Steak is interesting. As a type of red meat, it’s been linked to various health problems and is thought to increase the risk heart disease, some types of cancer, and even type 2 diabetes. Yet, steak is also an excellent source of protein and offers important nutrients, including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
The benefits make steak amazing, while the risks suggest that you should avoid it entirely. Which is it then? Is steak good for you or is it an ingredient to cut you’re your diet (perhaps replacing it with plant-based meat instead)?
To answer that question, we need to take a close at both sides of the debate, along with some of the research for steak and red meat.
Before we do so, remember that nutrition is never cut and dry. It’s always important to pay attention to your own body. Look at what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Your body is a powerful source of information and shouldn’t be ignored.
Is Steak Good For Your Health?
- The Benefits Of Steak
- The Risks And Concerns Surrounding Steak
- So, Is Steak Good For You?
- How To Get The Most Benefits From Steak
- Is Well Done Meat Better For You?
- Which Cuts Are Healthiest?
- Final Thoughts
The Benefits Of Steak
A Delicious Source Of Protein
First off, steak is an incredible source of protein, giving you around 25 grams in a 3-ounce serving. That’s roughly half your daily protein needs all at once. Plus, steak is a complete source of protein, meaning that it contains all the amino acids that your body needs (plant-based sources of protein, on the other hand, tend to be limited in one or more essential amino acids).
Protein is critical, as it helps our body to build muscles and bones, plays a role in energy levels, and even helps with your immune system. Protein rich meals also help to keep you satisfied. In contrast, if you have a high carb and low protein meal, you’ll probably be hungry in a few hours.
Because steak is such a rich source of protein, you can stick to a small serving size. For example, a 3-ounce serving of beef gives you roughly 25 grams of protein. You’d need more than 1.5 cups of beans to hit that same amount of protein.
Helps Prevent Iron Deficiency
Steak is powerful for iron too, giving you around 14% of your daily needs in a serving. This is vital because iron plays many roles in our body and it’s surprisingly easy to be deficient in it. Some estimates suggest that around 17% of women (pre-menopause) in the United States are iron deficient, along with 10% of children, but rates could easily be higher.
The trend towards plant-based foods may be making matters worse, as our bodies don’t absorb plant-based iron nearly as well as the iron from animal foods.
A Rich Source Of Nutrients
Iron is just one of the nutrients present in steak. There are many others too, including vitamin B12, selenium, niacin, zinc, and vitamin B6. Each of these plays essential roles throughout your body, helping with energy metabolism, the nervous system, your immune system, and protecting against cell damage.
While these same nutrients are found in plenty of other foods, meat is a more powerful source of them than most. You even get more than 25% of your daily intake for most of the nutrients we listed above in a 3-ounce serving of steak.
Could Help With Mental Health Too
Some studies suggest that red meat could help to improve mental health and reduce the risk of mental health disorders. This is a field that’s still being actively researched and results may be influenced by the type of red meat and the rest of your diet.
Still, it’s an encouraging idea.
Steak could also be helpful for people who struggle to eat due to depression, as you don’t need much of it to get a decent amount of protein and nutrients.
Can Help With Muscle Development
If you’re trying to build muscle, increasing protein intake is often critical. You can turn to protein shakes, and many people do, but the unprocessed nature of steak can make it even more appealing.
You’re getting plenty of nutrients with steak too, which always helps.
Perfect For Keto Diets
The keto diet is a low carb eating approach, where most of your energy comes from fat. When following the diet, you might be getting 70% of your energy from fat, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbs.
Steak works well on keto, as meat is naturally free from carbs. Plus, you can turn to fatty cuts of steak, which make it fit well into keto macros.
The low carb content of steak may be appealing even if you’re not following a keto diet. After all, there’s plenty of concern about carbs, including the fact that they might contribute to inflammation and increase your risk of disease.
Decreasing your reliance on carbs and processed foods may do wonders for your health – and steak is a useful way to do so.
Many Healthy People Eat Red Meat
Despite all the stereotypes, many red meat eaters have healthy diets and lifestyle. They’re not overweight and they’re not at high risk of heart disease.
Some may even be healthier than people following plant-based diets, as steak is a rich source of nutrients and protein.
It Isn’t Processed
Modern diets are packed full of processed foods. Many of these foods barely resemble their original ingredients, contain many additives, and have lost nutritional value throughout the processing steps.
Such foods are often high in sodium and carbs as well. While carbs are an important source of energy, they influence our blood sugar levels and may increase inflammation. If you’re getting a lot of carbs from processed foods, then your blood sugar levels may be jumping all over the place, which is never a good idea for health.
Steak is different.
It’s a natural ingredient that hasn’t been through much processing at all. There are no carbs to speak of, plenty of nutrients, and no shortage of protein.
Plus, the human race has relied on meat throughout history. We know that it keeps us going and provides many benefits. Highly processed foods, on the other hand, are something new that we’re still coming to understand.
The Risks And Concerns Surrounding Steak
Might Increase Your Risk Of Cancer
The biggest concern in this field is that red meat might increase your risk of cancer. The pattern has been seen in a number of studies, although a cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been proven.
Some theories suggest that it isn’t meat itself that causes this effect, but the way that it is cooked. Specifically, high heat cooking increases the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds, including advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). The risk is even higher if your meat is burnt.
It’s easy to see how this is a problem. After all, grilling is one of the most popular ways to cook steak – and sometimes we grill the meat until it is a little burnt around the edges.
Contains A Decent Amount Of Saturated Fat
Steak is also high in saturated fat, especially if you choose fatty cuts. Saturated fat is concerning, as it’s thought to increase your blood cholesterol levels, leading to an increased risk of heart disease.
The cause-and-effect relationship here is under debate, with some people disputing the idea that saturated fat increases heart disease risk. Even so, official recommendations continue to suggest decreasing your saturated fat intake and focusing more heavily on plant-based sources of protein, including legumes.
Could Promote Weight Gain
Steak is calorie dense, often providing around 175 calories in a 3-ounce serving. The calorie content is even higher if you choose a fatty cut instead of a lean one. You get a lot of protein and nutrients for these calories, but even so, too many calories give you more energy than you need and increase your risk of weight gain.
If you’re eating 3 ounces or less of steak in a serving, then the calorie content shouldn’t be a huge issue. However, many of us go far beyond this. It’s easy to do so too, given that steak is so delicious. Plus, if you’re eating steak at a restaurant, you’re probably getting more than a 3-ounce serving.
To avoid this weight gain effect, you’ll need to be careful with your serving size and make sure the calories from steak fit well into your diet.
You Don’t Need Red Meat
Steak provides plenty of protein and a wide range of nutrients, but it’s still not essential. You can get all the nutrients in other foods, often without much effort. Even vitamin B12 can be found in various other places, plus there are supplements if you get stuck.
There Are Ethical And Environmental Issues
Health impacts aren’t the only reason that steak is controversial. The beef industry is also concerning because of the impacts that it has on animals and on the environment.
Not only are cows killed to give you steak, but they’re often treated cruelly throughout their lives. Many come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where companies focus on maximizing profits. To do so, animals are often confined for long periods, do not have access to vegetation, and are closely packed together – giving them incredibly poor quality of life.
Environmental harm from the industry includes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural runoff.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that many people choose to avoid meat entirely and stick to foods that are kinder and better for the environment.
So, Is Steak Good For You?
As you can see, steak really does have plenty of amazing features, along with some concerning ones. Which ones win out? Is steak something to enjoy regularly, semi-regularly, or avoid entirely?
Honestly, that depends on who you ask.
A quick look online will show you dozens of articles that say you should never eat steak, often highlighting many of the risks that we talked about previously. There are just as many articles saying that steak is healthy and nutritious, offering many more benefits than risks.
The question doesn’t have a simple answer because nutrition is complicated. Most foods have good effects and bad ones. These effects are also influenced by our diets and lifestyles.
There’s Still Much We Don’t Know
The other thing is that, honestly, there’s a ton we don’t know.
Most of the research into red meat and health risks has followed an observational style, where researchers have collected a large amount of data and then looked for associations.
Those studies often do show an association between red meat consumption and health risks. But, correlation does not equal causation. The association between red meat and health problems could easily be caused by other things.
For example, health advice often implies that red meat is bad and tells us to cut down. People who care about their health are likely to do exactly that, while people who don’t are less likely to. So, the average person who eats red meat regularly is probably less healthy than the average person who doesn’t, but that effect may be because of overall diets and lifestyle, rather than red meat.
While other studies have better designs, they have limits too. Some focus on lean red meat rather than fatty cuts, some focus on saturated fat specifically, and others group red meat and processed meat together (even though processed meat is much riskier than non-processed red meat).
Overall, we have little idea about the impacts of red meat when it’s part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Health Risks Are Often Associated With The Amount You Consume
Here’s another interesting thing. Most of the problems with steak are related to eating large amounts of red meat. This means that smaller amounts of red meat could have much less risk and still provide you with plenty of benefits.
How To Get The Most Benefits From Steak
In practice, steak can easily be good for you, if it fits your needs and lifestyle. The following approaches can help you to get the most out of it:
Keep Your Portion Sizes Reasonable
Seriously, it’s easy to overdo it with steak. Most of the time you’ll want a serving of around 3 ounces of steak. This gives you plenty of protein and nutrients, without contributing too much to your saturated fat intake.
One trick is to change the way that you think about your steak. Rather than treating it like the main part of your meal, why not see it as a side dish instead? Doing this makes it easy to keep to small portion sizes without feeling like you’re missing out.
Remember too that steak doesn’t need to be your only source of protein in a meal. For example, you could make tacos using a small amount of sliced steak and black beans. Doing so would still give you a hearty meal, the delicious flavor of steak, and plenty of nutrients, while helping to keep your saturated fat intake in check.
Mix Things Up
You can also vary your types of protein from one day to the next. This might even involve having some exclusively plant-based days each week.
Practices like this help to keep your diet balanced, but still allow you to enjoy your favorite dishes. Plus, health recommendations suggest having no more than two or perhaps three servings of red meat per week, rather than cutting red meat out entirely.
Cook Over Low Heat
The biggest problems with steak may be linked to how it is cooked. High temperature cooking can increase the concentration of dangerous compounds. If steak does increase the risk of cancer in humans (an effect that hasn’t yet been proven), high temperature cooking could be the reason.
As such, cooking steak at a lower temperature may reduce your risk substantially. This could involve slow cooking or even using sous vide.
Is Well Done Meat Better For You?
Steak can be cooked to varying degrees, ranging from blue rare all the way through to well done. For some people, well done steak is almost a sacrilege, yet could it be the healthier choice?
Well, nutritionally, rare and well done steak are roughly the same. The protein, vitamin, and mineral content barely change at all.
Well done steak might be slightly safer, as it’s cooked all the way through. However, this isn’t a big deal for steak, as any unhealthy bacteria is on the outside of the meat.
A more relevant concern is the compounds produced during high heat cooking, including HCAs. You need to cook steak for longer to make it well done, a practice that may increase the levels of concerning compounds. From this perspective, rare steak could be the healthiest choice.
There isn’t much research into these differences, so why not stick to whichever level of rareness you enjoy the most?
Which Cuts Are The Healthiest?
Many of the issues with red meat are related to the saturated fat content. As such, leaner cuts of red meat should be better for you.
Top sirloin is a particularly good choice, as it is a lean cut that’s typically high in protein and low in saturated fat. Top round roast is popular as well, as it is still surprisingly tender, despite the relatively low amount of fat.
You can also look out for eye of round. This has less fat than most other cuts and tends to be inexpensive. The catch is that this cut isn’t very tender, so you’ll need to marinate it or cook it slowly to get the most out of it.
There’s no simple answer when it comes to steak. The red meat comes with plenty of benefits, but a fair number of risks as well. While you’d expect research to provide answers, it simply raises more questions instead.
The best answer we have is that steak can be healthy if you’re careful with the amount you eat and are gentle when you cook it.
Are other foods healthier? Possibly. But, remember that you are allowed to have treats every now and then. Your diet doesn’t need to be ‘perfect’ to be healthy.
So, even if you don’t think steak is particularly good for you, you could still enjoy it on occasion. You might also break away from the recommended 3-ounce serving size to have a large piece of steak while out for dinner once in a while.