You've likely been told that red meat like beef, lamb, venison and pork should be eaten in moderation to protect your cardiovascular health. Perhaps it's been explained to you that saturated fat causes heart disease and high cholesterol. This is what many headlines might lead you to believe.
But what if we told you that some of the science that demonises red meat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol is a little outdated? What if we told you that your hormonal health relies on cholesterol? What if we told you that it's not saturated fat at all that's to blame for the epidemic of heart disease and metabolic syndrome that's sweeping the Western world?
Beef and organ meat — in particular, grass-fed beef and offal from cows raised on pasture — are excellent sources of high-quality protein and beneficial fatty acids, in addition to providing vitamins and minerals that are harder to obtain in plant foods. We won't go too far into organ meat here, since we've covered it quite a bit in previous posts, but suffice it to say that organ meats are even more chock-full of nutrients than the beef we'll focus on today.
Let's take a deep dive into the nutritional benefits of eating beef, why conventional dietitians have it wrong when it comes to saturated fat and cholesterol, how to choose the right cuts and close out with some of our favourite healthy recipes that feature beef.
A large proportion of the UK population eats meat — 96% to be exact . In 2017, the nation as a whole consumed 1.2 million tonnes of beef and veal, second only to pork at 1.7 million tonnes . These statistics would be worrying if we were to believe that eating beef and other red meats were the hazard many conventional nutritionists claim it is.
But beef boasts a number of essential nutrients that you can't find in many other animal proteins. A 100-gram serving of cooked beef mince (20% fat) contains :
- 272 calories
- 27 g of protein
- 17.4 g of total fat
- 6.6 g of saturated fat
- 46 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
- 401 mg of omega-6 fatty acids
- 0 g of carbohydrates
- 5.8 mg of niacin
- 2.9 mcg of vitamin B12
- 87 mg of choline
- 2.8 mg of iron
- 21.8 mcg of selenium
- 380 mg of potassium
- 226 mg of phosphorus
These nutrition facts demonstrate the range of important nutrients you get when you eat a single serving of beef. By eating beef, you're also getting a pretty hefty dose of all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein that contribute to keeping you feeling full and satisfied, in addition to helping you build muscle of your own.
When you go grass-fed over grain-fed and choose higher-fat meat, you'll be boosting the omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content, in addition to the antioxidant profile in the form of increased carotenoids (a vitamin A precursor), all of which boast various health benefits .
As a quick refresher, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and aid in supporting cardiovascular health, and they're generally underrepresented in the Western diet .
CLA is a special type of fatty acid that's pretty rare in the food supply. It's been shown to promote weight loss (in the form of fat loss), help preserve muscle mass, increase bone density, support a healthy immune system and provide anti-cancer effects .
Antioxidants like carotenoids offer excellent protection against free radicals, which can damage cells in your body, leading to cancer and other organ diseases. Carotenoids are particularly beneficial to eye health, cognitive function and cardiovascular health . When cows eat their natural diet of grasses and herbs, they retain more of these beneficial nutrients.
Debunking the Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Myth
We started out discussing that conventional nutrition advice says to stay away from saturated fat and dietary sources of cholesterol in favour of unsaturated fats. While there are plenty of healthy unsaturated fats (including the omega-3s we just mentioned, avocado oil and olive oil, to name a few), it's not true that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are bad for your health.
On the contrary, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol can be healthy ingredients for a balanced diet free from processed carbs and sugars. Taking it a step further, low-carb and keto diets — which are almost always higher in saturated fats than standard high-carb diets — have been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk overall. Chris Kresser dives deep into debunking the myths around saturated fat and cholesterol in his four-part series on the subject.
The important points to understand are:
- Your ratio of LDL (bad) cholesterol to HDL (good) is a lot more important than the total number, and there's no evidence to suggest that saturated fat or dietary cholesterol causes increased risk of LDL damage.
- High-fat, low-carb diets provide far more protective benefits for heart health than low-fat, high-carb diets.
- By reducing processed foods (including processed meats, carbs and sugars), decreasing overall carb intake and replacing with healthy fats, you are doing your heart a much better service than you would be in cutting saturated fats from your diet.
- Saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are not the same thing as trans fats and the studies lumping them together are creating confusion.
Choosing Your Beef
When it comes to choosing which cuts of beef to buy, the best place to start is with a recipe. You want to know what you're cooking before heading to the shop to pick up the ingredients.
For low and slow recipes like stews and braises, you don't need prime cuts. In fact, premium cuts will go dry and chewy with a longer cooking time. Instead, choose less expensive cuts like chuck (shoulder) or round (rear), because they have a lot of connective tissue that will release beneficial collagen into your dish. The low and slow cooking process will tenderise the meat, creating the perfect braise or stew.
For grilling or pan-searing, choose marbled steaks with higher amounts of fat like ribeye, T-bone or flat iron. If you love filet, consider wrapping it in bacon or adding butter after cooking to add some fat back into this very lean meat.
The way you're using beef mince will help you figure out the fat content. Burgers on the grill or in the frying pan are best with about 20% fat. That's because you want them to stick together and cook through without drying out. Any excess fat that could make your burger soggy will likely fall through the grill or stay in the plan. In ragu or chili, go with leaner — 10% fat — since all of the fat will end up in the cooking liquid and more than that could get a bit heavy.
Our Favourite Beef Recipes
Now that you know that beef (especially grass-fed beef) is an important and beneficial protein source in a healthy diet, it's time to start cooking with it. Here are some of our favourite beef recipes, all of which are paleo and many of which are keto-friendly.
- Spicy Beef & Broccoli Bowl
- Spicy Thai Style Beef Salad
- Juicy Beef With MCT Oil Dressing
- Paleo Beef Stew With Bone Broth
- Spicy Keto Cheese & Beef Taco Boats
- One Pan Paleo Dinner With Beef Mince and Sweet Potato
- Keto Grass-Fed Beef Burger With Crispy Bacon, Hunter & Gather Ketchup and Avocado Oil Mayonnaise
- Paleo Cheeseburger Chili Recipe
Give a few of these a try this week and let us know what you think!
Beef Is a Nutritious, Healthy Protein Source
So beef's not so bad after all. In fact, we see it as a superfood. It's rich in micronutrients like B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and it provides all nine essential amino acids. Eating grass-fed beef is by far the best choice when it comes to nutrients we don't typically eat in high enough quantities like CLA, omega-3s and choline.
No matter which recipe you choose, there's a great cut of beef waiting for you at your local butcher, so pick one from our list and get cooking!
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.