Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

What’s the Beef?


Eye fillet of grass-fed beef.

Image via Wikipedia

A recent study studied the cardiovascular benefits of a lean beef diet. Some funding was provided by the Beef Checkoff Program) but nevertheless, it was a decently conducted study and peer reviewed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012; 95:9-16.

Simply put, 4 diets were given to healthy people for 5 week periods with a 1 week break between them.  This study is available online by searching the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition for those interested in the specifics of the study design.  The objective of the study was to study the effect on LDL cholesterol in diets with varying amounts of lean beef from 28 grams ranging to 153 grams/day.  Three experimental diets were compared to a “healthy” American diet (HAD) that used more full-fat and dairy products, more oil and butter, and more whole grains.  All the diets were rich in fruit, vegetables, and lean meats.

Bottom Line:

Total cholesterol LDL and HDL cholesterol were significantly decreased after eating diets containing lean beef, but not the HAD diet.  This study supported the idea that including lean beef in a heart-healthy diet was beneficial to heart health.

Although these study results would be good news for beef lovers, it may be even better if the lean beef was grass-fed beef instead of beef coming from factory farms and feedlots.

The evidence presents a healthier picture of grass-fed beef when compared with grain-fed beef and other meats.

Lower in Fat:  Meat from grass-fed beef and bison is lower in total fat.  The graph shows that grass-fed beef can have the same amount of fat as skinless chicken breast.  Research shows that lean beef actually lowers your LDL cholesterol as discussed in the study above.  Since it is lower in fat, it can have fewer calories.  For example, a 6 oz. steak from a grass-fed steer can have 100 fewer calories than the same ounces from a grain-fed steer.

Extra-omega-3 fats.  Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals.

The reason is that omega-3 fats are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae.  Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s.   When cattle are taken off pasture to feedlots, they are fattened with grain low in omega-3 fats but higher in omega-6 fatty acids.  A study found that people who ate grass-fed meat increased their blood levels of omega-3 fats and decreased their level of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats while others eating the grain fed meat ended up with lower levels of omega-3s and higher levels of omega-6 fats than they had at the beginning of the study. The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition (2011).

Vitamin E.  Meat from grass-fed animals is higher in vitamin E. The graph compares vitamin E content of grain-fed animals, grain fed animals with supplemental vitamin E and pastured cattle. Even with supplementation of synthetic vitamin E with the grain—fed animals, the grass-fed animals surpassed these levels.

  Vitamin E in humans acts as an antioxidant that prevents damage to cell membranes in body cells. Vitamin E may protect against chronic disease such as heart disease, but controversy still remains.  The best evidence indicates that vitamin E in foods, not supplements is most beneficial and grass-fed beef can be a superior source.

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2 thoughts on “What’s the Beef?

  1. Thank you for sharing the benefits of incorporating lean beef into the diet. My husband and I farm in Nebraska and raise crops and cattle. I was a “city kid” who married into rural life on a farm and it has been an incredible experience to learn how to care for animals and raise food. I invite you to visit my site to see how our family cares for cattle and raises beef in rural Nebraska.

    All the best,


  2. Great information about grass fed beef! Use as a resource for more info!


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