Research on Lean Beef and Heart Health

When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, it’s important to realize that there are no “good foods” or “bad foods.” What is important is one’s overall diet. A heart-healthy diet is one that includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein.

Lean beef is an excellent lean protein option in a heart-healthy eating pattern since it contains essential vitamins and nutrients . Studies also show that eating lean beef can support a strong heart as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.1-3

Heart Health Benefits of Lean Beef

Despite concerns to the contrary, eating red meat is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, as demonstrated in an extensive review of 20 epidemiological studies encompassing more than 1 million subjects.4

Clinical evidence also supports the role of lean beef in a heart-healthy diet. A randomized controlled trial – the gold standard of clinical research – found that participants who ate lean beef, as part of a dietary pattern rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy and low in saturated fat, experienced a 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol as well as a moderate decrease in blood pressure; both are markers of heart disease risk.1,2

In addition, a meta-analysis of clinical studies found that beef has a similar effect on blood lipids (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides) as poultry or fish.3

The Fats in Beef

Contrary to popular belief, not all the fats in beef are saturated fats. In fact, half of the fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated – the same heart-healthy type of fat found in olive oil. Of the saturated fat in beef, one-third comes in the form of stearic acid, the same fat recognized as beneficial in chocolate for its neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels.5

Concerns about fat intake does not mean cutting beef out of the diet because you might be surprised to read that beef contributes 10 percent or less of saturated fat and total fat to the American diet.5

Making Beef Part of an Overall Healthy Diet

People who love beef need not forgo their steak, since research shows that eating lean beef can support a heart-healthy diet. Recommendations include:

  • Choose lean beef. Today’s beef is leaner than in years past, with a wide selection of cuts that meet the government definition of “lean.”
  • Keep portions in check. A standard portion is 3oz steak, or about the size of a mobile phone.
  • Prepare beef at home using lower fat cooking techniques, such as grilling or stir-frying.
  • Pair a portion of lean beef with vegetables, whole grains and other components of a heart-healthy diet.

It’s easy to incorporate lean beef into flavorful meals for a heart-healthy diet. For inspiration and ideas, check out our collection of heart healthy recipes.

Resources for Health Professionals

  1. Roussell MA, et al. Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet study: effects on lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:9-16.
  2. Roussell MA, et al. Effects of a DASH-like diet containing lean beef on vascular health. J Hum Hypertens2014;28:600-05.
  3. Maki KC, et al. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that compare the lipid effects of beef versus poultry and/or fish consumption. J Clin Lipidol 2012;6:352-61.
  4. Micha R, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation 2010;121:2271-83.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28 (Slightly revised). Version Current: May 2016. Available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl
  6. 6. Zanovec M, O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Nicklas TA. Lean beef contributes significant amounts of key nutrients to the diets of US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. Nutr Res 2010;30:375-81.

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