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Can Beef Be Classified As “Heart-Healthy”?

Last updated April 10, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Even though saturated fat is not considered to be a healthy fat, most of the saturated fatty acids in lean cuts of beef is present in the form of stearic acid, a type of fatty acid that helps significantly reduce cholesterol.


Beef is a delightful red meat delicacy of the non-vegetarian diet that contains high amounts of saturated and unsaturated fats. Hence, it is believed to be a common etiological risk factor for developing cardiovascular issues and metabolic diseases. However, several scientific studies point out that making the right beef cut selection may, in some instances, benefit heart health.

Research suggests that trimming-away visible fat as much as possible and selecting lean beef and extra lean beef cuts, as indicated on the respective food labels, can be of great help in minimizing the fat intake appreciably.

  • 100g of lean beef contains a total of 10g of fat (composed of 4.5g of saturated fat and 90mg of cholesterol)
  • 100g of extra lean beef contains 5g of fat in total (composed of 2.2g of saturated fat and 90mg of cholesterol)
  • The top and bottom round roasts and the tip side roasts are all also lean beef cuts.

It is also proposed by various studies that the fat contained naturally in beef is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and also has appreciable constituent polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which are beneficial in regulating the lipid metabolism and conserving good heart health. These fatty acids act by preventing several metabolic issues such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiac diseases, and unfavorable weight changes.

Even though saturated fat is not considered to be a healthy fat, most of the saturated fatty acids in lean cuts of beef is present in the form of stearic acid, a type of fatty acid that helps significantly reduce cholesterol. Thus, the presence of stearic acid plays a significant role in regulating blood lipid parameters. The overall lipid profile of trimmed beef is also ideal for enhancing the immune function and maintaining bone health.

Additionally, the high-protein content of beef adds a satiety value and reduces caloric intake, increases healthy muscle weight, and prevents chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Since this protein is from an animal source, its biological value (extent of absorption and thus, utilization of the protein in the body) is extremely high. Choline in beef also breaks down homocysteine, an amino acid that is known to have a potential of increasing the vulnerability towards cardiac risks.

Despite the above-stated beneficial facts of beef, further research is needed to understand whether beef also acts as an LDL (bad) cholesterol suppresser, but is a cause of inflammation and high heme iron that increase the possibility of facing cardiovascular risks. For now, therapeutic diets are advised to refrain from adding beef to the menus planned for cardiac patients. Occasional and limited portion sizes of lean/extra lean cuts can be permitted. While selecting beef cuts, however, the USDA’s Prime, Choice, and Select labels are helpful in indicating the quality of the packed beef cuts like most other meats. These labels must be taken into consideration when purchasing beef cuts.

References:

(2010). Building a Heart-Healthy Diet with Lean Beef.Retrieved from http://www.beefnutrition.org/CMDocs/BeefNutrition/HeartHealthyFactSheet.pdf

(2014, Feb 21). Cuts of Beef: A Guide to the Leanest Selections. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/cuts-of-beef/art-20043833

Collins, K. (2012 Dec 17). AICR Health Talk.Retrieved from http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?abbr=pr_hf_&page=NewsArticle&id=22077&news_iv_ctrl=2981

Aubrey, A. (2010 Apr 8). The Truth About Grass-Fed Beef.Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2010/04/08/125722082/the-truth-about-grass-fed-beef

(2008). Lean Beef and Heart Health.Retrieved from http://www.beefresearch.org/CMDocs/BeefResearch/LEan%20Beef%20and%20Heart%20Health.pdf

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 10, 2015
Last updated: April 10, 2015