I’m a big beef fan. Because I’m a physician, it may sound strange to you that I’m such a proponent of beef when beef gets bashed by so many of my colleagues in the health profession. In fact it’s come to the point that the unfair beef bashing has become so pervasive that it’s caught on as a popular norm to believe that beef is bad for you. Well here’s some breaking news: Beef can be every bit part of a healthy diet as much as anything you can think of.
Beef and beef products are part of what I call a “real” food diet. But not all meats are the same. The beef and beef products I’m talking about need to be prepared. So I’m not talking about packaged meats, cold cuts, hot-dogs, or canned meats. I’m talking about the real deal. Perhaps the greatest reason beef is such a big part of my diet is because it is such a great source of protein, and you need protein to build muscles and keep a toned body. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming four ounces of lean beef protein each day helped enhance muscle development by 50 percent. The study concluded that consuming lean beef protein leads to an increased muscle mass and delays the onset of loss of muscle.
But beef packs way more than just protein. Beef is an excellent source of the B-vitamins including vitamin B12, which is required for proper energy levels. A small 3-ounce serving of beef contains nearly 40 percent of the daily value (DV) of B12. Beef is also rich in selenium (a trace element with powerful antioxidant properties). Of course, most all know that beef is a great source of iron. A small 3-ounce serving provides 14 percent of the DV of iron. In fact, according to one published study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, diets rich in lean beef help teenagers maintain healthy blood levels of iron more so than poultry or fish.
Perhaps the most unfair reputation beef has been labeled with is that it is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The truth is that there really is no compelling proof that eating lean beef has any association with CVD. Though some “epidemiological studies” have made general observations that meat eaters might have an increased risk, lean beef consumption itself has never been isolated and found to be the cause.
Remember, guys that eat tons of red meat also tend to eat tons of other foods that may not be the healthiest. For example, if one eats a great deal of beef, they might also be eating an excess of carbohydrate/sugar-rich foods. They might be heavy beer drinkers. They might even smoke cigarettes. So there are many factors at play here, and the important take-home message is to know that beef has been unfairly implicated among these many other confounding cofactors. Interestingly, there are other large epidemiological studies that come to vastly different conclusions. For example, one past study (of more than 10,000 participants), published in the journal of Public Health Nutrition, found that in those with no previous history of chest pain, eating red meat as much as seven days a week was not associated with ischemic heart disease. Unfortunately, it seems that studies like these don’t get a lot of press, so consumers remain largely misinformed.
But again I’m talking about lean beef. There’s no denying that an excess of dietary fat is both unnecessary and unhealthy. So if you opt for lean choices of beef or at least carefully trim the fat from your cuts, you’ll be fine, and there’s tons of research to support that fact. A massive review published in 2005 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed the results of 54 different studies. They found that lean red meat (beef trimmed of excess fat) does not raise blood levels of cholesterol or LDL (the so-called “bad” form of cholesterol). They concluded that lean beef, when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat, doesn’t increase the risk for CVD by raising cholesterol levels.
But when it comes to red meat, there’s more than just a lean, juicy steak to consider. There’s liver too! There, I said it. Don’t cringe. Give it a chance. I love liver, and if it is lightly sauteed with a little olive oil and some onions, it’s delicious and nutritious. In fact, beef liver packs the nutrient power of beef along with a blast of vitamin A the likes you may not get in your diet anywhere else. Vitamin A is what we call a “fat-soluble vitamin.” By that I mean that it can be stored in the body (in particular the liver) rather than passing right through you like the water-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamin C). It’s necessary for healthy eyesight. A single 100-gram serving beef liver can provide nearly 17,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A. Of course, when it comes to liver, in the same way it can store vital nutrients like vitamin A, there is always the view that the liver can be a store toxins, too. That’s why I tend to favor calf’s liver. (Note: If you’re pregnant, avoid eating liver altogether, because too much vitamin A may lead to birth defects.)
In addition, to being more tender and much better flavored than liver from older animals, calf’s liver won’t have the accumulations of toxins, such as pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics that one might find in the liver of older animals. Of course, while a bit more expensive, organic calf’s liver provides the greatest assurance that the liver is as clear of toxins as possible.
Finally, my expose on my love of beef would not be complete without educating you on beef bone marrow. Yes, bone marrow. It is so often overlooked, yet relatively inexpensive, packed with vital nutrients, and absolutely delicious. In fact, many of the finest chefs in the world clamor for this tasty delicacy. The bone marrow is the place where blood cells are produced. So this region of the animal is especially nutrient dense. While I realize it might be a shock to hear about it, but honestly you have to give it a try. Since the bones are pre-cut in the Fairway’s Butcher Shop for you (exposing the marrow), the preparation is actually quite easy. Here’s my favorite way.
DOC’S MARVELOUS ROASTED MARROW
Marrow bones (such as from center-cut beef or veal)
Fairway coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- Place marrow bones on a rimmed cookie sheet. Make sure the marrow core of the bone is in the vertical position, so that if you look down from the top of each bone you can see the circle of the boney edge with the marrow core inside.
- Sprinkle lightly with course sea salt or kosher salt (though you can use any spices you like as well as lemon, since bone marrow has such a unique and succulent taste, I prefer just using a bit of salt).
- Cook for 12 to 15 minutes (until you see the marrow on top browning and bubbling). Larger bones may need slightly more time. Just do not overcook. For the best taste, it should be eaten slightly pink.
- To serve, place bones upright directly onto a plate and eat with a small spoon. Scoop out the marrow core and enjoy.
Of course if the whole concept of digging into bone marrow is too much for you, at least try out my bone marrow soup.
DOC’S BEEF MARROW SOUP
2 pounds beef bones with marrow (such as from center-cut beef)
1 1/2 pounds beef stewing meat, cut into small cubes
3 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
3 cups sliced carrots
2 cups red wine (Cabernet preferred)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup fresh corn
1 cup fresh green beans
1 cup fresh peas
3 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon Fairway kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Fairway black pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon cilantro
1 teaspoon thyme
3 Fairway bay leaves
- Place all ingredients in a large pot with 2 quarts of water and one quart of natural or organic beef stock.
- Bring to a boil, uncovered over medium heat. Drop temperature to low and simmer covered for four hours.
- This rich soup can be served hot, drained for stock, or frozen in soup or stock form for a later date.
TELL US: What’s your favorite way to eat beef?