It seems like people are more health-conscious than ever these days. There’s a constant back-and-forth about many of the foods and beverages we consume on a daily basis. One minute you’ll hear that chocolate is bad for you, and the next you’ll hear all about it’s amazing health-giving properties. Red wine is another example. Opinions within the medical community, and amongst the public at large, seem to change constantly.
Steak is yet another example. For every person who talks about red meat being unhealthy, there’s someone else who talks about the obvious health benefits of a quality steak. It’s tough to know who or what to believe.
Recently, however, a number of mainstream medical institutions and newspapers have been talking about the health benefits of a nice, juicy steak. One of the most frequently cited studies was conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study suggests that beef, when properly incorporated into the diet, can reduce the risk of heart disease and control cholesterol levels, among other health benefits.
Another study in England found that replacing saturated animal fats with vegetable fats—which earlier had been assumed to be a healthy move—made things more problematic for people with heart problems.
Saturated fats have long been a point of discussion in medical circles, but the fact is, lean beef contains a certain type of saturated fat (called Stearic acid) which can actually benefit the heart, protect against heart disease, and likewise control cholesterol levels. Stearic acid is also present in other common foods, such as olive oil, chocolate, and pork. Studies show that red meat has one of the highest concentrations of this beneficial fat—and the aforementioned study, conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that Stearic acid was the reason for the positive benefits.
Looking more closely at the study, people incorporated lean beef into their daily diet for a period of five weeks, after which they experienced an average of a 5% reduction in cholesterol, and a specific reduction of “bad” cholesterol known as LDL. It’s also worth noting that none of the participants gained weight by incorporating beef into their diet.
The authors of the study also drew a clear line between high quality red meat and heavily processed meats, including ham and various types of sausage. The blend of fats in good, unprocessed red meat was found to have a positive impact on heart health.
This isn’t to say that you should eat a steak for dinner every single day (although there are some steak enthusiasts who swear by it). And it’s also true that different people have different dietary needs and requirements. But the idea that steak is an “indulgence,” or a decadent food that doesn’t serve a real nutritional purpose, is misguided. People have known for a long time that good quality red meat can be healthy in the right proportions. The fact that it’s one of the most satisfying and sensational meals out there is an added bonus.