For many years, it’s been a common mantra from the medical and media establishments that one should limit or eliminate beef from the diet for optimal health. These are the same establishments that promoted the food pyramid for decades, which recommended that the largest portion of one’s diet comes from grains and other starchy carbohydrates. For many people (and some would argue for everyone), this was bad advice. If there was any remaining doubt that the powers that be within mainstream medicine and mainstream media are not concerned with truth and health, these past two years should have cleared that right up. In summary, beef is not bad for you, and in several important ways, it is actually good for you. This has to do with both the quantity and quality of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the substances within our diet that contain calories. They consist of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Side note: alcohol also contains calories (seven per gram), but for nutritional purposes, it is not considered a macronutrient. Of the three macronutrients, two are required for survival: protein and fat. Each macro is made up of specific components. With protein, these components are amino acids.
There are 20 standard amino acids in human nutrition, and nine of these cannot be synthesized by the body. Therefore, these nine are called essential amino acids (EAAs) and must be consumed in the diet. A food or beverage that contains all nine EAAs is called a “complete protein,” while ones without all nine are called “incomplete proteins.” Proteins from animal sources (beef, milk, eggs, chicken, fish, etc.) are all complete, whereas plant sources are almost all incomplete, with a few exceptions such as soy and quinoa.
Beef has a very high quantity of complete protein. Quality also matters, and that’s where protein bioavailability comes in. Bioavailability measures the body’s ability to efficiently utilize a given nutrient. Beef protein has very high bioavailability, while plant-based sources have comparatively low bioavailability. Therefore, when it comes to protein, beef is one of the best sources in terms of both quantity and quality.
Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals. These are essential for our health and survival. Beef has a high quantity of key micronutrients, such as B vitamins, zinc, and iron. Just like with protein, bioavailability is an important factor for micronutrients, and the nutrients within beef have high bioavailability. For example, beef contains the heme form of iron, which is utilized far more effectively by the body than non-heme forms that are found in plant-based sources of iron. Proper iron intake is key for avoiding anemia, which can manifest as weakness and tiredness. As a bonus, beef contains a high amount of creatine.
On top of all this, digestibility is a key factor and beef is highly digestible and well tolerated by the vast majority of people. When we think of food allergies and intolerances, we think of milk and milk products, peanuts, shellfish, and gluten, but not beef. Some of these are great sources of protein (especially milk and milk products, such as whey), but that’s a moot point if one isn’t able to adequately digest them in the first place.
This article is just scratching the surface of the topic. I encourage everyone to seek additional information about beef. Some great sources of information on the topic are from Shawn Baker, MD; Paul Saladino, MD; and Stan Efferding. Stan Efferding (the world’s strongest professional bodybuilder) has developed the Vertical Diet, which has accumulated a massive following in just a few years. Beef is a primary component of the Vertical Diet and Efferding has cited a multitude of studies to support this.
In short, many old studies used to support the notion that beef is unhealthy were observational studies, which are extremely problematic for showing cause and effect. Also, with any study, it’s important to “follow the money” and see who is funding it as that can lead to bias in the methods and results.