Beef: Powerpack for Health

If you want your body to perform at its peak, you need to provide it with all the ingredients for top performance. Beef contains a power pack of nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc, B-vitamins and selenium.

Protein is the fuel for power – essential for growth and repair as it is the building block for muscles, body tissues, hormones, neurotransmitters and immune cells. Animal proteins have a high biological value – they are ‘complete protein’ foods as they contain all 9 essential amino acids. By having some animal protein every day you can get the amino acids you need for growth and tissue repair.

Not only does beef contain protein for building muscles, but it contains iron – a nutrient essential for the transport of oxygen to the muscles to enable them to work efficiently. Iron is essential for making red blood cells, optimal brain development and functioning and supports the immune system. Iron deficiency, anemia is the world’s most common nutrient deficiency and causes developmental delays, reduced brain functioning and behavioural disturbances. Iron is found in 2 different forms – haem iron, and non-haem iron. Haem iron is readily absorbed and utilized by the body, while non-haem iron is much less readily available. Beef contains haem iron, and in addition, contains an unidentified “meat factor” which further increases iron absorption.

Another nutrient important for growth and development is zinc. Zinc is important for cell division, maintaining the immune system, wound healing, maintaining healthy skin and taste sensitivity. It has also been shown through recent research, that zinc positively impacts cognitive function and behaviour, and is an important anti-oxidant. The zinc content of beef is higher than that of other meats.

Trace elements
Along with zinc, selenium is important for enzyme function, is an antioxidant, and may also reduce the risk for certain type of cancers and heart disease. Selenium is also an important trace element involved in the metabolism of thyroid hormones. Other micronutrients found in beef in significant amounts include magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium and nickel.

Meat is a major dietary source of the B-complex vitamins – thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. B-vitamins are important for metabolism of protein, carbohydrate and fat – and energy production. Thiamin also improves appetite and contributes to normal nervous system function, while riboflavin is important for iron mobilization, normal vision and healthy skin, and niacin promotes a healthy skin, nerves and digestive tract.
Apart from energy metabolism, vitamin B6 is important for nerve function, cognitive development and immune function. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, and is essential for the maintenance of nerve tissues and for production of red blood cells. Deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to anemia and irreversible nerve damage.

These nutrients are all essential for good health. Beef can enhance diet quality by supplying significant amounts of these nutrients in portions that are easy to eat. Certainly there appears no logical reason for you to turn up your nose, willingly of reluctantly, at the Sunday roast beef, or steak on the braai, as incorporating beef into your diet will actually be beneficial to your vitality and health.

Anne Till, RD (SA)
Anne Till and Associates, RD’s (SA)