There’s a reason beef is an important part of our diet, and it’s not just because it tastes delicious – it’s also packed with essential vitamins and nutrients.
A staple at the Australian dinner table and on our barbecues, beef is an excellent source of the nutrients our bodies need to function properly – particularly Australian beef, which is predominantly grass-fed and lean. (To reduce the saturated fat content, you can trim the fat off the edges before you throw it on the grill.)
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating red meat, which includes our beloved beef – as well as lamb, pork, veal, goat and kangaroo – because it’s a great source of protein, iron and zinc. But, like all good things, moderation is the key.
So just how much meat per day should we be eating?
The Guidelines recommend 65 grams per day of lean and cooked red meat (which is equivalent to about 90 to 100 grams of raw meat, before it’s cooked), or 455 grams per week (equivalent to approximately 650 grams per week in raw weight).
If you’re a meat lover – and, if you’re reading this, you probably are – you might find it easier to stick to that weekly amount if you have three or four red meat meals a week, alternating between smaller and larger portion sizes.
Similarly, Cancer Council Australia recognises that lean red meat is an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein, and recommends people consume moderate amounts of cooked red meat (65 to 100 grams) three or four times a week.
What are the benefits of eating beef?
Beef is rich in protein, which contains the amino acids you need for muscle growth, muscle mass and muscle tissue repair. Muscle health is particularly important for maintaining our independence in our later years.
Beef is a great dietary source of iron, which helps your red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells throughout your body. Iron is essential for energy, brain function and healthy growth and development, and is particularly important for adolescent girls, pregnant women, menstruating women and endurance athletes.
Iron is also crucial to early childhood, which is why the Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend the introduction of iron-rich foods such as red meat from around 6 months of age.
The type of iron found in red meat (called heme-iron) is more easily absorbed by the body than the iron found in plant foods, which is what makes beef such a good source of this mineral.
The zinc in red meat is also more easily absorbed by the body than the zinc in plant foods. Zinc plays a vital role in your body’s cellular metabolism, and helps to keep your immune system strong, which is necessary for fighting off infections. Zinc also supports your cognitive and reproductive functions, and helps to keep your skin and hair healthy.
Lean beef is also high in Omega-3 fatty acids, the same healthy fat found in fish that supports brain function and heart health.
And when it comes to red meat and nutrients, ‘B’ is the letter of the day – as in beef and B vitamins, the water-soluble vitamins that promote various functions of the body. The B12 vitamin, in particular, aids your nervous system – it’s found in its highest abundance in meat, and is not readily available in plant products, making B12 deficiency a legitimate concern for vegans.
Other B vitamins found in high dosages in beef include B6, which boosts your immune system; niacin, which aids your digestive system; and riboflavin, which promotes healthy skin and eyes.
Finally, beef is high in phosphorous, which helps your body convert food into energy.
Of course, just because beef can be good for you doesn’t mean you should be living the dream and eating steak for every meal. But as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle, eating lean beef in recommended amounts – and with plenty of vegetables – can help you be the best you that you can be.
As if any of us needed another excuse to eat beef…
For more information on maintaining a balanced diet, consult the Australian Dietary Guidelines.