Beef: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and How to Prepare It

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 31, 2022
3 min read

People have been eating beef for thousands of years. The first domesticated cattle lived in the Middle East almost 10,000 years ago before migration brought them to Africa.

It’s been a long journey from the savanna to the dinner table. Beef probably looks very different now than it did in those early days of farming. However, beef is still a powerful source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Beef is a good source of protein and other nutrients, but is also high in cholesterol and saturated fats that can cause fatty deposits to build up in the blood.

Beef can be a healthy part of your diet, but should be eaten in moderation. According to experts from Harvard University, "an accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death."

Eating beef does increase your health risks overall. However, there are some benefits to eating beef if you eat it in small portions and choose lean cuts.

Blood health

Beef is an excellent source of iron. The iron in beef helps your body produce hemoglobin, a protein that helps your blood carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Not consuming enough iron can put you at risk of iron deficiency anemia, meaning your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. You might feel tired, listless, weak, and mentally foggy. 

Eating beef can help prevent iron deficiency anemia in people who are at risk.

Immunity and healing

Beef is a good source of zinc, which the body needs to heal damaged tissue and support a healthy immune system. Children and adolescents also need healthy amounts of zinc to make sure they thrive and grow.

Muscle function

Protein is essential for muscle health. It rebuilds the muscle tissue that is naturally lost in the wear and tear of daily life. Protein also helps you build more muscle and is especially helpful if you’re working on strength training.

A single serving of beef supplies the recommended daily amount of protein, helping to prevent lost muscle mass. Losing muscle mass can make you feel weaker and may make it difficult to keep your balance, especially if you’re age 55 or older.

Nutrients per Serving

The nutritional profile of beef changes a bit depending on how you cook it. On average, though, one four-ounce serving of beef contains:

A serving of beef also gives you 12% of the recommended daily dose of iron, as well as the following vitamins and minerals:

Portion Sizes

One portion of beef is just four ounces, the equivalent of one quarter-pound burger. Because red meat is associated with so many health risks, it's important to keep your serving size to that amount or less.

To get the nutritional impact of beef with less cholesterol and saturated fat, choose leaner cuts. Look for cuts labeled “extra lean” or “lean,” and always choose pieces with the least visible fat.

Cut off as much visible fat as you can before you cook beef. The cooking process will cause much of the rest of the fat to melt away. Choose a cooking method like grilling, broiling, or roasting, where the beef is sitting on a rack and the fat can drip away into a pan.

Here are a few ways you can try cooking lean beef:

  • Mix up a low-fat marinade using red wine, lemon juice, or soy sauce, then broil beef in the oven.
  • Rub cuts of beef with a blend of herbs and spices, then cook it on the grill.
  • Chop beef up into small pieces, cut up some veggies, and add them to skewers for some tasty beef kabobs.
  • Roast beef seasoned with salt, pepper, and your favorite spices.