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Beef – The Perfect Protein for A Balanced Plate

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By Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT

Given its versatility and flavor, it’s easy to see – or should I say, taste – why we LOVE beef. But there’s more to love about beef beyond its deliciousness. Here’s why beef has rightfully earned its place on a balanced plate and how it packs a nutritional punch that’s hard to beat.

Which nutrients does beef provide?

Let’s talk about the meat aisle.  There are currently 40 different cuts of beef available for purchase that qualify as lean, meaning a cooked, 3.5 oz. serving will contain:

In a small caloric package, beef packs the “big ten” list of nutrients that support muscle growth and repair (hello, protein), support immunity (thank you, zinc), and help your body utilize oxygen (one of the benefits of iron). Other nutrients found in beef, like B vitamins 6 and 12, are crucial to maintaining the health of the nervous system and red blood cell production. Choline also supports the nervous system, while selenium helps protect cells from damage. Another key nutrient, phosphorus, supports a healthy skeletal system (helping build teeth to chew that delicious beef), and riboflavin aids in the conversion of food to fuel.

How are these nutrients good for you?

It’s clear that beef is a nutritional powerhouse, but the story doesn’t end there. While we’re talking about protein, it’s important to note that proteins derived from animal sources (think beef and dairy) are more bioavailable than plant-based sources, meaning that they are more easily and readily utilized by the body for muscle protein synthesis. This is because they are complete proteins (containing all amino acids).

build a balanced plate with beef

How does eating beef fit into a balanced diet?

In short, quite easily! While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional steakhouse indulgence of taking down a ribeye all by yourself, beef in your day-to-day life can fit into a quarter of a 9” plate.  Just as important as portion size (remember that 3.5 oz of lean beef we mentioned earlier?), is what accompanies beef.  Beef’s perfect partner?  Plenty of produce – whether it’s fresh, frozen, or canned – and other satisfying foods such as whole grains and legumes. I personally like to think of beef as a vehicle for getting more nutrition into my diet. Think about adding more colorful toppings to your shredded beef tacos, getting creative with burger toppings, and of course, revisiting the classics, like pairing steak with sautéed onions and bell peppers.

This easy and sustainable method for balancing your meals is called MyPlate. Most of the time, you’ll be able to look at your plate and go through a check list to make sure you’re accounting for everything mentioned above: is roughly half my plate filled with produce (all forms count, including canned, frozen, and fresh)? Do I have a tasty carbohydrate choice (for example, a 1/2 cup rice, pasta, or cereal)? And finally, do I have a serving of satiating protein (for example, the portion size of beef discussed here is roughly the same as a deck of cards)?

How much protein should I have?

Protein needs vary based on individual, but a good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 25-30g at each meal, especially if you’re active!  Beef delivers 25g of protein per 3 oz. serving, and clocks in at around 175 calories.  To put that into perspective, you’d have to eat more than six tablespoons of peanut butter (613 calories), or one and 2/3 cups of black beans (379 calories), or one and 1/3 cups edamame (249 calories) to take in that much protein.  As for protein bars, sure, you could find one with at least 25g of protein, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one with as few ingredients as that serving of beef (just one ingredient, hard to beat that).

What are some easy ways to make beef part of an overall healthy diet?

Let’s look at all the ways beef can fit into all the different eating occasions of the day. First things first: let’s not leave beef out of the breakfast conversation! It’s wise to make sure you’re hitting that 25-30g target at each meal (breakfast included!). Maybe you have some London Broil left over from last night’s dinner. Add it to an egg sandwich for a much-needed boost of protein! Leftover lean ground beef can be a welcomed addition to breakfast, too. Wrap it up in a tortilla with whatever scraps of vegetables you might have leftover, throw it in a meal prep container, and get out the door.

Snack time making you a bit…hangry?  Add beef jerky to that lonely pack of nuts and piece of fruit. Lunchtime might seem one of the more obvious mealtimes for beef, but here’s your friendly reminder: a lean beef burger patty (on a bun or not) paired with a side salad is going to be way more satisfying than just a plain old salad with a sugary dressing. Same goes for sandwiches, too: deli meats such as roast beef provide a similar nutritional profile as fresh beef and give you way more leeway as to where you have lunch (pro tip: turn off your camera and mic while you chow down on a sandwich during a virtual meeting).

When you’re done, browse some of the recipes here at Beefitarian for dinner inspo.  I’m partial to these Tri-Tip Tostadas.

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