Ground beef is low in fat and high in protein, but is it a healthy food? If you are trying to lose weight or if you are on a low fat diet, should you eat ground beef? We answer these questions and more.
Ground Beef: Good or Bad?
Ground beef often gets a bad reputation compared to other cuts of beef. Many people associate ground beef of any type with leftover meat products, which means that you could get a range of desirable or undesirable cuts in this product. The worst part about ground beef for most people is its fat content.
Whether or not you want your meat to be fatty is based on your preferences and diet. However, you should consume animal fats in moderation. Foods made from red meats, like ground beef, contain saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and be bad for your heart if you eat too much of it. According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your saturated fat consumption to about 13 grams per day.
Ground beef can vary substantially in fat and protein content. The majority of ground beef is always protein (lean meat). Its fat content can also range from as little as 5 percent to as much as 30 percent. This enormous difference is part of the reason ground beef has such a bad reputation. It can be hard to know what you’re getting when you buy this product.
Protein in Ground Beef
Since the content of ground beef can vary, you need to look at the fat-to-protein ratio to understand what you’re getting. Fat brings out flavor, but if you’re a big fan of meat or are following a high-protein diet, you should consume fatty meat in moderation due to its high saturated fat content.
Many different types of ground beef are readily available in supermarkets. Some butchers let you create your own ground beef in the store as well by allowing you to pick your preferred cuts of meat. People who want less saturated fat and lower calories in their ground beef might choose primarily lean meat. An example of this is ground beef made with 95 percent lean meat and 5 percent fat, 100 grams of which provide:
- 21.4 grams of protein: 43 percent of the daily value (DV)
- 5 grams of fat: 8 percent of the DV (almost half of this, or about 2.3 grams, is saturated fat)
- 137 calories
In contrast, someone on a high-fat diet might choose ground beef with 70 percent lean meat and 30 percent fat, 100 grams of which contain:
- 14.3 grams of protein: 29 percent of the DV
- 30 grams of fat: 46 percent of the DV (over a third of this, or about11.3 grams, is saturated fat)
- 332 calories
The average type of ground beef listed with USDA nutrition information is somewhere between 5 percent and 30 percent fat, with each 100-gram serving supplying:
- 17.4 grams of protein: 35 percent of the DV
- 17.1 grams of fat: 26 percent of the DV (6.8 grams from saturated fat)
- 288 calories
Ground beef is also a good source of B vitamins and most minerals, including iron, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc. The amounts of these nutrients vary depending on the content of protein and fat in your ground beef. There are more nutrients in some types of ground beef that contain higher protein and less fat content.
What Happens When You Eat Ground Beef, Says Science
Despite the increasing allure of following a plant-based diet, Americans still love to eat beef, consuming about 4.5 servings per week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And they especially adore their ground beef, which makes up more than 46% of total US retail beef consumption.
Now that we’re on the cusp of backyard grilling season, you’ll likely stock up on your share of burger meat and may be interested in knowing what you’re getting when you eat all that ground beef. Here’s what happens to your body when you eat ground beef, and for even more tips,
You get nearly half of your daily protein needs.
A quarter-pound burger made with 80/20 ground beef (80% lean / 20% fat) delivers about 20 grams of protein, which is a little less than half of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of 46 grams per day for the average sedentary women and 56 grams for the average sedentary man.
Protein is a building block macronutrient essential for the growth and repair of muscle, tissue, and bone. It helps make hormones and also carries oxygen throughout your body in your bloodstream. It can be an important macronutrient for weight control because it is more satiating than carbs.
But as critical as protein is for good health, do you need to load up on red meat to get your fill? Not at all. Protein deficiency is rare in the United States. “Nature has made sure we are protected against protein deficiency,” writes nutritionist Jeff Novick, RD, vice president of health promotion for Executive Health Exams International. “Whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are all excellent sources of high-quality protein
You might develop gout and kidney stones.
Regular consumption of ground beef may affect your joints and kidneys. Whenever you eat animal protein, especially red meat, your uric acid levels can rise. Uric acid buildup in the bloodstream can cause crystals to form in the joints (gout) and combine into uric stones in the kidneys. Both are extremely painful.
The connection between animal protein and kidney stones is well-documented. In one British study in Clinical Science, men who ate the equivalent of an extra 4 ounces of ground beef each day increased their excretion of uric acid by 48% and the odds of developing kidney stones by 250%.
To keep things healthy, The World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting consumption to about three portions (12-18 oz.) of cooked unprocessed red meat per week. This is a great goal to set for yourself, and a motivation to start eating leaner sources of protein throughout the week.
You will consume a lot of calories.
Ground beef packs significant calories in a small package. A typical sit-down restaurant hamburger, about 120 grams of ground beef, for example, contains 326 calories. Make it a double-meat cheeseburger with bacon (plus bun and condiments) and you can see how the calories in that meal can add up to nearly half a day’s worth.
At home, you can make your meaty meals with leaner versions of ground beef, like ground round (14% fat) and ground sirloin (10% fat). But you’ll taste the difference 20% fat ground chuck makes in a burger on the grill.
Your arteries might stiffen up.
Eating a meal made with ground beef may have an immediate effect on your cardiovascular system, according to a review in the journal Nutrients. The review of hundreds of studies found a large body of evidence showing that a meal containing high saturated fat, with or without high sugar content, triggers low-grade inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. The endothelium is the thin lining of the blood vessels. Inflammation damages the endothelial cells, causing the arteries to become less pliable and more prone to narrowing (atherosclerosis) and restricting blood flow.
If you are concerned about the saturated fat content in ground beef, one option to consider is switching to beef sourced from grass-fed cattle.
“Grass-fed beef usually contains less total fat than grain-fed beef, which means that gram for gram, grass-fed beef contains fewer calories, too,” says nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet. “Grass-fed beef also contains a higher amount of healthy fats, including omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid than grain-fed beef.”
Plus, you’ll also get more antioxidant vitamins A and E from grass-fed beef, she says. You’ll even get a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids!
It may be harder to focus.
A meal high in saturated fat, like one made up of ground beef, eaten a few hours before taking a test or working on a task requiring high concentration may hinder your ability to focus, according to a study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers randomly divided a group of women into two sections: one that ate a meal high in saturated fats and the second given a healthier meal containing lower amounts of saturated fats. Both meals were identical in calories and designed to mimic the contents of a fast-food hamburger meal. Five hours later, all the women were given attention-based tests. Over the next few weeks, the groups switched meals and took more tests. Results showed that after eating the high-saturated fat meal, all of the women performed an average of 11% poorer. In addition, the test-takers response times were more erratic and they were less able to sustain their attention for the full 10 minutes of the test.
Your bones might suffer.
People suffering from osteoporosis are sometimes advised to limit red meat consumption because too much animal protein may leach calcium from bone. A 2017 study in Advances in Nutrition suggests that reducing intake of red meats and other staples of the Western Diet, namely, soft drinks, refined grains, fried foods, and desserts, improved bone mineral density, which can decrease fracture risk.
Downsides to Eating Ground Beef
Lean ground beef, with 95 percent protein and 5 percent fat, contains the most nutrients and the least saturated fat. From a nutritional perspective, this is definitely the best type of ground beef available. However, because it has so little fat, this type of ground beef is easy to overcook and isn’t as flavorful as other varieties.
This means that despite its health benefits, only 1 percent of sales can be attributed to this type of healthy ground beef. A total of just 18 percent of sales consist of ground beef made of 90 to 95 percent protein and 5 to 10 percent fat. Unfortunately, fattier types of ground beef are more popular with consumers, which is clearly part of the reason people think ground beef is bad for you.
When you buy premade ground beef, you may be consuming multiple animals. This practice means that cross-contamination can occur more easily, increasing the likelihood of food-borne illness caused by bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and Shewanella.
Fortunately, many disease-causing bacteria can be combated by thoroughly cooking ground beef until it’s well-done and choosing meats produced from animals that are raised in healthy environments. Natural antimicrobial strategies, using certain edible essential oils from herbs and spices, such as thyme oil, may also be useful in combating these bacteria. A 2015 study in the Journal of Food Processing and Preservation showed that these oils can even add other beneficial properties, like antioxidants, to your ground beef.
Upsides to Ground Beef
If you have access to a meat grinder or a butcher who’s willing to prepare ground beef for you, creating your own ground beef can be fantastic. Ground beef tastes different based on the cuts it’s prepared with. Grinding your own beef allows you to add the specific cuts of meat or amounts of fat that you prefer in order to influence both nutrition and flavor.
Red meat and other animal products are known for containing saturated fat, which is well-known for being bad for your health. However, according to a 2016 study in the Korean Journal for Food Science of Animal Resources, highly marbled fat is not the same as other animal fats.
In fact, highly marbled beef, like Wagyu beef or Hanwoo beef, have high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid. High-fat beef coming from sources like these can be good for your cardiovascular health, unlike some other meats, as they are rich in heart-healthy fats.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Meat Science also showed that ground beef made from brisket is also better for you than many types of beef. Like Wagyu and Hanwoo, brisket has large amounts of heart-healthy fats and less saturated fat.