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Research   »   Nutritional Qualities of Beef

Nutritional Qualities of Beef

Beef is a nutrient rich food that can help people meet their nutrient needs within their calorie goals, as part of an overall healthy pattern of eating.  This report summarizes beef’s role in health from the perspective of its nutrient content, Canadian consumption levels, an examination between red meat and chronic disease.

On this page:

Beef as a Valuable Part of a Balanced Diet

Beef is an excellent source of high quality protein and provides many micronutrients essential to good health throughout life.  At a time when consumers are more consciences of calorie intake, nutrient-rich lean beef offers a solution for satisfying appetites while providing more nutrients for fewer calories than many other foods.
  • A 75g serving of cooked lean beef provides 26g protein, 170 calories (8.5% of a 2,000-calorie diet), 6.3g fat, 2.6g saturated fat, and less than 50mg sodium.2
Beef is an excellent source of high quality protein, a source3 of 14 essential nutrients, and lean cuts are low in calories.
  • Beef is a source3 of 14 essen­tial nutrients – protein, iron, zinc, selenium thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, phosphorus, pantothenate, magnesium and potassium.  Beef contains other nutrients of interest including choline, monounsaturated fat and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). 2
  • Red meat (which includes beef), provides a significant proportion of Canadians’ total intake of several nutrients, particularly protein, zinc, selenium and vitamin B12.  Among Canadian adults, red meat accounts for approximately 27-41% of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA; the value estimated to meet the needs of 97 to 98% of individuals in a group) for protein, 51-70% of their RDA for zinc, 24-44% of their RDA for selenium, and 33-61% of their RDA for vitamin B12. 4 

Red Meat Consumption in Canada

The most recent data on red meat consumption in Canada comes from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) Cycle 2.2.5 Dietary intake data were collected from over 35,000 Canadians between January 2004 and January 2005.  As part of this survey, fresh red meat is defined as beef, veal, pork, and lamb (including ground meat).  Processed red meat is analyzed as a separate category, and includes a wide variety of beef and pork products, as well as some poultry products, that have been processed or preserved through various means.  Total red meat intake is defined as the sum of the intakes of fresh and processed red meats.

Contrary to some public perceptions, Canadians are not consuming amounts of red meat beyond that recommended by Health Canada.  The CCHS survey indicates the mean intake for all Canadians (≥1 year of age) is 52 grams per day of fresh red meat and 22 grams per day of processed meat.  This is a total of 74 grams per day or about the amount of one serving of cooked lean meat, fish or poultry according to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.  See Tables 1 & 2 for further breakouts.

Table 1.  Canadian red meat intake (Males and females ≥ 1 year of age)

Meat category

Mean intake for all Canadians (grams/day)

Number of Food Guide Servings

Fresh red meat (beef, veal, pork and lamb including ground meat)


< 1

Processed red meat


< 1/3

Total red meat (above two categories)



Source: Canadian community health survey, cycle 2.2, Nutrition, 2004

Table 2.  Canadian adult red meat intake (Males and females ≥ 19 years of age)

Meat Category

Mean Intake for Female Adults (grams/day)

Number of Food Guide servings

Mean Intake for Male Adults (grams/day)

Number of Food Guide servings

Fresh red meat (beef, veal, pork and lamb including ground meat)


< 1


< 1

Processed red meat


< 1/4


< 1/2

Total red meat (above two categories)




1 1/3

Source: Canadian community health survey, cycle 2.2, Nutrition, 2004

Making the Case for Protein

Not only are Canadians not consuming more red meat than recommended by Health Canada, Canadians are not over-consuming protein. With average intakes of less than 17% of energy from protein,5 many Canadians have protein intakes at the lower end of the current Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of 10% to 35% of energy from protein.6

In fact, research shows many Canadians may benefit from a moderate to higher high-quality protein diet because of its positive role in weight management, healthy aging and disease prevention.7-15 Some studies suggest that diets higher in protein can increase satiety7, promote weight loss 8-10, and maintain muscle and bone tissue during aging.11

A moderate to higher high-quality protein diet has a positive role in weight management, healthy aging and disease prevention.7-15

In addition, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have demonstrated that replacing some carbohydrates with protein may improve a number of cardiovascular risk factors, for example by lowering blood pressure13 and improving glycemic control and blood triglyceride levels. 14,15  Other recent research suggests that protein requirements for both adults and children may have been significantly underestimated, maybe by as much as 50%.17,18

Fatty Acid Profile

About 2/3 of the fat in beef is in a form that does not raise blood cholesterolThe impact and role of fat in the diet continues to be of great interest and debate in the scientific literature.18 Beef’s lipid profile is made up of a mix of fatty acids and contributes less than 10% of the total saturated fat consumed by Canadians:

      • About half of the fat in beef is monounsaturated, most of it oleic acid, the type found in olive oil.2
      • About one-third of the saturated fat in beef is stearic acid, which does not raise LDL cholesterol.19,20
      • Contrary to some public perceptions, only a small proportion of Canadians’ fat intake comes from fresh (unprocessed) beef.  Fresh beef accounts for only 5-7% of total fat intake, and <8% of saturated fat intake, on average for Canadian adults.21  In contrast, the top two contributors of fat in the diet of Canadians are fast foods and sweetened baked goods, accounting for 25% of total fat intake.5
      • Based on consumer research conducted by the beef industry, almost 80% of Canadians trim visible fat from their beef either before and/or after cooking and over 70% of consumers buy lean or extra lean ground beef.22,23  Trimming visible fat can have a major impact on the fat content of both raw and uncooked cuts, reducing total fat by 25% or more.24

Trans fat

Recent research suggests that trans fat from ruminant sources (i.e. ‘natural trans fats’ such as CLA and trans vaccenic acid) have antioxidant and other beneficial properties.25 Pre-clinical studies indicate they are not harmful at dietary levels and may have health enhancing potential. Natural trans fats are a focus of a growing body of research that is helping us understand more about this health potential.26
Trans fat from ruminant sources like beef have antioxidant and other beneficial properties.25

Beef and Chronic Disease

The relationship between red meat consumption and the risk of developing various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes has been extensively studied.

Relationships between red meat consumption and chronic disease risks are complicated by the various definitions of red meat used among studies and how fresh versus processed meats are treated in the analyses.27  Differences in health outcomes are starting to emerge for example, when lean, unprocessed red meat is examined separately from processed red meat, with the later generally more often associated with negative outcomes.28  However, it is important to consider that the average level of processed meat consumed by Canadian men and women (i.e. 28 and 15 grams per day, respectively) is low and thus the significance of these findings has to be considered in this context.     

The association between fresh red meat and chronic disease are very weak and most often not statistically significant.

Current epidemiological data do not support an association between unprocessed red meat consumption and increased risks of coronary heart disease or type 2 diabetes.28 The relationship between red meat and cancer (particularly colorectal cancer) continues to be the subject of much debate and research however, overall, the associations have generally been weak in magnitude and / or the large majority of associations have not been statistically significant.29

Dietary Patterns

The study of dietary patterns and the relationship to health is a growing area of interest.  Red meat consumption is often classified under a “Western” dietary pattern, characterized by higher intakes of total fat, refined grains, and sweets/desserts.30-32  Interpretation of dietary pattern studies is limited by a lack of specificity when red meat is not analytically isolated, but is included with numerous other dietary factors that may be indicative of an overall unhealthy lifestyle.33  Within a healthy dietary pattern, eight RCTs34-41 and one meta-analysis42 have demonstrated lean red meat, such as beef, is as effective as lean white meat (poultry and fish) for managing blood cholesterol levels.  Recent research also suggests that Canadians can benefit from guidance that encourages dietary patterns made up of whole, minimally processed foods that are naturally nutrient rich.43,44 

  1. Dietitians of Canada/ Ipsos Reid survey 2010.
  2. Health Canada. Based on Canadian Nutrient File, 2010 average for steaks (#6174) and roasts (#6168).
  3. Canadian Food Inspection Agency – Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising. Chapter 7, Nutrient Content Claims, Section 7.25 Vitamin and Mineral Nutrient Claims. Available at: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/guide/ch7be.shtml#a7_25 (Accessed August 7, 2012)
  4. Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.2, Nutrition, 2004 - nutrient intakes from food, provincial, regional and national summary data tables. Volumes 1, 2 & 3.
  5. Garriguet D. Overview of Canadians’ Eating Habits 2004. Nutrition: Findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey. Statistics Canada, 2006, Catalogue no. 82-620-MIE — No. 2. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/82-620-M/82-620-MIE2006002.pdf . (Accessed August 7, 2012)
  6. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington DC, 2005: National Academy Press.
  7. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87:1558S-61S.
  8. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, Jebb SA, Papadaki A, Pfeiffer AF, et al. Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance. N Engl J Med 2010; 363(22):2102-13.
  9. Austin GL et al. Trends in carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes and association with energy intake in normal-weight, overweight, and obese individuals: 1971–2006. Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 93(4):836–43.
  10. Weigle DS et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82:41–8.
  11. Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, Volpi E, Wolfe RR. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008; 87:1562S-6S.
  12. Wolfe RR. The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006; 84:475-82.
  13. Hodgson JM et al. Partial substitution of carbohydrate intake with protein intake from lean red meat lowers blood pressure in hypertensive persons. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83(4):780–7.
  14. Layman DK, Clifton P, Gannon MC, Krauss RM, Nuttall FQ. Protein in optimal health: heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87:1571S-5S.
  15. 1Nuttall FQ, Schweim K, Hoover H, Gannon MC. Effect of the LoBAG30 diet on blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. Br J Nutr 2008; 99:511–9.
  16. Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO, Pencharz PB.Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2010; 13(1):52–7.
  17. Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO, Pencharz PB. Protein requirement of healthy school-age children determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation method. Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 94:1545–52.
  18. Zelman K. The Great Fat Debate: A Closer Look at the Controversy – Questioning the Validity of Age-Old Dietary Guidance. JADA 2011; 111(5):655–8.
  19. Kris-Etherton PM, Yu S. Individual fatty acid effects on plasma lipids and lipoproteins: human studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1997; 65(Suppl):1628S–44S.
  20. Yu S et al. Plasma cholesterol-predictive equations demonstrate that stearic acid is neutral and monounsaturated fatty acids are hypocholesterolemic. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 61(5):1129–39.
  21. Calculations based on data from Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey 2.2, Nutrition, 2004, and Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2010.
  22. Nielsen Market Track, July 2010.
  23. Beef Information Centre. Consumer Beef Trimming Practices 2010, 2005.
  24. Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2010, comparison of composites for raw steaks, 0mm/0” trim (#6169) and 3 mm/1/8” trim (#6170).
  25. Gebauer SK et al. Effects of ruminant trans fatty acids on cardiovascular disease and cancer: a comprehensive review of epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Adv Nutr 2011; Jul;2(4):332-54.
  26. www.naturaltransfat.ca
  27. Wyness L et al. Red Meat in the Diet: An Update. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin March 2011; 36:34–77.
  28. Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation 2010; 121(21):2271–83.
  29. McNeill S, Van Elswyk ME. Red meat in global nutrition. Meat Science 2012; 92:166–173.
  30. Nettleton JA, Polak JF, Tracy R, Burke GL, Jacobs DR, Jr. Dietary patterns and incident cardiovascular disease in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90(3):647-54.
  31. Centritto F, Iacoviello L, di Giuseppe R, De Curtis A, Costanzo S, Zito F, et al. Dietary patterns, cardiovascular risk factors and C-reactive protein in a healthy Italian population. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2009; 19(10):697-706.
  32. Heidemann C, Schulze MB, Franco OH, van Dam RM, Mantzoros CS, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in a prospective cohort of women. Circulation 2008; 118(3):230-7.
  33. Alexander DD. Red meat and processed meat consumption and cancer: a technical summary of the epidemiological evidence. Health Sciences Practice, Exponent, Inc.; 2010.
  34. Roussell MA et al. Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet Study: effects on lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(1):9–16.
  35. Davidson MH et al. Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs lean white meat on serum lipid levels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia. Arch Intern Med 1999; 155:1331–8.
  36. Beauchesne-Rondeau E et al. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in hypercholesterolemic men fed a lipid-lowering diet containing lean beef, lean fish, or poultry. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 77(3):587–93.
  37. 37. Melanson K et al. Weight loss and total lipid profile changes in overweight women consuming beef or chicken as the primary protein source. Nutrition 2003; 19(5):409–14.
  38. Scott L et al. Effects of beef and chicken consumption on plasma lipid levels in hypercholesterolemic men. Arch Intern Med 1994; 154:1261–7.
  39. Scott L et al. Effects of a lean beef diet and of a chicken and fish diet on lipoprotein profiles. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 1991; 1:25–30.
  40. Gascon A et al. Plasma lipoprotein profile and lipolytic activities in response to the substitution of lean white fish for other animal protein sources in premenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr 1996; 63(3):315–21.
  41. Jacques H et al. Effects on plasma lipoproteins and endogenous sex hormones of substituting lean white fish for other animal protein sources in diets of postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr 1992; 55:896–901.
  42. Maki KC, Van Elswyk ME, Alexander DD, Rains TM, Sohn EL, McNeill S. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing lipid effects of beef with poultry and/or fish consumption. Journal of Clinical Lipidology 2011; 5(3): 217.
  43. Mozaffarian D, Ludwig DS. Dietary guidelines in the 21st century – a time for food. JAMA 2010; 304(6):681–2.
  44. Miller GD, Drewnowski A, Fulgoni V, Heaney RP, King J, Kennedy E. It is time for a positive approach to dietary guidance using nutrient density as a basic principle. J Nutr 2009; 139(6):1198–202.
Learn More

Canada Beef Inc.
Canada Beef Inc.

Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide
Health Canada

Natural Trans Fat – The Natural Choice
Natural Trans Fats


Feedback and questions on the content of this page are welcome. Please e-mail us.


Thanks to Karine Gale, RD, Nutrition Program Manager, Canada Beef Inc., for contributing her time and expertise to writing this page.

This topic was last revised on February 29, 2016 at 9:02 AM.

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