generally high in the Western diet. It’s essential for body growth and maintenance.
Health Benefits of Eating Beef
Eating enough protein is essential, and steak is an excellent source. Research shows that unprocessed meats, like steak, are superior choices when compared to processed meat.
Beef Provides the “Master Antioxidant” Glutathione
Commonly known as the ‘master antioxidant,’ glutathione has a score of research linking it to;
- Anti-aging benefits
- Increasing longevity
- Preventing illness
- Reducing the risk of chronic disease
- Strengthening the immune system
It helps protect every cell in our body from cellular damage, which can lead to many chronic diseases.
On the other hand, a deficiency in glutathione contributes to oxidative stress and inflammation.
As a result, keeping glutathione levels high is important for our overall health.
Subsequently, the question becomes “how can we keep our glutathione levels high?”
Endogenous Glutathione Production and Dietary Sources
First of all, our body produces glutathione endogenously.
In other words, our body uses raw materials (in this case: amino acids) to make glutathione.
For this process to occur, we should have adequate levels of the amino acids cysteine, glutamate, and glycine.
These amino acids are known as glutathione precursors, and each of these amino acids is present in beef.
On the positive side, beef also contains a reasonably high source of complete (pre-formed) dietary glutathione.
Maintaining Muscle Mass
Like all types of meat, beef is an excellent source of high-quality protein.
It contains all of the essential amino acids and is referred to as a complete protein.
Many people — especially older adults — don’t consume enough high-quality protein.
Inadequate protein intake may accelerate age-related muscle wasting, increasing your risk of an adverse condition known as sarcopenia (23Trusted Source).
Sarcopenia is a serious health issue among older adults but can be prevented or reversed with strength exercises and increased protein intake.
The best dietary sources of protein are animal-derived foods, such as meat, fish, and milk products.
In the context of a healthy lifestyle, regular consumption of beef — or other sources of high-quality protein — may help preserve muscle mass, reducing your risk of sarcopenia.
Eating Beef Helps Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia
We touched on mineral deficiencies in the last point, but iron deficiency anemia deserves a mention of its own.
Sadly, iron deficiency anemia is a growing epidemic around the world.
In a developed country such as the United States, nutrient deficiencies shouldn’t be a cause of death, yet anemia kills thousands every year.
To be exact, the latest release of statistics showed that Anemia hospitalized 146,000 Americans in one year. 5,219 of these people died.
Globally it’s even worse, and according to the World Health Organization, 1.62 billion people suffer from iron deficiency anemia
Healthy Fats & Cardiovascular Health
Fat is a vital macronutrient and essential for maintaining optimal health. However, for many years, fat was made the enemy. Misguided information from public health institutions led to people avoiding fat (particularly saturated fat) due to concerns about cholesterol and the link with heart disease. However, current research has now shown this is not the case and here’s a few reasons why:
Saturated fat is not the enemy!
Research has shown that cholesterol particles derived from fat do NOT increase risk of heart disease. In fact, studies have shown that natural saturated fats found in beef can actually reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol (bad) and improving the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Refined sugar & the so-called Western diet
Numerous studies have linked the Western diet to an increased risk of heart disease. Although the western diet is high in saturated fat, it’s also extremely high in refined sugar and carbohydrates (such as bread, biscuits and sweets) which studies have shown to be detrimental to your health. Furthermore, some of the latest research has shown that reducing saturated fat and increasing refined carbohydrates can promote heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Source of CLA
Beef is a great source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) fatty acid. Studies have shown CLA can assist with fat loss by improving insulin sensitivity and help prevent many conditions including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. So, grab a steak and enjoy this nutrient dense food.
Steak Can Help to Prevent Iron Deficiency
Iron is important for our body; it helps our red blood cells to deliver oxygen to our cells, making it incredibly important for everyday functioning.
Steak is one of the best sources of iron, making it a great food choice for those who are likely to suffer from anemia. Not only is it iron-rich, but iron in red meat is also more easily absorbed by the body. One serving of beef contains 15% of our recommended daily iron intake, with the iron recommended daily intake sitting being between 13.7–15.1 mg/day.
Scientists have also done studies that suggest iron deficiencies are less likely to be found in people who eat red meat, poultry and fish regularly.
Provides a Heart Healthier Option
Despite assumptions from the past, it appears that red meat alone is not the cause of heart disease. Studies show that processed meats pose a greater threat to heart health than freshly prepared meats, like steak.8
Although you shouldn’t necessarily increase your intake of red meat, choosing steak instead of lunch meats, for instance, is a beneficial change with less sodium and preservatives. Balancing your intake of steak with heart-healthy fruits and vegetables will also reduce your risks.
The Importance of Lean Mass
As we age, building—or at least holding on to—lean mass should be a priority.
Research shows that older adults with lower muscle mass are at a higher risk of mortality.
Speaking bluntly, the more skeletal muscle mass someone loses as they age, the higher their risk of an earlier death (12).
Also, the rate of muscle protein synthesis rapidly drops as we age, making it a lot harder to build and maintain muscle (13).
Considering this, we should ensure we’re eating a sufficient amount of protein – this is especially essential for elderly people.
On this note, beef is one of the best protein-rich foods out there.
Improved Exercise Performance
Carnosine is a compound important for muscle function (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
It’s formed in your body from beta-alanine, a dietary amino acid found in high amounts in fish and meat — including beef.
Supplementing with high doses of beta-alanine for 4–10 weeks has been shown to lead to a 40–80% increase in carnosine levels in muscles (26Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
In contrast, following a strict vegetarian diet may lead to lower levels of carnosine in muscles over time (29Trusted Source).
In human muscles, high levels of carnosine have been linked to reduced fatigue and improved performance during exercise (26Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source).
Additionally, controlled studies suggest that beta-alanine supplements can improve running time and strength (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).
Steak is Good for Mental Health
Now this one is really interesting, because it looks like red meat can be highly beneficial for our mental health.
There are a number of studies that show a correlation between red meat consumption and a lower incidence of mental health disorders. In one study, scientists identified 60 women diagnosed with major depressive disorder and another 80 diagnosed with anxiety. The red meat consumption of each woman was compared to the Australian daily recommendation of 65g to 100g.
The study found that women who consumed less red meat than the daily recommended intake doubled their odds for dysthymia and major depressive disorder compared to those who were eating the recommended daily amount. In addition, the women who ate a low amount of red meat were twice as likely to have anxiety disorder.
May Prevent Diabetes
Similarly, processed meats appear to cause a greater risk of type 2 diabetes than unprocessed meats, like steak.8 While a meal plan based on seafood, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables is preferable to eating lots of red meat, choosing steak instead of cured bacon or processed chicken nuggets appears to be a positive step for disease prevention.
Beef Contains Carnosine, a Potent Amino Acid
Another advantage of eating beef is that it provides an abundance of carnosine.
Carnosine (beta-analyl-L-histidine) is an amino acid found throughout the body, and it has several important roles in human health.
As beef is one of the highest sources of carnosine (containing about 50% more than poultry), this is another health benefit.
What Does Carnosine Do?
For one thing, carnosine has anti-glycosylation properties.
To be exact, carnosine reduces the harms of a process called ‘glycation’ which involves advanced glycation end-products (AGES).
Glycation is central to the aging process and progressively damages our body, potentially leading to atherosclerosis and various other chronic diseases.
Additionally, carnosine helps boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. The amino acid is also thought to help prevent lipid peroxidation within our cells.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Otherwise known as CLA, conjugated linoleic acid is a naturally occurring trans-fat.
Don’t worry, although the “trans-fat” name is a little scary, it has a very different effect to the synthetic version.
Randomized controlled studies involving human participants suggest that;
- Conjugated linoleic acid helps to improve insulin sensitivity
- CLA appears to promote fat loss
Notably, the bulk of the evidence suggests that getting CLA from real food is better than supplementation.
As is usually the case, perhaps nutrients in whole foods have a different effect to a synthetic pill?
Food Sources of CLA
The top sources of CLA include meat and dairy products.
After lamb and certain cheeses, beef is the next highest provider of the nutrient.
Although all beef contains CLA, grass-fed meat offers a significantly higher amount than beef from non-ruminants.
Specifically, the average amount of CLA in grass-fed beef is 0.46% of the fat content.
With grain-fed beef, this average content drops to 0.16% of fat.