Beef pho, the traditional Vietnamese dish, has a hearty mix of noodles, vegetables and beef. By better understanding beef pho nutrition, you can figure out whether or not it fits in with your dietary and health needs.
According to the USDA, there are about 215 calories in one cup of beef pho. The problem is that most restaurants serve oversized portions, so the calories and fat can add up quickly.
Determining Beef Pho Nutrition
A big bowl of broth, noodles, vegetables and thinly-sliced beef can warm you up in the winter and satisfy your hunger any time of the year. Some versions of beef pho use beef so thinly sliced that it needs to cook in the broth only for a few minutes before you can eat it.
The main ingredients in beef pho are beef, noodles, broth and vegetables, such as onions, bean sprouts and garlic. While there are different recipes, these three are the most common ingredients. Instead of beef, you can also use white meat like chicken — or tofu for a vegetarian option.
According to the USDA, the total beef pho calories in one cup are around 215. It also provides15 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat. The majority of the calories in this dish comes from beef, as well as fat. The noodles account for most of the carbs.
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If you're counting calories, keep in mind that these numbers are based on a serving size of one cup of pho. It's unlikely that a restaurant serves only one cup, so you may be consuming two or three cups in a bowl, or even more. That means your meal could easily have over 600 calories.
Health Concerns and Beef Pho
An important part of beef pho's nutrition is the red meat, which adds to the dish both protein and fat, as well as other nutrients like B-vitamins. However, there is controversy over just how healthy red meat protein is versus other proteins, such as those from dairy or poultry.
A September 2016 study published in the Journals of Internal Medicine concluded that high consumption of red meat may lead to a higher risk of health problems like type II diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and stroke. Researchers considered the consumption of over 100 grams of unprocessed red meat per day to be high.
According to an article from Harvard Health Publishing, upping your intake of red meat may lead to premature death. Going above 3 ounces of red meat per day is all it takes to increase your risk of early death — most likely from the saturated fat, cholesterol and iron. The Cleveland Clinic recommends limiting saturated fat to improve your blood lipids and keep your heart healthy.
You also may want to skip the beef pho if you already have too much salt in your diet. According to the USDA, one cup of beef pho has 1,200 milligrams of sodium. Eating over 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day is considered excessive, according to an August 2016 review published in the New England Journal of Medicine. As most bowls of pho soup are at least two or three cups, you'll quickly surpass this amount.
There are health benefits associated with low sodium intakes. As noted in the above review, an average daily reduction in sodium between 529 to 1,010 milligrams may result in a drop in blood pressure of 1.3 to 4.2 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
Healthier Alternatives to Beef Pho
There are alternatives to beef pho if you have high blood pressure or other health issues related to sodium or cholesterol. For example, you can make your own version of beef pho. This will allow you to create your own stock and hand-select your ingredients so you can control the meat used and how much sodium is in your dish.
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If you're worried about the negative health effects of eating beef, you can opt for soy protein like tofu or white meat protein like chicken. Furthermore, since chicken is a leaner meat, the calories in chicken pho soup with noodles would most likely be fewer than those in beef pho soup with noodles. If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, simply remove the noodles.
Other soups may be a better option if you're trying to avoid red meat and excess sodium. You can have chicken noodle soup, for example. This popular dish has less fat than most soups with beef. According to the USDA, one cup of chicken noodle soup provides 130 calories, 9 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fat and 14 grams of carbs. It has only 941 grams of sodium, which is significantly less than the beef pho's 1,200 milligrams.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Meat and Rice Noodle Soup, Asian Style (Vietnamese Pho BO)"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Chicken Noodle Soup"
- University of California Los Angeles: "Beef Pho"
- Food and Nutrition: "Easy Beef Pho"
- Journal of Internal Medicine: "Potential Health Hazards of Eating Red Meat"
- New England Journal of Medicine: "Dietary Sodium and Cardiovascular Disease Risk — Measurement Matters"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What’s the Beef with Red Meat?"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cholesterol Guidelines & Heart Health"