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The Benefits of Making Beef
Part of a Healthy Diet, Healthy Lifestyle
Deb Roeber, Ph.D.
Meat Quality and Safety Specialist
University of Minnesota
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
have been released, but what does that mean for the beef
industry? First of all, we need to acknowledge that the
main issue in the 20005 Guidelines is addressing obesity
because two-thirds of the American population is overweight
or obese. So, the Guidelines ask Americans to 1) get
the most nutrition out of your calories, 2) find a balance
between food and physical activity, 3) make smart choices
from every food group, and 4) play it safe with food.
From time to time, consumers have
a tendency to think that the Guidelines may tell them
to stay away from a certain classes of food, such as
beef. But, nowhere in the Guidelines does it tell Americans
to stay away meat, rather they indicate that consumers
should choose nutrient dense foods, including lean meats
A common misperception is that vegetarian
diets are lower in fat than meat containing diets. However,
a study by Broughton and Barr (1999, Can. J. Diet. Pract. & Res.)
indicated that no differences in fat, energy, carbohydrate
intake or relative body weight were identified when comparing
vegetarian and meat containing diets. In fact, there
are several benefits to making meat part of a healthy
diet. Beef is a major contributor of Vitamin B, specifically
B-12, iron, zinc and protein in most American diets.
Vitamin B. The red meats (beef, pork
and lamb) account for 60.6% of vitamin B-12 in the U.S.
food supply, 19.9% of vitamin B-6, 15.6% of niacin, 11.2%
of riboflavin, and 13.7% of thiamin. Poultry and fish
add an additional 13.2%, 13.3%, 17.6%, 4.3%, and 1.9%
of B-12, b-6, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin, respectively.
Zinc (Z). Animal foods such as meat,
poultry and fish are major sources of bioavailable zinc.
A 35% reduction in the total amount of zinc absorbed
has been observed in vegetarian women as compared to
a non-vegetarian diet. Zinc intake will also vary among
the animal foods consumed as beef, for example, is the
number one source of zinc in the American diet. When
added to the diet, beef provides as much zinc as 11 3-ounce
servings of tuna.
Iron (I). Iron deficiency is among
the most common nutritional deficiencies in the U.S.
Iron in food is present in two forms – heme iron
in meat, poultry and fish, and nonheme iron present in
a variety of plant and other animal foods. The absorption
of heme iron is much greater than nonheme iron; however,
absorption of nonheme iron can be increased by consumer
meat in the same meal. Beef, when added to the diet,
provides as much iron as three cups of raw spinach.
Protein (P). Meat and other animal
foods provide complete protein, while some plant proteins
are incomplete or lack sufficient amounts of one or more
essential amino acids.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) intake
per capita is 173.4 mg/d. Meat, a major source of CLA,
accounts for over 97% of CLA consumed, 36% of which is
provided by beef. CLA is a derivative of the essential
fatty acid, linoleic acid, which may potentially protect
against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and may
enhance immune function and reduce body fat.
Eliminating meat from the diet increases
an individual’s risk for vitamin B, iron, and zinc
deficiencies. The key to a healthy diet is to consume
foods to meet the dietary recommendations. So, next time
you are trying to consider whether or not to include
meat as part of your meal, look at the benefits that
can come from meat – get your ZIP.
As you get your ZIP, you may also
want to consider the following facts: cattle are raised
in over 800,000 family farms in the USA . Their product,
feeder calves, graze over lands that cannot be utilized
for crop production, and help maintain a delicate balance
in grasslands necessary for environmental protection
and wildlife habitat. Thus, when a feeder calf is finished
at 1250 lb, over 30% of its meat yield accumulated during
foraging and grazing periods of its life, making beef
one of the most family farm and environmentally friendly
If you would like more information
on nutrient-dense beef, visit www.beefnutrition.org.