Meat is one of the most nutritious foods out there.
While most people love a good steak, the media often tells us how “bad” for us it is.
The thing is: steak is actually quite nutritious, and it is full of beneficial nutrients.
This article will look at seven science-backed reasons to support this claim.
But first, here are the benefits.
1. Steak is Packed With Beneficial Nutrients
Steak is very nutrient-dense.
While it doesn’t quite match up to organ meats and shellfish, it does offer a wide range of nutrients.
Here are some of the major nutrients in a 6-oz (170-gram) T-bone steak (1);
- Vitamin B12: 78% RDA
- Selenium: 42% RDA
- Zinc: 36% RDA
- Phosphorus: 30% RDA
- Vitamin B6: 30% RDA
- Vitamin B3: 30% RDA
- Potassium: 18% RDA
- Vitamin B2: 18% RDA
- Iron: 18% RDA
- Vitamin B1: 12% RDA
- Trace amounts of several more nutrients
From looking at the studies, we can also see steak contributes nutrients to the average diet;
- Red meat contains protein and essential nutrients which are more bioavailable than in other foods. Notably, several nutrients in steak are in very short supply for some of the population, such as iron and zinc (2).
- Grass-fed beef is higher in conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3, both of which have benefits for heart health. It is also higher in vitamin A and E and antioxidants that help protect against cancer (3).
- Reasonable red meat intake is unlikely to increase CVD or colon cancer risk, but may well improve nutrient intake. Beef in general offers many positives for our health (4).
2. Steak Provides a Healthy Source of Fats
There is a prevalent misconception that fats in meat are unhealthy, but the evidence for these claims is somewhat lacking.
In general, it is the artificial and industrial fats such as margarine and trans fats that we should avoid.
Over the past decade, dozens of studies show that naturally occurring dietary fat is nothing to fear.
Just last year, a randomized controlled trial found that extremely high intakes of total fat (73% of energy) and saturated fat do not increase cardiovascular risk (5).
Commenting on the study, the researchers stated that their data doesn’t support the idea that dietary fat promotes cardiovascular disease. Additionally, they added that “the alleged health risks of eating good-quality fats have been greatly exaggerated.”
Beneficial Fatty Acids
Steak mainly provides saturated and monounsaturated acids, both of which play a role in our health.
Additionally, it contains highly bioavailable forms of omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid — especially in the case of grass-fed beef.
3. Steak is Good For Building Muscle
Steak is full of protein, but that isn’t the only reason why it is good for building muscle.
- Creatine is a compound that science considers to be “the most effective nutritional supplement currently available to athletes” (8).
- Creatine helps boost athletic endurance and strength, and it also occurs naturally in food, with red meat being the most significant source. So, the question is this; would you rather get your creatine from a powdered supplement or a nice piece of steak?
Complete Source of Protein
- Steak is one of the most significant sources of protein in the human diet. It is also a ‘complete protein,’ which means that it contains the full range of amino acids (9).
- Studies show that animal protein is a reliable indicator of muscle mass index. Significantly, when the protein intake is the same, a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower muscle mass index than an omnivorous diet (10).
- Muscle mass index has important links to improved health in many areas, and it is a reliable marker of longevity. Studies show that the more muscle mass we preserve as we age, the longer we can expect to live (11, 12, 13).
4. The “Harms” of Dietary Cholesterol Are Exaggerated
For the majority of people, there is no reason to fear dietary cholesterol in food.
Even the official dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 admit that dietary cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern” (14);
- A minority of individuals do experience an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) when they consume more dietary cholesterol. However, in this situation, there is a corresponding increase in circulating HDL too.
- It’s worth noting that while eggs, organ meats, and shellfish provide significant amounts of dietary cholesterol, they are also some of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
All these foods provide choline too, and deficiency in this mineral is an increasing problem.
Lastly, beef is also one of the highest dietary sources of choline—just another factor that shows why steak is healthy (15).
5. Blue Rare to Well Done: A Range of Taste
The majority of people love steak, and most have a different preference for how it is cooked.
Surprisingly, many cultures eat beef completely raw; from ‘steak tartare’ and ‘carpaccio’ in France and Italy to ‘kitfo’ and ‘yukhoe’ in Ethiopia and Korea.
Steak is less prone to bacterial contamination than other meats, so it can range from almost raw to well done.
To demonstrate, here is a diagram showing the varying ‘doneness’ levels of steak;
When almost raw, people refer to it as ‘blue rare’; this steak is seared on the outside and still completely red on the inside.
In contrast, a well-done steak is 100% brown throughout.
Benefits of Rare Steak: Suspected Carcinogens and Cooking
Some epidemiological studies have found an increased risk of various cancers when cooking meat at high temperatures.
As the studies are only observational in nature, there is no definite proof of this.
A study on cooking time and temperature also shows that increasing temperatures over 150 degrees generates more of these compounds (18).
The Perfect Temperature?
A study analyzing the perfect cooking time and temperature for beef found that;
- Roasting at low temperatures (135°C) results in better taste, less moisture loss and increased tenderness (19).
- This method of cooking leaves a visual red/pink presence and imparts a better flavor.
By the same token, this method of cooking is likely to result in less heat-related damage and a healthier cut of steak.
6. Steak is a Healthy Choice For Weight Loss
Here is another claim that seems to go against popular belief.
However, if we look to the science, then we can see sufficient evidence for steak aiding weight loss.
- Red meat is high in protein and fat, and both of these are much more satiating than refined carbohydrate. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient (20, 21).
- A recent analysis from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that people who eat red meat more often have a lower body mass index and a smaller waist circumference (22).
- In a 28-day study, individuals were assigned to a high red meat and very low carb diet (<20g per day). In summary, results showed significant weight loss (-5.26kg) with no evidence of an adverse effect on cardiovascular risk (23).
- Eating foods high in dietary protein such as steak encourage a healthy body weight and composition. Not only through the effect on satiety but also by improving stamina and vitality (24).
7. Steak is Delicious
A juicy, succulent ribeye steak perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper? Or perhaps you like it liberally covered in garlic butter?
Whatever your favorite steak choice may be, it certainly isn’t lacking in the taste department.
And for any health food—which steak is—being highly satiating, rewarding, and fulfilling is critical to dietary adherence.
Steak is Healthy
For all the reasons listed in this article and more, we should recognize steak for what it is; a healthy food.
In what kind of world do we live when we accuse steak of being “dangerous”, while at the same time promoting ultra-processed cereals and margarine as “heart healthy”?