A generation or two ago, our parents and grandparents viewed beef as a nutritious health food.
These days it all seems much different, and opinion is split between whether beef is healthful or harmful for our health.
This article takes an in-depth look at the nutrition profile and potential health benefits of beef, which is a type of red meat.
Additionally, we look at some of the potential concerns.
1. Beef has an impressive nutrition profile
First of all, beef is an excellent source of essential nutrients. It contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
The following data shows the full nutritional values for beef per 100 grams, based on data from the USDA’s FoodCentral Database.
Although the exact nutrient values will depend on the precise cut of meat, the following data is based on 80% lean ground meat (1).
|Saturated fat||6.16 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||7.19 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.47 g|
- Vitamin B12: 104% DV
- Niacin (vitamin B3): 29% DV
- Vitamin B6: 19% DV
- Choline: 15% DV
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 13% DV
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): 11% DV
- Thiamin (vitamin B1): 3% DV
- Folate: 2% DV
- Vitamin E: 1% DV
- Vitamin K: 1% DV
- Zinc: 57% DV
- Selenium: 37% DV
- Phosphorus: 14% DV
- Iron: 14% DV
- Potassium: 6% DV
- Magnesium: 5% DV
- Copper: 9% DV
- Sodium: 3% DV
- Calcium: 2% DV
- Manganese: 0.5% DV
2. Beef provides a large source of L-Carnitine
L-carnitine is a health-promoting compound that the body synthesizes in the liver from the amino acids lysine and methionine (2).
Beef is the best dietary source, and other meat products also contain relatively high amounts (3).
In the table below, we can see the L-carnitine content of beef compared to some other animal foods and plant foods (4);
|L-Carnitine Food Source||Amount of L-Carnitine (mg)|
|Asparagus (1/2 cup)||0.1|
|Beef (4oz)||56 – 162|
|Chicken Breast (4oz)||3 – 5|
|Cod (4oz)||4 – 7|
|Ice-Cream (1/2 cup)||3|
|Whole Milk (1 cup)||8|
|Whole Wheat Bread (1 slice)||0.2|
Why is L-Carnitine Important?
Among its numerous functions, L-carnitine plays a role in fat metabolism.
As part of this, L-Carnitine does the job of transporting fats into our mitochondria where we burn them (5).
It’s important to clarify that our body can synthesize sufficient amounts of L-carnitine for general needs, and we don’t necessarily need an external intake.
As a result, deficiencies are rare.
However, research suggests that a higher dietary intake of L-Carnitine may have some positive health impacts.
A meta-analysis of randomized trials suggests that L-carnitine improves patient outcomes. Specifically, it exerts an effect on hypertension, oxidative stress, nitric oxide, and inflammation (3).
A further systematic review found that L-carnitine is associated with a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality in heart failure patients (4).
A systematic review shows that higher L-carnitine intake in type 2 diabetes patients improves fasting glucose levels and the overall cholesterol profile (5).
According to a systematic review and meta-analysis of nine randomized controlled trials, subjects using L-carnitine supplementation lost “significantly more weight” than the control group (6).
However, it is important to note that each of these benefits was noted in participants taking supplementary carnitine.
In other words, we can’t automatically assume that the amounts present in beef would have the same potential benefits.
On the other hand, research demonstrates that the absorption rate of carnitine from supplements is poor in comparison to beef.
Supplementary doses of synthetic carnitine are usually around 500-600 mg, of which our body only absorbs 14-18% of the compound (7).
By comparison, beef provides 56-162 mg of carnitine per 4 oz (112-gram) serving. According to existing trials, dietary carnitine has a bioavailability of approximately 54-87% (7).
3. Beef Provides the “Master Antioxidant” Glutathione
Commonly known as the ‘master antioxidant,’ glutathione has a score of research linking it to (8);
- Anti-aging benefits
- Increasing longevity
- Preventing illness
- Reducing the risk of chronic disease
- Strengthening the immune system
As a key player in the human immune system, glutathione helps to protect every cell in our body from cellular damage, which can lead to many chronic diseases.
On the other hand, a deficiency in glutathione appears to contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation (9).
As a result, maintaining sufficient glutathione levels seems to be important for human health.
Endogenous Glutathione Production and Dietary Sources
Firstly, the human body produces glutathione endogenously.
In other words, our body uses raw materials (in this case: amino acids) to make glutathione.
For this process to occur, the body requires adequate levels of the amino acids cysteine, glutamate, and glycine (10).
These amino acids are known as glutathione precursors, and each of these amino acids is present in beef.
On the positive side, beef also contains a reasonably high source of complete (preformed) dietary glutathione (11, 12).
4. Beef is High in Protein
There are numerous reasons why we should strive to ensure a sufficient protein intake and these include;
- Amino acids (proteins) are the building blocks our body uses to repair and make bone, skin, and cartilage (13).
- Sufficient protein intake helps us to build and maintain lean muscle mass (14).
- Out of all macronutrients, dietary protein appears to be the most satiating, and it may help to discourage food cravings (15).
Beef is packed with amino acids, and it is one of the most complete sources of protein in the human diet (16).
For instance, a cooked 6 oz (170g) portion of 80% lean beef provides 36.5 grams of protein (1).
Should we opt for a leaner variety of beef, the protein content can be even higher. For 95% lean ground beef, a cooked 6 oz (170g) serving provides 43 grams of protein (17).
It is also worth noting that, as a dried/concentrated source of beef, jerky is a rich source of protein.
The Importance of Lean Mass
As we age, building—or at least holding on to—lean mass should be a priority.
Research shows that older adults with lower muscle mass are at a higher risk of mortality.
Speaking bluntly, the more skeletal muscle mass someone loses as they age, the higher their risk of an earlier death (12).
Also, the rate of muscle protein synthesis rapidly drops as we age, making it a lot harder to build and maintain muscle (13).
Considering this, we should ensure we’re eating a sufficient amount of protein – this is especially essential for elderly people.
On this note, beef is one of the best protein-rich foods out there.
4. Beef is Rich in Minerals
If you’re looking to increase your intake of various minerals, then beef is one of the best options to consider.
First of all, beef is relatively nutrient-dense in minerals.
Here we can see the mineral content of 80% lean beef (11);
|Mineral Name||Amount per 6oz portion (% DV)|
As shown in the table, beef provides more than half of the day’s recommended amount of selenium and zinc.
Many people have deficiency issues with some of these minerals.
So, the nutritional value of beef can help fight prevalent global deficiencies in iron, magnesium, and zinc (14, 15, 16).
5. Eating Beef Helps To Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia
We touched on mineral deficiencies in the last point, but iron deficiency anemia deserves a mention of its own.
Sadly, iron deficiency anemia is a growing epidemic around the world.
In a developed country such as the United States, nutrient deficiencies shouldn’t be a cause of death, yet anemia kills thousands every year.
To be exact, the latest release of statistics showed that Anemia hospitalized 146,000 Americans in one year. 5,219 of these people died (17).
Globally it’s even worse, and according to the World Health Organization, 1.62 billion people suffer from iron deficiency anemia (18).
Heme and Non-Heme Iron
There are two types of iron available in food, and we refer to them as heme and non-heme iron.
- Heme Iron: Heme iron is the most bioavailable form of iron, and meat and other animal foods exclusively contain it.
- Non-Heme Iron: Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, and nuts. In comparison to heme iron, our body finds it more difficult to absorb.
One of the best health benefits of beef meat is that it contains a substantial amount of heme iron.
The best source of all? Beef liver.
Interestingly, anemia disproportionately affects females. Perhaps this isn’t a huge surprise when we think about how society seems to shame women who eat meat.
The imagery of women smiling while eating a bowl of salad is quite ubiquitous.
6. Beef Contains Carnosine
Another potential advantage of eating beef is that it provides an abundance of carnosine.
Carnosine (beta-analyl-L-histidine) is a compound created by the combination of the amino acids alanine and histidine. It is found throughout the body, and it has several important roles in human health.
As beef is one of the highest sources of carnosine (containing about 50% more than poultry), this is another health benefit.
What Does Carnosine Do?
For one thing, carnosine has anti-glycosylation properties.
To be exact, carnosine reduces the harms of a process called ‘glycation’ which involves advanced glycation end-products (AGES).
Glycation is central to the aging process and progressively damages our body, potentially leading to atherosclerosis and various other chronic diseases (19, 20).
Additionally, carnosine helps boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. The compound is also thought to help prevent lipid peroxidation within our cells (21, 22).
7. Beef is Full of Vitamins
There are many important nutrients in beef, and those present in significant amounts include the range of B vitamins (11);
|Vitamin Name||Amount Per 6oz Portion (% RDI)|
Additionally, beef also contains smaller amounts of vitamins E and K.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a notably essential nutrient, and this is because it is only available from animal foods.
This vitamin also has a wealth of benefits that include skin improvements, positive mood, better sleep, and neural regeneration (23, 24).
It’s important to realize that insufficient vitamin B12 may also increase the risk of depression and mental health issues (25, 26).
Fortunately, just 100 grams of beef provides the daily recommended amount of B12.
8. Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Otherwise known as CLA, conjugated linoleic acid is a naturally occurring trans-fat.
Don’t worry, although the “trans-fat” name is a little scary, it has a very different effect to the synthetic version.
Some randomized controlled studies involving human participants suggest that;
- Conjugated linoleic acid might help to improve insulin sensitivity (27)
- CLA may slightly promote fat loss, but the evidence is mixed (28, 29)
Notably, the bulk of the evidence suggests that getting CLA from real food is better than supplementation (30).
As is often the case, perhaps nutrients in whole foods have a different effect to a synthetic pill?
Food Sources of CLA
The top sources of CLA include meat and dairy products.
After lamb meat and certain cheeses, beef is the next highest provider of the nutrient.
Although all types of beef contain CLA, grass-finished meat offers a significantly higher amount than beef from grain-fed cattle.
Specifically, the average amount of CLA in grass-fed beef is 0.46% of the fat content.
With grain-fed beef, this average content drops to 0.16% of fat (31).
9. Beef Contains Creatine
Almost everyone knows the dietary supplement version of creatine, but did you know that beef contains it too?
In fact, beef typically contains 350mg creatine per 100g (32).
The health benefits that creatine bring include;
- Improved exercise performance
- Creatine assists in muscle growth and development
- Provides muscles with greater energy supply and improves endurance
- Increased muscular size
It’s also worth noting that our liver can produce about 2g creatine per day, depending on the pre-cursors being available.
Creatine precursors include arginine, glycine, and methionine (33).
Not only are all of these amino acids present in beef, but beef is one of the single most significant dietary sources for them.
In other words, eating beef gives you a decent amount of dietary creatine, and it helps your body to produce it too.
Beef contains several health-promoting compounds, some of which many of us don’t consume in sufficient amounts.
While some concerns about red meat are worth considering, beef supplies large amounts of beneficial nutrients to the average diet.
Particularly protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
39 thoughts on “Beef: Nutrition Facts and Potential Health Benefits”
Great article………keep up the good work
Great article! In regards to the crowd that is anti beef for health reasons I often wonder why moderation never comes up. I personally feel elimination diets are dangerous. Can one eat beef once every 14 days and still receive healthy benefits?
Thanks! Trying to determine the health benefits from occasional consumption of a single food is difficult – sure, it will give benefits when you eat it. But only once every two weeks? Whether the diet is healthy will depend on what else in the diet may (or may not) be supplying the essential nutrients beef contains.
Beef is so confusing. It is one of the main contributors to climate change and almost all cardiologists advice their patients to eat or eliminate beef. Top cancer epidemiologists will tell you that research shows that plant-based diets decrease your chances of cancer. I also see the arguments for it. It’s all very confusing to me.
I understand what you mean! It must be confusing to many people.
I tried to cover some of what you said in your comment here: https://nutritionadvance.com/vegan-propaganda
Annie, have you ever heard of Allan Savory and the Savory Institute? Livestock is not a main contributor to climate change. Management of grazing has turned deserts into lush grasslands.
Beef is absolutely not the main contributor to climate change more or less 2%, beef are symbiotic with their environment. The microbiome in the cows guy is the same as the soil in the grasslands and they replenish the microbes and fertilize the soil. The Great Plains evolved under large herds of herbivores rotationally grazing, the buffalo used to do the job now those millions of buffalo are replaced with beef cattle. The microbiome they replenish is is symbiotic with the root system of the native grasses! Sd cattle rancher= OG environmentalists! It is our job to be the caretakers we own the last large contiguous stretches of land that are undisturbed! Think about this:which does more environmental disturbance a soy bean field tore up plowed fertilized and planted to one species OR a native pasture with cows grazing? I am telling you opt for the beef burger rather then the soy burger if you care about the environment! It provides a lot more biodiversity then a soy burger!!!!!!!
Annie, many people live a carnivorous life (meat and water only) and have had nothing but positives. No cancer, no CVD, no athero, no scurvy etc etc. Give it a go, nothing but meat is giving your body a much needed retreat.
Love the article – as always.
The controversy around beef always fascinates me. The topic seems to draw out the most extreme opinions and arguments, along with many highly emotional people. I’ve seen so many people argue for the benefits (which is my stance as well). Yet, just as many seem to argue the reverse.
Great information. I advise people to consume red meat all the time. Problem is, people actually feel nauseous at even the sight of it. The media propaganda against its consumption has caused people to view it as a disease causing, unclean food. When I ask them where they get their amino acids and iron from they don’t know. People have no idea how they are harming their health.
There certainly is a lot of propaganda about red meat. Humans are omnivores, and it’s a shame that misrepresented science scares people away from an optimal diet.
I think eat what makes you feel good, if a vegan lifestyle makes you feel good by all means go for it.
But if you like to eat and not feel hungry, bloated and get rid of ailments then have a tender juicy steak
Providing it’s a sensible diet that focuses on nutrient-density, I agree – the best diet is the one that fits the person.
I had high cholesterol in the 400’s so I went on a diet which consisted of about 80% red meat and chicken and pork. I had my cholesterol checked about 4 months later and it was under 100.
I did not change my cholesterol medicine dosage, just ate more red meat.
My doctor asked what I was doing so I told him more beef. He about fell out of his chair and said keep on eating beef then.
I had a carpal tunnel surgery last September and still experience pain in the wrist as well as swelling of the hand. However, I noticed recently that whenever I have a beef fillet steak at lunchtime, the pain and swelling disappear in addition to normal wrist functions. shortly afterwards!!!
Sorry to hear about the wrist pain/swelling.
I never heard of that one before… but glad that your pain gets better after lunchtime!
My son has a similar effect after eating Beef, his for arms stop aching the next day after eating Beef for dinner the day before.
New research suggests that L-carnitine, either from red meat or taken in supplement form, poses a threat to your heart.
A diet rich in red meat – pork and bacon count too – has long been recognized as a risk factor for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The saturated fat content of lean red meat accounts for only some of the increase in heart risks. Carnitine, a compound found in red meat, may now be a culprit for additional risks, says Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute’s Stan Hazen, MD, PhD, and his colleagues who did the research and authored the paper published on Sunday.
Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis.
Just read this study and here are some points below;
1) The study does not say that L-carnitine in red meat increases TMAO – it says that using pure L-carnitine supplements – in mice – increases TMAO.
2) No study has thus far shown that red meat consumption significantly increases TMAO in humans.
3) In the randomized controlled trials that have been done in actual human subjects, red meat barely has any effect at all on TMAO levels. On the other hand, fish consumption increases TMAO by about 50x more than red meat does. Of course, fish and seafood are associated with longevity. (RCT: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27377678)
4) No causal evidence that TMAO causes CVD in humans.
Case closed? No, but there doesn’t seem to be any good evidence that carnitine in red meat causes problems.
You didn’t mention red meat is a major source of COQ10 a major heart mussel strengthener and helps regulate blood pressure
Good point, Kevin! There are so many beneficial compounds in red meat.
Very well written article. Red meat and offal (liver specifically) are a nutritional powerhouse
Thanks, Mansoor. You are right; offal (along with shellfish) is probably the most nutrient-dense food around.
This is such an informative & helpful article. Hats off to the author!! The American schooling systems should be teaching this info, however they do not which is a shame. Thanks to the author for sharing this wealth of knowledge to others.
I have a 10 month old that I feed puréed filet every week in addition to milk, other meats/fish, veggies/fruit. He’s very healthy and in the 98% for both height/weight. People ask what he eats and after telling them puréed filet, they look at me like I have 2 heads and say “I’ve never heard of that!”. I find it interesting that most people I’ve come across do not feed infants meat, however it makes the most sense to me after my years of researching foods and what helps the human body optimally develop and function the best.
Thank you for the kind words, Kate.
I am glad that you found the article helpful! I’m also happy to hear that your baby is doing so well. From your message, it sounds like you are giving him all the right things he needs. I agree that meat is very important for an infant’s growth.
I guess that’s why my husband and I are farmers and raise cattle . We are very busy calving since all the cold weather started . 🐂🐂🐂🐂🐂
I’m wondering why there is no mention of one thing in particular in your article: eating grass-fed beef. My doctors, nutritionist, and trainer all recommend this.
I think grass-fed beef is great too, but all beef still offers a very similar (and beneficial) nutrient profile. There are also some who can’t afford grass-fed beef, so I’m always wary about making people feel it’s something they need.
There is a separate article on the issue (grain-fed vs grass-fed beef) here though: https://www.nutritionadvance.com/is-grass-fed-beef-necessary/
Grass fed has no meaning unless it is grass FINISHED! You can feed it grass until the feedlot then pour the grain to it and still label it grass fed, everyone is just wasting their money-rancher from SD
Yes, there is a difference between grass-fed and grass-finished. Personally, from a health perspective, I think it is the optimal choice but not a necessary one. But I’m sure it has many advantages for animal welfare and the environment.
Isnt most beef sold in the grocery store fed on grass till the last 2-3 weeks?
Dan, the cows are basically on grass or hay their entire lives. They feed their calves for about 8 months. During that time the calf is getting milk and eating grass. After the calf is weaned most will be started on a feed program that will introduce other forage options like corn silage (which is the entire corn plant and immature ear chopped up) and some grain. As the calves get older the amount of grain fed is increased. The last couple of months before they are marketed is when grain consumption is heavy. They are around 16-18 months old at that time.
Did you know grass fed has very little labeling control? All beef at one time are grass, very little is actually grass finished, which is apparent if it has yellow fat and very little of it. There is a lot of misrepresentation of products, just like Tyson falsely advertising no antibiotics, well that’s good since no chicken is allowed to have antibiotics! They often label things as if they are somehow different then all the other products on the shelf but they are the same other then the package label, grass finished with yellow marbling is the only one that would actually be different!!!! Buyer beware
If one must eat beef, yes, grass-fed is the only way to go. Organic is second.
Excellent article. I posted in my Dr.Carnal FB account, but it should be available in Spanish for Latino audiences. I would be glad to translate it (giving you the credits, of course) contact me.