The Truth About Beef

By Charlyn Fargo

August 10, 2018 6 min read

Chances are you've heard mixed messages about beef. Beef is full of saturated fat, so you shouldn't eat it. Or lean beef is healthful and nutrient-rich, so you should eat it. It can be confusing.

I grew up eating and raising beef on our family farm. Like most foods, it can be part of a healthy diet, as long as it's eaten in moderation and you choose the right cuts.

What's really true about beef?

—Like other foods that contain fat, beef contains a package of different types of fat, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Surprisingly, about half the fat in beef is monounsaturated, the same type found in olive oil. Monounsaturated is considered a healthful fat that may increase HDL, the good cholesterol.

—Beef does contain saturated fat, considered to be bad for your health. However, about one-third of the saturated fat is a type called stearic acid. Studies have shown that stearic acid doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels like other saturated fats.

—The average 3-ounce serving of lean beef delivers nutrients — including protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin B-6 and riboflavin — that we all need. In other words, it's nutrient-rich, especially for the 179 calories that it has.

—Concerning iron, which we need to avoid feeling sluggish and tired, beef is the most readily available source. To get the same amount of iron in 3 ounces of beef, you would need to eat about 2 1/2 chicken breasts or 3 cups of spinach. In addition, the iron in red meat is more completely absorbed in the body than the iron found in bread, cereal and other plant products, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The bottom line is you don't need to avoid beef. Just choose lean beef. Those cuts have "loin" or "round" on the label — e.g., sirloin, tenderloin, top round or eye of round. They generally have lower levels of fat.

In the largest and longest research study of lean red meat as part of a diet designed to reduce the risk of heart disease, 145 adults with high cholesterol levels were followed for 18 months. Study participants followed a low-fat diet, but some ate 6 ounces of lean red meat every day, while others ate the same amount of lean white meat from poultry and fish. No differences in cholesterol levels between the two groups were observed. And all study participants reduced total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and increased HDL levels. The study was reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Q and A

Q: Do low-calorie sweetened beverages hurt weight management?

A: Beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners do not affect appetite, caloric intake or sugar intake any differently than water. In a study of 16 healthy, non-obese people, participants drank either water or commercial low-calorie lemonade with their main meals during four sessions, one of which lasted five weeks. After food intake and motivational ratings were measured, there was no difference in caloric intake, selection of sweet foods or motivational ratings between those who drank water and those who drank the lemonade, contradicting the notion that low-calorie sweeteners cause people to consume more calories and sugar. — Appetite, June 2018.


Here's an easy recipe to celebrate these last few weeks of summer before fall — and the school season — returns. It's from "The Healthy Beef Cookbook."

Summertime Steak Salad

1 beef shoulder steak, cut 1 inch thick, about 1 pound

1 can (5 1/2 ounces) spicy 100 percent vegetable juice


1/2 cup chopped tomato

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced


8 cups mixed greens or 1 package (10 ounces) romaine and leaf lettuce

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup cucumber, cut into thin slices

1 cup chopped green pepper

Salt and black pepper, as desired

Place the beef steak and the can of vegetable juice in a zip-lock plastic bag. Turn the steak to coat it. Close the bag securely, and marinate it in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

To make the dressing, whisk the ingredients in a small bowl until blended, and then refrigerate.

For the salad, combine the lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber and green pepper in a bowl. Refrigerate.

Remove steak from marinade and discard marinade. Grill steak over medium fire for 16 to 20 minutes. Remove it from the grill, and carve it into thin slices. Season with salt and pepper. Combine salad, steak and dressing, and serve.

Serves 4.

Per serving: 242 calories, 25 grams of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 4 grams of fiber and 239 milligrams of sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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