Recent diet trends encourage balancing food sources for optimal health. If you’re following the Mediterranean, Keto or Paleo diets, you’re probably aware that lean meats like beef play a vital role as part of an overall healthy eating plan, balanced with plant-based foods like vegetables and legumes.
Elsewhere in the world, however, access to high-quality sources of protein is a serious challenge. Malnutrition is a significant global public health issue, and recent data shows that countries with the lowest meat access have some of the highest rates of malnutrition. Beef plays an important role in ensuring that the world is well-nourished.
Beef provides protein
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one three-ounce serving of beef delivers approximately 25 grams of high-quality protein, which is essential for building and maintaining strength for your mind and body.
How do relatively high-protein grains compare with beef? The USDA’s Food Data Central database reports that to get the 25 grams of protein found in one 3 ounce serving of cooked beef, you would need to eat three cups of quinoa – which is more than 3 times the typical serving size for cooked quinoa of 140 grams, about ¾ cup.
Beef and iron
Another global nutrition challenge is iron deficiency, which is a concern among adolescent girls and women worldwide. A particular kind of iron called heme iron, which is critical to addressing this deficiency, is found only in animal foods like beef, not plant foods.
Here in the U.S., lean beef contributes 8% of the iron in a typical diet. At a time when many are deficient in this essential nutrient, eliminating beef could worsen the problem of iron deficiency.
- Cook, JD. Adaptation in iron metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1990;51(2):301-308.
- Le CHH (2016) The Prevalence of Anemia and Moderate-Severe Anemia in the U.S. Population (NHANES 2003-2012). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166635.
Red meat is not contributing to obesity
Americans are consuming 600 more calories a day, on average, than they did 40 years ago. These extra calories are coming from refined grains, added fats and oils, not red meat. Americans, on average, eat fewer than two ounces of beef daily, which is in line with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
Our diet is already plant-based — and has become increasingly more so over the last four decades, when obesity has also increased.
Beef promotes lifelong health
The nutrients in beef promote health beginning in childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Women Infants and Children’s Program and now for the first time ever, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommend introducing solid nutrient rich foods, like beef, to infants and toddlers, in order to pack in every bite with protein, iron, zinc and choline.
These nutrients continue to sustain people throughout their lives, and protein becomes especially important as people get older. Adults over 50 are at risk for losing muscle mass, which can lead to falls and frailty that affect their ability to age independently.
Balancing your diet with multiple sources of crucial nutrients, from high-quality proteins like beef along with vitamin-rich vegetables, fruit and whole grains, helps support your overall health all your life.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014
- Benton D. The influence of dietary status on the cognitive performance of children. Mol Nutr Food Res 2010;54:457–70.
- Michaelsen KF & Greer FR. Protein needs early in life and long-term health. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99:718S–22S.
- Nyaradi A, et al. The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Front Hum Neurosci 2013;7:97.
- Wolfe, R. The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 84:475-82
Learn more about beef and nutrition at BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com, managed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff.