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4 reasons you should include beef in your healthy, balanced diet

Every day we here about a new fad diet. One urges us to eat no meat, another recommends  eating only meat. Meanwhile, another cites the importance of good carbs, while others tell us to cut out carbs altogether. It’s confusing to say the least.

Despite all these fad diets, the voices of nutritional reason advocate moderation and balance.

If you’re worried that you should cut out red meat for the sake of your health, here are four reasons to make beef an integral part of your nutritious, balanced diet:

#1 Protein

Meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies. Plant protein sources such as beans, lentils and nuts are considered to be incomplete, because they do not contain all the essential amino acids.

Protein is essential for growth, energy, maintenance and repair, and animal derived proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and milk are the best sources.

#2 Fat

Red meat contains a combination of saturated fats, unsaturated fats and ruminant trans-fats, which all have a role in a nutritious diet. Here’s what you should know about these fats:
– The notion that saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels has been disproven.
– Consumption of saturated fats can raise HDL (or good cholesterol) in the blood stream.
– Lean beef contains more unsaturated fats than saturated.
Ruminant trans-fats, unlike their manufactured counterparts, are not considered unhealthy.
– Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a ruminant trans-fat, is linked to various health benefits, particularly regarding weight loss.

Thanks to enhancements in cattle breeding, production and beef trimming practices, today’s beef is leaner than ever. On average, today’s Canadian beef has less than 8g of fat (per 100 g), when trimmed of external fat.

#3 Vitamins and minerals

Red meat contains many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies rely on:
B12. Found only in animal derived foods, this is an essential nutrient for blood formation, brain function and the nervous system.
Iron. The iron found in meat is in the heme form, which is absorbed readily by the body. Not only is heme iron only found in meat, but it actually improves the absorption of the non-heme iron found in plant-based foods.
Zinc. Important for body growth and maintenance.
Selenium. An important trace element.
Niacin. Also known as vitamin B3, it helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
B6. Important for blood formation.
Phosphorous. Essential for body growth and maintenance.

Beef also contains many other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts. People who don’t consume meat run the risk of having deficiencies in many essential nutrients.

#4 Other compounds

Some other natural compounds that you will benefit from every time you eat beef include:
Creatine – an energy source for muscles.
Taurine – an antioxidant amino acid important for heart and muscle function.
Glutathione – an antioxidant found in most whole foods, which is particularly abundant in meat.
L-Carnitine – an amino acid thought to aid with heart health, diabetes control and weight loss.

Worried about cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a sterol found in animal fats. It is produced naturally by the body and has many functions, but an excess is linked to heart disease. Dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol and is not considered a health concern. Moderate consumption of saturated fats has also been cleared of raising cholesterol.

Lean meat has even been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol.

Worried about heart disease?

Many studies have attempted to prove whether beef contributes to the likelihood of heart disease and the results have been inconclusive. Some have found a connection and others have found no connection. 

It has been speculated that many health-conscious people avoid red meat because of health claims in the media, and those people tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and fibre and also to exercise more. While meat eating could be a marker for unhealthy behaviours, that is not to say that it doesn’t have an important role to play in a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Worried about cancer?

There is some evidence that eating large amounts of overcooked, or well-done meat, fish or poultry could increase the risk of cancer. This could be because overcooking produces heterocyclic amines, a class of cancer-causing substances. 

There is no link between cancer and the consumption of properly prepared meat, fish or poultry.

The health benefits of beef summarized

A healthy, balanced diet should include a variety of nutritious foods, all eaten in moderation. This includes beef, which is a source of many important nutrients, including complete proteins, vitamins and minerals, all of which have a crucial role in building strong, healthy bodies.

Now that you know eating beef should be a healthy part of your balanced diet, check out this blog post on the environmental impacts of beef production. You might be surprised what you learn.

4 ways proposed changes to the Canada Food Guide could be bad for our health

For 40 years, Health Canada has urged Canadians to follow its dietary guidelines, and using the Canada Food Guide is considered a basic reference when it comes to healthy eating.

As we learn more about nutrition and health, it makes sense that recommendations will change over time, and the Guide should be kept updated. But recently proposed changes have many people, including doctors, worried.

Of particular concern to Canada’s beef industry is a recommendation that Canadians eat less meat. They are encouraged to replace animal proteins with plant-based proteins, partly for health reasons and partly for environmental considerations.

Why 717 Canadian physicians disagree with Health Canada

In July 2017, a group of 717 Canadian physicians and allied health professionals sent an open letter to the Canadian Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion expressing their concerns about several aspects of the new Guide, including the recommendation to eat less red meat. These health professionals have been successfully using food and diet to help reverse disease and made the following points:

    • The Guide continues to recommend reducing consumption of saturated fats, despite “essentially overwhelming evidence now that saturated fat is not harmful in the diet and does not cause heart disease, but rather that the low fat dietary pattern has very likely caused harm”.
    • The caution against red meat does not stand up to “rigorous clinical trial data which does not demonstrate any negative health consequences from eating meat.” The physicians cited a recent review which shows no negative influence on cardiovascular risk factors with red meat intake of more than 0.5 servings per day.

“The advice to eat less red meat may already be having some unintended consequences. A recent report by Public Health England shows that 25% of working age women do not have enough iron in their diet, and that almost half of teenage girls are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia. Encouraging all population groups to eat less red and processed meat … is not helpful and places women at risk of iron deficiency and related anemia.”

You can read the full letter here.

Four ways the new Guide could be counter-productive

    1. The Guide plans to eliminate the meat category and replace it with a proteins category. The implication that all proteins are created equal is misleading – red meats are the best source of high-quality, dietary protein relative to caloric intake.
    2. Red meats are an excellent part of a balanced diet because they are so rich in nutrients such as zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.
    3. Saturated fats are now known to play an important role in a healthy, balanced diet.
    4. Dietary guidelines should be first and foremost about nutrition, rather than environmental considerations.

Why environmental considerations don’t belong in nutritional recommendations

Nutrition and the environment are diverse issues that should not be confused. According to Tom Lynch-Staunton, issues manager for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, “it’s absolutely important for us as an industry to look at ways to improve our environmental impacts, but the food guide should be about nutrition; about human health, which is complex enough.”

“The Guide should provide recommendations for a variety of different diets so that people can get the best nutrition possible, and not confuse that with other issues such as the environment.”

Tom also explained that the environmental impacts of agriculture as an industry are incredibly complex.

“It’s very misleading to look at one measurement, such as greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef,” he said. “Although the data suggests that cattle produce the most methane emissions of any livestock, we also know that cattle can provide great benefits to the environment – they use food sources that we can’t use, such as feed grains or crop residues, and they are able to graze natural grasslands that aren’t very well suited to farming crops or vegetables. We also know that grasslands promote biodiversity, providing wildlife habitat, a water filtration system and nutrient dispersion, as well as storing huge amounts of carbon.”

You can read about some of the research into greenhouse gas emissions in these blog posts: