So many of us have omitted or cut down on our consumption of red meat due to negative reports in the press. However, I believe that unprocessed, grass-fed beef has its place in a healthy diet.
Besides the fact that nothing is better than a juicy hamburger on the grill in the summer, the high levels of nutrients it provides can make it a healthy choice.
Here are some of the stand-out nutrients you might be missing:
Iron is an essential nutrient involved in many different metabolic functions. It is especially important in early childhood cognitive development, energy metabolism and the immune system. One of its most critical functions is the role it plays in developing the red blood cells needed to transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is classified as Heme Iron (found in animal proteins) and Non-Heme Iron (found in plant foods.) Heme iron is the best absorbed form of iron and utilized more efficiently in the body. Heme iron is not influenced by inhibitors like phytates, calcium and polyphenols found in plant foods. Iron levels in red meat are more bioavailable in red meat than alternative food sources.
Red meat is a rich source of B vitamins, especially vitamin B12. B12 cannot be made in the body and is best absorbed through animal protein. It is vital to proper functioning of nearly every system in your body. B12 deficiency can play a role in everything from bone health, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disorders, neurological disorders, and infertility.
It is needed to formulate the neurotransmitters that regulate mood. People suffering from depression are often deficient in B12, which is best absorbed when taken with other B vitamins.
Red meat also contains significant levels of other B vitamins, that are involved in the functioning of the nervous system and release of energy through food including thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. B6 is also critical in immune function, amino acid metabolism, blood sugar regulation, and neurotransmitters formulation needed for brain health.
Getting these vitamins through whole food sources is better than relying on fortification of processed foods or supplementation. Red meat is an easy way to ensure adequate intake.
CLA and Fatty Acid profile
Grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat content than grain fed beef. It contains fats that facilitate the absorption of fat-soluable vitamins A, D, E and K.
Red meat has high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been associated with reducing body fat, promoting cardiovascular health, modulating the immune and inflammatory responses as well as improving bone mass. CLA can have a significant effect on cancer prevention and suppression. Americans do not get enough in their diet and supplementation can cause side effects.
Grass-fed beef has higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids compared to grain-fed beef. Beef consumption increases DHA and EPA in humans, which has been associated with a lower risk of depression, memory loss, Alzheimer's, cancer and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Although fish has always been touted as the best source of fatty acids, beef is a significant source as well. Both can be a part of a balanced diet.
Zinc is more bioavailable in red meat than other food sources, and red meat can enhance the absorption of zinc and iron. Zinc is involved in many reactions that take place in the body. It is especially important to the immune system and fighting off infections and viruses; it is needed for healing and is associated with brain health. Zinc deficiency is common in patients with depression or other psychiatric disorders.
Grass-fed beef is rich in precursors to antioxidants Vitamins A and E and naturally occurring antioxidants glutathione(GT)) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Antioxidants protect our cells from free radical damage that contribute to chronic disease.
There was a time when I avoided red meat, but sometimes my body craves the nutrients it provides. When I incorporate small amounts into my diet (4-6 ounces twice a week) I find that I have a little more energy and sleep better.
Just remember that you shouldn't cook red meat at high temperatures because that can increase the generation of carcinogens that are linked to cancer. Avoid heavily processed meats (sausage, hot dogs, bacon and salami) and stay within USDA guidelines for consumption.
Melissa Reagan Brunetti
Certified Nutrition Consultant
Author, The Sweet Side of Balance