Thursday, February 18, 2010


Covert Bailey thinks he knows why bodybuilders eat red meat. It's not the high proteinProtein Food Supplements: Recent Advances (Food Technology Review, No 54) content of beef that interests bodybuilders, says Bailey, but the steroids in the beef fat that really explains the attraction. Bailey makes this statement in his new book, Smart Exercise.. He also says that ranchers add another steroid called diethylstilbestrol (DES) to cattle feed to fatten the cattle. He says this despite the fact that DES was banned for this purpose in 1979.

Covert Bailey is a popular author and lecturer on exercise and nutrition. If you channel surf among the public broadcasting stations, you might catch one of his homespun lectures on television. He holds a master's degree in nutritional biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, yet despite his impressive credentials, he's dead wrong about both bodybuilder's motives to eat beef, and the "natural steroid content of beef fat."

But Bailey isn't alone in his misconceptions about beef. Beef consumption dropped 11 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It fell by 17% between 1976 and 1984 alone. Beef got a bad rap because of concerns about hormonal additives, antibiotic content, as well as the high fat and cholesterol content of red meat. Dieticians advised people to switch to lower fat protein sourcesKinemage Supplement to Introduction to Protein Structure, such as fish and chicken.

Bodybuilders often eschew beef because of its perceived high fat content, which can obscure muscular definition. But the fat content of beef has dropped considerably during the last 20 years. Beef carcass fat decreased 6%, while the external fat of retail cuts plummeted 27%. Old data concerning the fat content of beef derived from cuts averaging a 1/2 inch of fat around the edges. But current cuts of beef sold today have external fat trimmed to 1/8 inch or less.

By choosing the leanest cuts of beef, cooking it properly, and eating it in judicious portions, bodybuilders can enjoy the nutritional benefits of beef without being overly concerned about supposed negative aspects. But why eat beef in the first place?

Beef nutrition

Beef offers several nutrition advantages for hard-training bodybuilders. For one, it's a concentrated source of bioavailable nutrients that promote muscular growth. For example, a three ounce serving of beef contains 190 calories and provides 57% of the recommended quantity of proteinProtein food supplements, 1969 (Food processing review); 15% of iron; 40% of zinc; and 75% of vitamin B12 requirements. You'd have to eat over twice as much chicken to match this beef nutrient content.
Besides being a nutrient dense food, the nutrients in beef are more easily absorbed compared with other foods. For example, the mineral iron is vital for the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Two types of iron exist in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found only in meats, accounting for 30-60% of the total iron content. Significantly, heme iron is far more absorbable compared with the non-heme version. But an as yet unidentified meat protein factor can increase the absorption of even non-heme iron by 2-4 times.

The iron from red meat is even better absorbed than from iron supplements. Studies show that 50 milligrams of iron derived from pills is less effective than 15 milligrams of iron from beef sources. Although heme iron is also found in chicken and fish, beef iron appears to be better utilized by the body. This was shown in a study of 18 women runners, who all consumed the recommended daily allowance of 18 milligrams of iron. But 8 of nine women who avoided red meat--but ate fish and chicken--had depleted iron stores. In contrast, only 2 women out of 9 who ate red meat showed lowered body iron stores. Studies show that iron is lacking in the diets of more than 60% of young women.

Meat is also a good source of another trace mineral, zinc. Zinc activates over 100 body enzymes, and is essential for the synthesis of both testosterone and insulin, both of which play vital roles in muscle protein synthesis. Some researchers say that zinc may also be important for maintaining prostate gland health, since that organ has the largest concentration of zinc found in the body.

The zinc content in meat is better absorbed because of the lack of other substances that interfere with zinc uptake. These substances include: food fiber, phytic acid in grains, calcium, and copper. A study of 20 healthy women who consumed diets containing varying beef content found that beef ingestion increased utilization of both iron and zinc, and maintained a positive balance of the two minerals in the body.

The study pointed out that to equal the zinc content of a 4-ounce portion of beef requires eating 41 ounces of milk, 15 ounces of tuna, or 6½ eggs.
Bodybuilders have consumed beef for years because of its high quality protein content. While it's possible to derive your required amino acids from food sources other than beef, you'd have to eat large quantities to equal beef's protein content. Since sources such as grains and vegetables have a high fiber content, such foods are filling--thus making it a formidable proposition to get the amount of nutrients needed to sustain muscular gains. This probably explains why so few champion bodybuilders are vegetarians.

Besides the nutrients discussed here, beef also contains the mineral phosphorus, needed for strong bones. Another nutritional feature of beef is its complement of B-complex vitamins, which play integral roles in many body systems. Beef contains the following B-complex vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and B12. Add good amounts of both creatine and carnitine, and you have a potent nutritional package.

But what about cholesterol?

A high blood cholesterol level is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk. But few people realize that the liver synthesizes cholesterol every day. Cholesterol forms the starting substance, or precursor, for several important body chemicals, such as vitamin D, testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. In addition, the body tightly regulates cholesterol absorption from food, with an average 1-2% uptake.
But the situation is different for saturated fat. Such fat acts as a precursor for cholesterol production in the body. Thus, saturated fat, which can be absorbed in unlimited amounts, is far more crucial in promoting cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol exists in all animal foods, but for some reason many people assume that beef contains large amounts of cholesterol in comparison to other foods. In truth, the cholesterol content of beef, pork, chicken, fish, and turkey is similar. All such foods average 70-80 milligrams of cholesterol per 4-ounce serving.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston shows that beef equals chicken in helping to reduce cholesterol levels. The 13-week study put two groups of men with high blood cholesterol readings on a 30% fat diet. One group ate chicken; the other, beef. Food portions were the same, as were total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol intake.

Results showed that both the chicken and beef diet showed equal efficacy in decreasing both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL). The latter form of cholesterol is considered the type that promotes disease in contrast to high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which has a protective effect. Both beef and chicken lowered LDL levels 9 to 11 percent. The researchers in this study concluded that "it's the amount of fat and saturated fat in the diet--not the type of meat eaten--that correlates with blood cholesterol levels."

Concerning fat content, beef doesn't contain as much fat as people think. A 3-ounce portion contains 9 grams of fat. More important, only 48% of this is saturated fat. In addition, 9-12% of the fat content of beef consists of a fatty acid called stearic acid. Unlike other fats, stearic acid either has no effect on, or actually lowers cholesterol levels in the body. Explanations for this unique property include stearic acid being rapidly converted to oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that doesn't raise cholesterol. Another possibility is that stearic acid, unlike other fats, is rapidly incorporated into the cell membrane structure. Finally, while vegetable oils also decrease blood cholesterol levels, they also reduce beneficial HDL levels, which stearic acid doesn't do.

Decreasing beef fat

The main objection to eating beef, besides putative additives such as antibiotics and hormones (discussed later) is the fat in beef. But you can deal with this in several ways. For example, trimming beef fat dramatically decreases fat content. A 1988 study by meat scientists from Texas A&M University found that trimming the fat of various cuts of beef to 0.4 inches can lower fat content by as much as 19.4 percent. Such pretrimming causes no loss of flavor, juiciness, or tenderness. It's important to trim the fat before cooking to prevent fat from the edges of the meat from migrating into the meat during cooking.

Choosing the right cut of meat also makes a big difference. Look for the words "round" or "loin" when shopping for beef. According to the Beef Industry Council, the leanest cuts of beef are top round steak, sirloin, top loin, tenderloin, eye round, tip round, bottom round steak, and chuck arm.

"The rump or round of the animal--basically the leg--is very lean. So is the shoulder, "says Denise Arthurs, a clinical nutritionist at Tufts University. "sections found around the rib, such as brisket or ribeye are higher in fat."

Another thing to observe is the grade of the meat. USDA "select" beef contains the least amount of marbling (flecks of fat within the beef). The next leanest grade is "choice." Meat labeled "prime" contains the most marbling, and thus has the highest fat content.

How you prepare the meat also is important. Keep the meat lean by using a low-fat cooking method. Such methods include broiling, grilling, roasting, microwaving, sauteing or stir-frying with small amounts of oil. Tenderize tougher cuts by cooking slowly in liquid (braising) or marinating in an acidic mixture (lemon juice, wine, vinegar, yogurt) six hours or overnight before cooking. Other tenderizing techniques include pounding, grinding, and slicing against the grain.

For grilling, cook large cuts of meat over indirect coals. Place beef on the grid over a drip pan with coals on each side of the pan. Then cover the grill and cook with the vents open. For quick cooking cuts, such as steaks, burgers, or kabobs, use the direct grill method. This involves placing the beef over the grid above medium coals, leaving the grill either open or covered. If roasting meat, use a slow to moderate oven temperature (325 to 350 degrees).

For broiling, place thin meat cuts 2-3 inches from the heat; thick cuts, 3-6 inches. When pan-broiling use medium to medium low heat and remove fat as it accumulates. High heat decreases moisture in meat, making it tough. Cooking meat slowly retains moisture, and allows meat connective tissue or collagen to gradually convert to gelatin, adding tenderness.
Using medium to low heat in cooking meat also reduces formation of mutagens, or substances linked to causing cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are formed when fat is burned, while heterocyclic amines (HA) form from burned protein. Trimming visible fat and avoiding charburned meat reduces such carcinogens significantly. Adding 1-4% glucose or lactose or powdered milk to ground beef patties inhibits mutagenic activity by 34-76%.

Another substance, a derivative of the fatty acid linoleic acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), also formed when meat is heated, has potent antioxidant and anticarcinogenic effects. Other substances in cooked meat, furan and thiophene compounds likewise act as anticarcinogens.

You can circumvent any caloric problem by eating smaller portions. Most health organizations suggest eating about 6 ounces of meat a day. A 3-ounce serving is similar in size to a deck of cards. A four ounce raw serving of meat cooks down to about 3 ounces.

If you have the time, or the inclination, two novel techniques are available for reducing ground beef fat. The first method appeared in the January 10, 1991 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It consists of pouring one-half quart or more of either olive or canola oil into a frying pan heated to 176 degrees F. Add ground or thinly sliced meat and stir until the slurry reaches about 195 degrees. Stir for five more minutes, then increase heat to 225 degrees for another 5 minutes to boil off the water and brown the meat. Drain, then rinse with clear boiling water. Save rinse water, skim off surface oil. Boil the resulting liquid to a savory broth, then pour over the meat.

According to Donald M. Small, MD, who devised this technique, the vegetable oil acts as a healthy solvent, extracting 40% of the meat's cholesterol and replacing most of the meat's saturated fat content with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The total fat content of the beef is reduced 67 percent.

Margo Denke, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, notes that the oil requirement for this recipe "makes it a very expensive way to cook." Also, the need to optimize the meat's surface content with oil makes the technique not applicable to steaks, roasts, and patties.
Another technique involving just water can reduce fat content up to 50%. It consists of the following:
1) Brown ground beef in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Stir to break beef into crumbles about 1/2 inch. Cook until no longer pink.
2) Use a large slotted spoon to drain meat. Remove beef crumbles to large plate or other dish lined with 3 layers of white non-recycled paper towel. Blot top of beef with paper towel. Let sit for one minute, blotting beef with paper towel.

3) Place beef in strainer or colander. Pour about 1 quart hot tap water over beef. Stir beef while pouring water. Drain five minutes.
This technique retains 90% of the protein, iron, vitamin B12, and zinc found in non-rinsed beef.

An even easier technique to reduce fat in ground beef involves pouring off fat as it accumulates during cooking, then placing the patties on a large plate lined with 3 layers of paper towels. Let the patties sit for one minute, turning them over after 30 seconds.
When buying ground beef, observe these rules:
1) A bright, cherry-red color indicates fresh beef. A darker, purplish color is typical for vacuum-packaged beef. When exposed to oxygen, beef turns from dark red to bright red. With extended oxygen exposure, beef color takes on a brownish tinge.
2) Keep beef as cold as possible. Choose colder packages that are tightly wrapped without tears or punctures. Look for "sell by" date on label, purchase before or on that date.
3) Refrigerate meat as soon as possible unless you plan to eat it immediately. Place in coldest section of refrigerator and use within 2 days. You can keep ground beef in the freezer in the original packaging for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, wrap the meat in material impermeable to moisture and air, such as heavy duty aluminium foil, freezer paper, or plastic freezer bags. You can store ground beef in the freezer for 3-4 months at zero degree F or lower to prevent freezer burn.

Hormones and antibiotics: don't have a cow, man

Is media nutrition maven Covert Bailey correct in his contention that red meat is a virtual motherlode of steroids that can potentially convert the most abject pencilneck into the next Mr.Olympia?

If it's steroids you're after, you'll have to seek other sources besides the local meat counter. Contrary to what Bailey says, steroids are not added to beef to fatten them, but rather to lean them. As in humans, steroids in cattle add muscle while reducing fat.

Presently used steroid beef additives include both natural and synthetic hormones. Anabolic agents used in beef production can improve weight gain by 5-20%; feed efficiency by 5-12%; and lean meat growth by 15-25%. About 85-95% of feedlot beef receive such growth agents, usually in the form of implant pellets placed behind the animal's ear. This placement serves to minimize entrance into the consumed parts of beef.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following anabolic agents for use in livestock production: estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, melengestrol acetate (MGA), trenbolone acetate (TBA) and zeranol. The latter two substances are synthetic; the others are natural hormones, although zeranol is a natural estrogenlike substance derived from the fungus-produced zeralenone.

The FDA decrees that the added hormone content of meat not exceed 1% of the daily production of that hormone by a person in the most sensitive segment of the human population. Only 10% of a hormone ingested orally is absorbed by the body. The synthetic additives, which aren't produced in the human body, require extensive testing in animals to determine safe residue levels.

As the chart below shows, humans naturally produce far more hormones than is added to beef. Hormone levels are measured in nanograms, which is a billionth of a gram, or roughly the equivalent of one blade of grass in a football field filled with grass.
Daily estrogen production (in nanograms)
Female, before puberty-54,000
Male, before puberty- 41,000
Non-pregnant woman- 480,000
Pregnant woman- 20,000,000
Adult male- 136,000
In contrast, these are the estrogen levels in both implanted and non-implanted steers (nanograms per 3 ounces of muscle)
Implanted steer- 1.9
Non-implanted steer- 1.3

Any hormone activity in beef is minuscule and of no significance when compared with daily hormone production in humans. A non-pregnant woman produces 400,000 times as much estrogen as she gets from an average serving of beef derived from an implanted steer. Depending on the stage of her hormonal cycle, the number could increase to 4 million times as much estrogen produced by her than could be consumed in a serving of beef. Thus, she could consume 480 pounds of beef a day without reaching the 1% limit set by the FDA. Since only 10% of orally ingested estrogen is absorbed, she could eat 4,800 pounds of beef, still not exceeding the 1% rule!

The additional estrogen in a 3-ounce serving of beef that results from implants represents 1/10,000 of 1% of the daily estrogen production by a woman who isn't pregnant.

In addition, estrogen is naturally ubiquitous in foods. For example, soybean oil has 1 million times as much estrogen as meat from an implanted steer. If you eat a meal consisting of potatoes, whole wheat bread, green salad, green peas, and round steak from estrogen treated cattle, the steak will contain the least amount of estrogen, by far.
Estrogen in food (nanograms per 3 ounces)
Beef from implanted steer- 1.9
Wheat germ- 3,400
Soybean oil- 1,680,000
Milk- 11

Much of the adverse publicity concerning hormonal additives in beef stems from a January, 1989 decision by the European Economic Community to ban $130 million worth of American hormone-treated beef. The European fears, in turn, had their origin in an incident occurring in Italy. A few Italian cattlemen illegally injected a banned compound called DES into cattle. When meat from the injected cattle wound up in baby food, mothers reported breast growth in children of both sexes. A few young girls developed premature menstrual cycles. While the reports were never substantiated, they still alarmed the Europeans.

A recent study by researchers from Colorado State University in Fort Collins examined samples of muscle, fat, kidney, and liver from steers, heifers, and cows including conventional, natural, and organic cattle from 7 packing plants in 4 states. They looked for traces of the following additives: DES, zeronal, trenbolone acetate, MGA, carazolol (beta-blocker drug), clenbuterol, tranquilizers, six sulfa drugs, and pesticides.
The only things that turned up in the analysis were small amounts of the heavy metals, lead and cadmium. They concluded, "of 1,729 chemical tests performed, no residue amount considered violative was detected. Thus, it can be concluded that U.S. beef is unlikely to contain levels of pesticides or any of the compounds considered to be potential hazards to public health."

Some companies tout "natural beef," which is nothing short of an expensive ripoff. These products proclaim "no hormones," and "no antibiotics" on their labels. But data from the USDA residue monitoring program shows that U.S. produced beef inspected and passed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service is expected to be free of antibiotic residues. As far as hormones, all animal tissue naturally contains traces of hormones. But the difference in hormone levels in hormone-treated beef compared with beef not treated with hormones is neither statistically nor biologically significant.

Concerning antibiotics, some cattle producers do use sparing amounts of penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed. Such antibiotics improve weight gain in the animals. The concern here is that routine use of these drugs may produce strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When such bacteria are transfered to humans, diseases such as gastrointestinal illness may occur.

Such a scenario did occur in South Dakota in 1983, when resistant Salmonella bacteria infected 18 people in four states. Eleven were hospitalized; one died. As a result, in 1985 the National Cattlemen's Association recommended that feedlot operators stop adding antibiotics to animal feed. But one animal in 10 still gets antibiotics.
Penicillin is not approved as a feed additive for cattle. While tetracycline is approved for this purpose, its use has declined dramatically during the past 10-15 years. A recent survey found that most cattlemen no longer add the drug to feed. In any case, extensive data compiled by both the USDA and the FDA show that feed antibiotics don't leave residues in meat.

With the availability of lower fat cuts of meat and lack of toxic additives, beef is an important part of a good bodybuilding diet. If eaten in temperate quantities, meat will not supply an excess of either fat or calories, but it will provide an abundance of high quality protein and other nutrients integral to promoting muscular mass.

Or to put it another way, the beefs about beef are mostly boloney.

Nutrient content of 3 ounces of cooked beef

Nutrient Quantity Percentage of recommended daily intake

calories 183
protein 25 grams 56%
iron 2.54 milligrams 14%
zinc 5.89 Mgs 39%
Thiamine 0.08 mgs 5%
niacin 5.31 mgs 18%
Riboflavin 0.21 mgs 12%
vitamin B12 2.24 mgs 37%

Comparison of 3 ounces of lean beef, ground beef, and skinless chicken

Calories Fat (Milligrams) Cholesterol (mgs)

beef eye of round

Beef top round

Beef tip round

Beef top sirloin

Beef top loin

Beef tenderloin

Beef flank

Low-fat ground beef

Ground beef (85%lean)

Ground beef (80%lean)

Ground turkey

Chicken breast

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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