The Facts about Beef and Nutrition
11th October 2010
Category: Health Fact Sheets
Beef often is the focus of a lot of misinformed press and it is important to know there are, in fact, many essential nutritional benefits to keeping beef in your diet.
Beef is a natural, nutrient-dense food and is an excellent source of protein, zinc, haem iron, niacin, vitamin B12 and B6, selenium, long chain omega 3’s, antioxidants and phosphorus. Just an 85 gram portion of beef can provide over 10% of your required daily value of these nutrients.
The UK per capita consumption of beef is 17.3 kg a year, well below the consumption rate of beef in Argentina at 68 kg a year per capita, yet the UK, particularly Scotland, has more health problems and levels of obesity than Argentina.
Strategies for the prevention and treatment of obesity should contain lean beef because of its satiety factor, which helps diet compliance, and its inclusion is excellent for maintaining daily requirements of essential nutrients in low energy diets.
Most trimmed beef has a total fat level of only 5%, and rump steak, with a saturated fat level of only 1.62 grams/100 grams, compares favourably with fried chicken drumsticks with skin, which have a saturated fat level of 3.66 grams/100 grams. Thus there is 126% more saturated fat in such chicken joints than in the equivalent part of beef.
The marbled fat interleaved in the beef is a monounsaturated (rather than poly-unsaturated) fat, considered to be heart-healthy, with a low melting point similar to olive oil, and melts in cooking to the bottom of the pan. It gives the succulence, sizzle and taste, which is so special to beef.
Any fat eaten from grass-fed beef contains omega 3. After fish, beef makes the second highest contribution of omega-3s to the diet. It is an important natural source of long-chain omega-3s having levels greater than 30mg in a 150g serving. Omega-3s are essential to the healthy functioning of the nervous system and important to heart health.
Naturally produced grass-fed beef in the UK is completely free of antibiotics or growth hormones and contains low levels of saturated fats and cholesterol and can be included in the diet of people with or at risk of heart disease. It is low in sodium and high in potassium - assisting in the lowering of blood pressure.
Beef is the number one source of protein and is one of the richest sources of haem-iron in the diet contributing to 52% of our total intake. Iron in beef is readily absorbed compared to non-haem iron in plant foods that is not easily absorbed. Iron is important for the transport of oxygen, production of energy and is essential for brain development.
It is also the number one source for zinc and B-complex vitamins, both essential to good health. Zinc is often overlooked by many health-conscience people, and is absolutely essential to normal growth and development, the immune system, healing wounds, appetite control, and even taste perception. The zinc in beef and other animal foods is better absorbed than from plant foods and because of this the requirement for zinc is 50% higher for individuals who are strict vegetarians.
Vitamins B12 and B6 are essential in the production of red blood cells and may even play an important role in preventing heart disease and stroke. Vitamin B12 cannot be found in plant foods, therefore inadequate intakes of B12 are a problem in strict vegetarian diets. Lacking vitamin B12 can adversely affect neurological function including memory and concentration.
Beef may play a positive role in cancer prevention. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a fatty acid found naturally in beef, particularly grass fed British beef. Recent research indicates CLA may play a role in cancer prevention by inhibiting tumour growth and development and can affect body composition by decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. The balance of evidence indicates that lean beef, cooked without charring or heavy browning is not linked to the development of colorectal cancer.
Grass-fed UK beef and lamb (killed locally), blackberries and field mushrooms have a lower carbon footprint than any alternative food. Imported beef consumes fuel for chilling and food miles, and some Brazilian beef is fed on cereals and soya grown on land of recently burnt rain forest. All the UK’s beef cows graze grass in the summer and are either fed hay, silage or straw in winter, or in many cases remain grazing throughout the winter too. In addition to grass the progeny are often fed on arable by-products (sugar-beet pulp etc) to finish them.
In the UK there are 7.3 million ha of grass and 5.3 m ha of rough grazing (12.6 m ha total) out of 18.4 m ha of total agricultural area, and only 170,100 ha of horticultural land (only 27 sq m per person). Thus the area that can be utilized only via ruminants (cattle and sheep) for red meat is 74% of the UK. Across the world the FAO say that 70% has to be grazed to be usable.
British family farmers need politicians and the public to realize that grazing pasture with cattle is one of the very best ways to capture and store carbon, and they need reasonable prices to stay in business. At present UK beef production is on a family farm scale with very high welfare standards.
The National Beef Association is keen to emphasise that arguments based on already acknowledged errors in an outdated 2006 FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) report on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) were mis-conceived. These errors wrongly put consumers under pressure to cut back on red meat because its consumption was, mistakenly, said to be a leading contributor to accelerating global warming.
The blame for this fundamental misconception lies in a section of the superseded FAO 2006 report which read: ‘The livestock sector is a major player responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e. This is a higher share than transport.’
In contrast, Professor Mitloehner, Professor of Animal Science at UCD (University of California at Davis) has calculated that transport creates an estimated 26 per cent of GHGs, whereas farming livestock accounts for only three per cent.
Policy makers should accept that UK livestock farming is already well on the way to meeting the lower GHG emission targets proposed for 2020 (since 1990), partly because it is already producing meat more efficiently, and partly, and ironically, because we now have to buy in 20% of our beef from abroad.
In reality, pasture oxidises methane to a far greater extent than any eructation from methanogenic bacteria in the rumen of cows (54 to 120 kg of CO2e (e=equivalent) /cow) or sheep grazing it. The amount of carbon captured and stored by soil under grazed pasture ranges from 132 tonnes/hectare (ha) of CO2e in dry, degraded, soils, to 8.7 tonnes/ha ascertained in December by Sydney University, to 700 kg/ha in wet, badly managed, grassland; (stocking is commonly 1 cow/ha).
In a much more recent (13th January 2010) FAO report entitled “Fighting climate change with grasslands - Vast potential seen in pastures”, it states that an “immediately feasible target would be to place 5-10 per cent of global grazing lands under carbon sequestration management by 2020, which could store 184 million tonnes of carbon a year”.
National Beef Association
Open to everyone with an interest in the Beef Industry.
Mart Centre, Tyne Green
Hexham, Northumberland, UK.
Tel: 01434 601005
Notes to Editor:
The National Beef Association is a unique specialist organisation working for the beef cattle industry across the UK. It is a registered charity and works in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Its members include beef cattle producers, consumers of beef, environmentalists, and teachers of agriculture, veterinarians, auctioneers, and transport and abattoir managers. It has sixty five corporate company members including financial and insurance institutes, nutritional, pharmaceutical, veterinary, breeding, equipment and machinery companies, livestock markets and pedigree cattle breed societies.
The NBA hosts the biggest cattle event in the UK each year as well as many regional events and produces an informative weekly newsletter containing UK and global trade and technical information and the quarterly Beef Farmer Journal.
The beef industry today is being challenged from all quarters with some of the most complex, controversial and challenging public debates. Issues relating to the trade, public food safety and beef nutrition, animal health, the Common Agricultural Policy and the environment dominate the legislative agenda. The NBA is at the forefront of high level discussions to get successful resolutions to these issues.
Lean beef is Naturally Nutrient Rich
Red meat is a significant source of high-quality protein, providing all the essential amino acids. Just 100g of raw beef contains around 20-25g of protein. The protein in beef is highly digestible - around 94% compared with the digestibility of 78% in beans and 86% in whole wheat.
Lean beef is one of the richest sources of haem-iron in the diet contributing to 52% of our total intake. Iron in beef is well absorbed compared to non-haem iron in plant foods. Iron is important for the transport of oxygen, production of energy and is essential for brain development.
Beef is not a major source of fat
The most recent nutritional analyses show that when trimmed of external fat, lean red Beef is low in saturated and Tran’s fatty acids.
Omega -3 fatty acids
After fish, beef makes the second highest contribution of omega-3s to the diet. It is an important natural source of long-chain omega-3s having levels greater than 30mg in a 150g serving. Omega-3s are essential to the healthy functioning of the nervous system and important to heart health.
Lean beef is a good source of zinc, an essential nutrient for the immune system, growth and wound healing. The zinc in beef and other animal foods is better absorbed than from plant foods because of this the requirement for zinc is 50% higher for individuals who are strict vegetarians.
Lean beef is an important source of B-group vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and in particular vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 cannot be found in plant foods, therefore inadequate intakes of B12 are a problem in strict vegetarians. Lacking vitamin B12 can adversely affect neurological function including memory and concentration.
Recent UK analysis has indicated that red meat may be a useful source of vitamin D which is essential to bone health.
Beef is an important source of the antioxidant selenium which helps maintain the immune system.