Beef is the culinary name for meat from cattle, particularly skeletal muscle. Humans have been eating beef since prehistoric times. Beef is a source of high-quality protein and nutrients.
Beef skeletal muscle meat can be used as is by merely cutting into certain parts roasts, short ribs or steak (filet mignon, sirloin steak, rump steak, rib steak, rib eye steak, hanger steak, etc.), while other cuts are processed (corned beef or beef jerky). Trimmings, on the other hand, are usually mixed with meat from older, leaner (therefore tougher) cattle, are ground, minced or used in sausages. The blood is used in some varieties called blood sausage. Other parts that are eaten include other muscles and offal, such as the oxtail, liver, tongue, tripe from the reticulum or rumen, glands (particularly the pancreas and thymus, referred to as sweetbread), the heart, the brain (although forbidden where there is a danger of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, commonly referred to as mad cow disease), the kidneys, and the tender testicles of the bull (known in the United States as calf fries, prairie oysters, or Rocky Mountain oysters). Some intestines are cooked and eaten as is, but are more often cleaned and used as natural sausage casings. The bones are used for making beef stock.
Beef from steers and heifers is similar. Depending on economics, the number of heifers kept for breeding varies. The meat from older bulls, because it is usually tougher, is frequently used for mince (known as ground beef in the United States). Cattle raised for beef may be allowed to roam free on grasslands, or may be confined at some stage in pens as part of a large feeding operation called a feedlot (or concentrated animal feeding operation), where they are usually fed a ration of grain, protein, roughage and a vitamin/mineral preblend.
Beef is the third most widely consumed meat in the world, accounting for about 25% of meat production worldwide, after pork and poultry at 38% and 30% respectively. In absolute numbers, the United States, Brazil, and the People’s Republic of China are the world’s three largest consumers of beef; Uruguay, however, has the highest beef and veal consumption per capita, followed by Argentina and Brazil. According to the data from OECD, the average Uruguayan ate over 42 kg (93 lb) of beef or veal in 2014, representing the highest beef/veal consumption per capita in the world. In comparison, the average American consumed only about 24 kg (53 lb) beef or veal in the same year, while African countries, such as Mozambique, Ghana, and Nigeria, consumed the least beef or veal per capita.
Cows are considered sacred in the Hinduism and most observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef.
In 2015, the world’s largest exporters of beef were India, Brazil and Australia. Beef production is also important to the economies of Uruguay, Canada, Paraguay, Mexico, Argentina, Belarus and Nicaragua.
Most Indic religions do not appreciate killing cattle and eating beef. However, they do not consider the cow to be a god. Bovines have a sacred status in India especially the cow, from the idealization due to their provision of sustenance for families. Bovines are generally considered to be integral to the landscape. In Hinduism, the entire cosmic creation is considered to be sacred and are venerated like celestial bodies such as Sun, Moon to Fig trees and rivers like Ganga, Saraswati…etc.
India as a developing country, many of its rural area economies depend upon cattle farming, hence they have been revered in the society. From vedic periods role of cattle, especially cows, as a source of milk, and dairy products, and their relative importance in transport services and farming like ploughing, row planting, ridging, and weeding made people to revere the importance of cow in their daily lives, and this rose with the advent of Jainism and Gupta period. In medieval India, Maharaja Ranjit Singh issued proclamation on stopping cow slaughter as it is a sentimental issue. Lack of secular tolerance and caste politics has also given birth to Hindu right-wing vigilante cow protection groups. Conflicts over cow slaughter often have sparked religious riots that has led to loss of human life and in an 1893 riot alone, more than 100 people were killed for the cause. A. N. Bose in Social and Rural Economy of Northern India says any taboo or the cow worship itself is a relatively recent development in India. The sacred white Cow is considered as the abode of cores of 33 type Hindu Deities. Products of Cow’s milk like curd, butter, cheese, milk sweets are sold commercially and used in religious rituals.
For religious reasons the ancient Egyptian priests also refrained from consuming beef. Buddhists and Sikhs are also against wrongful slaughtering of animals but they don’t have a wrongful eating doctrine. In the Indigenous American tradition a white buffalo calf is considered sacred, they call it Pte Ska Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman).
During the season of Lent, Orthodox Christians and Catholics give up all meat and poultry (as well as dairy products and eggs) as a religious act. Observant Jews and Muslims may not eat any meat or poultry which has not been slaughtered and treated in conformance with religious laws.
Beef is first divided into primal cuts, pieces of meat initially separated from the carcass during butchering. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. The term “primal cut” is quite different from “prime cut”, used to characterize cuts considered to be of higher quality. Since the animal’s legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from hoof and horn increases. Different countries and cuisines have different cuts and names, and sometimes use the same name for a different cut; for example, the cut described as “brisket” in the United States is from a significantly different part of the carcass than British brisket.
People have eaten the flesh of bovines from prehistoric times; some of the earliest known cave paintings, such as those of Lascaux, show aurochs in hunting scenes. People domesticated cattle around 8000 BC to provide ready access to beef, milk, and leather. Most cattle originated in the Old World, with the exception of bison hybrids, which originated in the Americas. Examples include the Wagyū from Japan, Ankole-Watusi from Egypt, and longhorn Zebu from the Indian subcontinent.
It is unknown exactly when people started cooking beef. Cattle were widely used across the Old World as draft animals (oxen), for milk, or specifically for human consumption. With the mechanization of farming, some breeds were specifically bred to increase meat yield, resulting in Chianina and Charolais cattle, or to improve the texture of meat, giving rise to the Murray Grey, Angus, and Wagyū. Some breeds have been selected for both meat and milk production, such as the Brown Swiss (Braunvieh).
In the United States, the growth of the beef business was largely due to expansion in the Southwest. Upon the acquisition of grasslands through the Mexican–American War of 1848, and later the expulsion of the Plains Indians from this region and the Midwest, the American livestock industry began, starting primarily with the taming of wild longhorn cattle. Chicago and New York City were the first to benefit from these developments in their stockyards and in their meat markets.
Health Effects & Benefits
1. Beef Protein
Meat, such as beef, is mainly composed of protein.
The protein content of lean, cooked beef ranges from 26-27%.
Animal protein is usually of high quality, containing all 8 essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies.
The buildings blocks of proteins, the amino acids, are very important from a health perspective. Their composition in proteins varies widely, depending on the dietary source.
Meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein, the amino acid profile being almost identical to that of our own muscles.
For this reason, eating meat, or other sources of animal protein, may be of particular benefit after surgery and for recovering athletes, or during other conditions where muscle tissue is being built.
2. Beef Fat
Beef contains varying amounts of fat, also called beef tallow.
Apart from adding flavor, fat increases the calorie content of meat considerably.
The amount of fat in beef depends on the level of trimming and the animal’s age, breed, gender, and feed. Processed meat products, such as sausages and salami, tend to be high in fat.
Meat with low fat content, often called lean meat, is generally about 5-10% fat.
Beef is mainly composed of saturated and monounsaturated fat, present in approximately equal amounts. The major fatty acids are stearic acid, oleic acid, and palmitic acid.
Ruminant Trans Fats
Food products from ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep, contain trans fats known as ruminant trans fats.
Unlike their industrially-produced counterparts, naturally-occurring ruminant trans fats are not considered unhealthy.
The most common of these is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in beef, lamb, and dairy products.
Conjugated linoleic acid has been linked with various health benefits, especially with regard to weight loss, but large doses in supplements may have harmful metabolic consequences.
3. Vitamins and Minerals
The following vitamins and minerals are abundant in beef:
- Vitamin B12: Animal-derived foods, such as meat, are the only dietary sources of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that is important for blood formation and the function of the brain and nervous system.
- Zinc: Beef is very rich in zinc, a mineral that is important for body growth and maintenance.
- Selenium: Meat is generally a rich source of selenium, an essential trace element that has a variety of functions in the body.
- Iron: Found in high amounts in beef, meat iron is mostly in the heme form, which is absorbed very efficiently .
- Niacin: One of the B-vitamins, also called vitamin B3. Niacin has various important functions in the body. Low niacin intake has been associated with increased risk of heart disease .
- Vitamin B6: A family of B-vitamins, important for blood formation.
- Phosphorus: Widely found in foods, phosphorus intake is generally high in the Western diet. It is essential for body growth and maintenance.
Beef contains many other vitamins and minerals in lower amounts.
Processed beef products, such as sausages, may contain particularly high amounts of sodium (salt).
4. Other Meat Compounds
Like plants, animals contain a number of non-essential bioactive substances and antioxidants, which may affect health when consumed in adequate amounts.
Creatine: Abundant in meat, creatine serves as an energy source for muscles. Creatine supplements are commonly taken by bodybuilders and may be beneficial for muscle growth and maintenance.
Taurine: Found in fish and meat, taurine is an antioxidant amino acid, which is a common ingredient in energy drinks. It is produced by our own bodies and is important for heart and muscle function.
Glutathione: An antioxidant found in most whole foods, glutathione is particularly abundant in meat. It is found in higher amounts in grass-fed beef than in grain-fed.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): A ruminant trans fat that may have various health benefits when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
Cholesterol: A sterol found in animal fats, and also produced by the human body where it has many functions. Dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol and is therefore not considered a health concern.
5. Improved Exercise Performance
Carnosine is a dipeptide important for muscle function.
It is formed in the body from beta-alanine, a dietary amino acid found in high amounts in fish and meat, such as beef.
In human muscles, high levels of carnosine have been linked with reduced fatigue and improved performance during exercise.
Supplementation with high doses of purified beta-alanine for 4-10 weeks leads to a 40-80% increase in carnosine levels in muscles.
In contrast, following a strict vegetarian diet may lead to lower levels of carnosine in muscles over time.
This indicates that eating meat and fish regularly, or taking beta-alanine supplements, may improve exercise performance.
6. Prevention of Anemia
Anemia is a common condition, characterized by decreased amount of red blood cells and reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia, the main symptoms of which are tiredness and weakness.
Beef is a rich source of iron, mainly in the form of heme-iron.
Only found in animal-derived foods, heme-iron is often very low in vegetarian diets, especially vegan diets.
Heme-iron is absorbed much more efficiently than non-heme iron, the type of iron found in plant-derived foods.
Not only does meat contain a highly bioavailable form of iron, it also improves the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods, a mechanism that has not been fully explained and is referred to as the “meat factor.”
For this reason, including meat in a meal can increase iron absorption from other meal components.
A few studies have shown that meat can increase absorption of non-heme iron, even in meals that contain phytic acid, an inhibitor of iron absorption.
Another study found that meat supplements were more effective than iron tablets for maintaining iron status in women during a period of exercise.
Put simply, eating meat is one of the best ways to prevent iron deficiency anemia.
7. Beef and Heart Disease
Heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is the world’s most common cause of premature death.
It is a term for various adverse conditions related to the heart and blood vessels, such as heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.
There are mixed results from observational studies on red meat and heart disease.
Some studies find an increased risk for both unprocessed and processed red meat, whereas others find an increased risk for processed meat only.
Other studies find no significant effects.
Keep in mind that observational studies can not prove causation. They can only show that meat eaters are either more or less likely to get a disease.
Many health conscious people avoid red meat because it has been claimed to be unhealthy, and people who eat meat are also less likely to eat fruits, vegetables and fiber, less likely to exercise, and more likely to be overweight.
Therefore, it is possible that meat consumption is just a marker for unhealthy behavior, and that this is not caused by the meat itself.
Of course, most observational studies try to correct for these factors, but the accuracy of the statistical adjustments may not always be perfect.
8. Beef Contains Saturated Fat
Several theories have been proposed as a possible link between meat consumption and heart disease risk.
The most popular of these is the diet-heart hypothesis, the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease.
However, many recent high-quality studies have not found any significant link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.
Lean meat should definitely not be feared. It has been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels.
In the context of a healthy lifestyle, it is unlikely that moderate amounts of unprocessed lean beef have any adverse effects on heart health.
9. Beef and Cancer
Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide.
Many observational studies have linked high meat consumption with increased risk of colon cancer.
However, not all studies have found a significant association. Several components of red meat have been discussed as possible culprits:
Heme-iron: Some researchers have proposed that heme-iron may be responsible for the cancer-causing effect of red meat.
Heterocyclic amines: A class of cancer-causing substances, produced when meat is overcooked.
Other substances formed during curing and smoking, or added to processed meats.
Heterocyclic amines are a family of carcinogenic substances formed during high-temperature cooking of animal protein, particularly when frying, baking or grilling. They are found in well-done and overcooked meat, poultry, and fish.
These substances may partly explain the link between red meat and cancer.
A large number of studies indicate that eating well-done meat, or other dietary sources of heterocyclic amines, may increase the risk of various cancers .
These include colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
One of these studies found that women who ate well-done meat regularly had a 4.6-fold increased risk of breast cancer.
Taken together, there is clearly some evidence that eating high amounts of well-done meat may increase the risk of cancer.
However, it is not entirely clear whether it is specifically due to heterocyclic amines, or other substances formed during high-temperature cooking.
Increased cancer risk may also be related to unhealthy lifestyle factors often associated with high meat intake. These include low consumption of fruit, vegetables, and fiber.
For optimal health, it seems sensible to limit the consumption of overcooked meat. Steaming, boiling, and low-heat frying are probably the healthiest cooking methods.
10. Adverse Effects and Individual Concerns
- Beef has been linked with a few adverse health conditions.
The beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata) is an intestinal parasite that can sometimes reach a length of several meters.
It is rare in most developed countries, but relatively common in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
Consumption of raw, or undercooked (rare), beef is the most common route of infection.
Beef tapeworm infection (taeniasis) usually does not cause symptoms. However, severe infection may result in weight loss, abdominal pain, and nausea.
Beef is one of the richest dietary sources of iron.
In some people, eating iron-rich foods may cause a condition known as iron overload.
The most common cause of iron overload is hereditary hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder characterized by excessive absorption of iron from food.
Excessive iron accumulation in the body can be life-threatening, leading to cancer, heart disease, and liver problems.
People with hemochromatosis should limit their consumption of red meat, such as beef and lamb.
11. Grain-Fed vs. Grass-Fed Beef
The nutritional value of meat depends on the feed of the source animal.
In the past, most cattle were grass-fed. In contrast, most of today’s beef production relies on grain-based feeds.
Differing from grain-fed beef in several ways, grass-fed beef has:
1.A higher antioxidant content.
2.Fat that is more yellow in color, indicating higher amounts of carotenoid antioxidants.
3.Higher amounts of vitamin E (especially when pasture-raised).
5.Lower amounts of fat.
6.A healthier fatty acid profile.
7.Higher amounts of ruminant trans fats, such as conjugated linoleic acid.
8.Higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Put simply, grass-fed beef is a healthier choice than grain-fed.
Beef is one of the most popular types of meat.
It is exceptionally rich in high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals.
For this reason, it may improve muscle growth and maintenance, as well as exercise performance. As a rich source of iron, it may also cut the risk of anemia.
High consumption of processed meat and overcooked (burned) meat has been linked with increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
On the other hand, unprocessed and mildly cooked beef is probably healthy in moderation, especially in the context of a healthy lifestyle.