Meat, such as beef, is mainly composed of protein.
The protein content of lean, cooked beef ranges from 26-27% (2).
Animal protein is usually of high quality, containing all 8 essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies.
The buildings blocks of proteins, the 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, the amino acid profile being almost identical to that of our own muscles.
For this reason, eating meat, or other sources of animal protein, may be of particular benefit after surgery and for recovering athletes, or during other conditions where muscle tissue is being built.
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.
Meat with low fat content, often called lean meat, is generally about 5-10% fat (4).
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.
Ruminant Trans Fats:
Food products from ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep, contain trans fats known as ruminant trans fats.
Unlike their industrially-produced counterparts, naturally-occurring ruminant trans fats are not considered unhealthy.
The most common of these is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in beef, lamb, and dairy products.
Conjugated linoleic acid has been linked with various health benefits, especially with regard to weight loss, but large doses in supplements may have harmful metabolic consequences.
Bottom Line: A part of the fat content of beef is made up of ruminant trans fats, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Ruminant trans fats have been linked with several health benefits, such as weight loss.
Vitamins and Minerals:
The following vitamins and minerals are abundant in beef:
Animal-derived foods, such as meat, are the only dietary sources of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that is important for blood formation and the function of the brain and nervous system.
Beef is very rich in zinc, a mineral that is important for body growth and maintenance.
Meat is generally a rich source of selenium, an essential trace element that has a variety of functions in the body.
Found in high amounts in beef, meat iron is mostly in the heme form, which is absorbed very efficiently.
One of the B-vitamins, also called vitamin B3. Niacin has various important functions in the body. Low niacin intake has been associated with increased risk of heart disease.
A family of B-vitamins, important for blood formation.
Widely found in foods, phosphorus intake is generally high in the Western diet. It is essential for body growth and maintenance.
Other Meat Compounds:
Like plants, animals contain a number of non-essential bioactive substances and antioxidants, which may affect health when consumed in adequate amounts.
Abundant in meat, creatine serves as an energy source for muscles. Creatine supplements are commonly taken by bodybuilders and may be beneficial for muscle growth and maintenance.
Found in fish and meat, taurine is an antioxidant amino acid, which is a common ingredient in energy drinks. It is produced by our own bodies and is important for heart and muscle function.
An antioxidant found in most whole foods, glutathione is particularly abundant in meat. It is found in higher amounts in grass-fed beef than in grain-fed
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA):
A ruminant trans fat that may have various health benefits when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
A sterol found in animal fats, and also produced by the human body where it has many functions. Dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol and is therefore not considered a health concern.
Beef is a rich source of high-quality protein and various vitamins and minerals, and can be an excellent component of a healthy diet.
Maintenance of 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 source.
Many people, especially elderly people, do not consume enough high-quality protein.
Inadequate protein intake may accelerate and worsen age-related muscle wasting, increasing the risk of an adverse condition known as sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is a serious health issue among elderly people, but can be prevented or improved 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 the risk of sarcopenia.
Improved Exercise Performance
Carnosine is a dipeptide important for muscle function.
It is formed in the body from beta-alanine, a dietary amino acid found in high amounts in fish and meat, such as beef.
In human muscles, high levels of carnosine have been linked with reduced fatigue and improved performance during exercise.
Supplementation with high doses of purified beta-alanine for 4-10 weeks leads to a 40-80% increase in carnosine levels in muscles.
In contrast, following a strict vegetarian diet may lead to lower levels of carnosine in muscles over time.
This indicates that eating meat and fish regularly, or taking beta-alanine supplements, may improve exercise performance.
Bottom Line: Beef is high in carnosine, which may reduce fatigue and improve performance during exercise.
Prevention of Anemia:
Anemia is a common condition, characterized by decreased amount of red blood cells and reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia, the main symptoms of which are tiredness and weakness.
Beef is a rich source of iron, mainly in the form of heme-iron.
Only found in animal-derived foods, heme-iron is often very low in vegetarian diets, especially vegan diets.
Heme-iron is absorbed much more efficiently than non-heme iron, the type of iron found in plant-derived foods.
Not only does meat contain a highly bioavailable form of iron, it also improves the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods, a mechanism that has not been fully explained and is referred to as the “meat factor.”
For this reason, including meat in a meal can increase iron absorption from other meal components.
Beef and Heart Disease:
Heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is the world’s most common cause of premature death.
It is a term for various adverse conditions related to the heart and blood vessels, such as heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.
There are mixed results from observational studies on red meat and heart disease.
Some studies find an increased risk for both unprocessed and processed red meat whereas others find an increased risk for processed meat only.
Other studies find no significant effects.
Keep in mind that observational studies can not prove causation. They can only show that meat eaters are either more or less likely to get a disease.
Many health conscious people avoid red meat because it has been claimed to be unhealthy, and people who eat meat are also less likely to eat fruits, vegetables and fiber, less likely to exercise, and more likely to be overweight.
Therefore, it is possible that meat consumption is just a marker for unhealthy behavior, and that this is not caused by the meat itself.