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What Are the Health Benefits of Lean Beef?

author image Clay McNight
Clay McNight is currently a nutrition writer with Demand Media Studios.
What Are the Health Benefits of Lean Beef?
Various cuts of beef meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for "lean" or "extra lean." Photo Credit Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

Although you may sometimes hear people tell you that beef is a less-than-healthy food, this red meat is not only rich in vitamins and minerals, but it contains special fats that possess potential anti-carcinogenic properties. One of the keys to consuming healthy beef is choosing low-fat options. With lean beef, you get the nutritional benefits while avoiding much of the saturated fat known to increase the risk for heart disease.

Low Calorie-to-Nutrient Ratio

Beef is a relatively low-calorie food when compared to the number of nutrients it contains. Licensed acupuncturist Chris Kresser notes that beef is extremely nutrient-dense, especially when compared to white meat. While a 3-ounce serving of beef makes up less than 10 percent your of daily calories, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, it supplies over 10 percent of the daily value for nine essential nutrients. With particularly high concentrations of protein, zinc, phosphorus, iron and B-complex vitamins, beef can help build strong muscles, teeth and bones while helping supply energy and oxygen to cells.

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

The Beef.org website notes a 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture report showing that it would take more than 11 servings of tuna to provide the amount of zinc in one serving of beef; seven skinless chicken breasts to provide the vitamin B-12 in one serving of beef; 3 cups of raw spinach to provide the iron in one serving of beef; and almost 3 chicken breasts to provide the riboflavin in a single serving of beef. According to a 2004 paper published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid found to possess anti-carcinogenic properties.


Lean beef in particular can be part of a healthy diet, since it contains all of the vitamins and minerals of high-fat beef but with much less saturated fat. A study published in 2012 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that diets low in saturated fat that contain lean beef can have favorable effects on cardiovascular disease as well as related risk factors. The authors of the study noted that lean beef can be included in heart-healthy diets.

Shopping for Lean Beef

Tips for shopping for lean beef include purchasing ground beef that's 90 percent lean or higher; looking for the words "loin" or "round" in the name of the particular cut; trimming fats before cooking; using low-fat cooking methods, including roasting, grilling and broiling; and eating 3-ounce portions -- which are about the size of a deck of cards. Beef.org notes that there are at least 12 cuts of beef that meet the USDA guidelines for "lean" or "extra lean." From most to least lean, they are top round, eye round, mock tender steak, shoulder pot roast, round tip, shoulder steak, top sirloin, bottom round, top loin, tenderloin, T-bone steak and tri-tip roast.

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