Where's the Beef?
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Where's the Beef?

Where's the Beef?

by Sally Young

Lean beef is as cardiac-friendly as skinless chicken when it comes to cholesterol and saturated fats. And high quality cuts can sizzle on the grill as tenderly as those that are heavily marbled. Simply look for "round" as in "top round steak," or "loin" as in "sirloin." These are the exercised, low fat muscles from the rump area. A four-ounce serving provides 36 gm protein and 5.6 gm fat. Avoid the herd mentality of gut-busting portions. Excess protein doesn't get stored as muscle - it makes the kidneys work harder to flush out the nitrogen waste.

All the essential amino acids are present in beef, translating to healthy muscle, bone, and blood. Beef is generous in zinc, teaming up with protein to heal wounds, fight infections, and keep you smart--it's needed for cognitive function. It is also flush with iron, the mineral in red blood cells that stokes the furnaces of hard working muscles with oxygen. Cobalt, a mineral central to vitamin B-12, works with the other B-vitamins in beef to drive the cycles of energy metabolism.

Beef is a "functional food" i.e., the benefits go beyond basic nutrition. In cud-chewing animals, microbes in the rumen change linoleic acid to its conjugated form. Conjugated linoleic acid consistently demonstrates anti-tumor properties in research animals. It may also play a role in cardiovascular health and protect against arthritis.

The brilliant marketing of Black Angus beef has made the breed synonymous with quality, guaranteed when labeled "Certified Angus Beef." However, several fast food chains are exploitively selling Angus beef that is not part of the industry's quality assurance.

In the battle of the cattle, a Pyrrhic victory awaits the consumer of the new full-pound Angus beef burger. Imagine eating 1000 calories of fat, sprinkled with nearly a teaspoon of salt. Unless you're pulling a sled on the Iditarod, this may be all that is separating you from tomorrow's obits.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 20% of food borne illnesses in the commercial sector can be traced to poor hygiene. To optimize safety, buy plant-packaged beef. It is typically cleaner than the store-packaged because it is handled only once. This "case-ready" beef usually comes in extra-deep foam trays sealed with plastic wrap. Inside is a mix of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide that slows bacterial growth.

Concerned about hormones and antibiotics? The "USDA Organic" logo on meats indicates cattle that just say no to drugs, have access to pastures, and enjoy organically produced, lantbased feed.

Irradiated beef, labeled with the international symbol, the radura, means electromagnetic energy was used to shatter the DNA of bacteria after the beef was packaged. The meat is not radioactive, and like pasteurized milk, the nutritional value and appearance doesn't change.

We may not think of cows as carnivores, but their feed may contain "recycled nutrients" which are actually bones and other parts from slaughtered pigs, sheep, chickens, horses, and other cattle that end up in rendering mills.

This cycle is how mad cow disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is spread - cattle consuming the brains, spinal cords, and eyeballs infected with mutated prions, nearly indestructible proteins that eat holes in cerebral tissue.

To prions, kitchens are health spas. They can withstand irradiation, and the extreme temperatures and pressures of the rendering process. We can ratchet down our risk by purchasing muscle meats, such as roasts, and avoiding foods that may contain bits of central nervous tissue, such as bone-in steaks, sausages, and ground meat. Choose a boneless roast and grind it yourself, or have it ground at the store.

Whether humans are susceptible to BSE is not known. Regardless, stringent restrictions on cattle feed, food processing, and marketing bovines have been in place for fifteen years. When a non-ambulatory cow was imported from Canada and diagnosed with BSE in 2003, the firewalls proved effective. In a nation that raises nearly 100 million head of cattle annually, this is no cause for panic. It is testimony to a system that works.

Young female runners may experience sports related pressure to lose weight, restricting calories when they are needed most. The elimination of red meat with the distorted belief that it is fattening and unhealthy has been associated with anorexia, part of the female athlete triad: an eating disorder, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. Health care professionals may be needed to intervene.

We all make choices concerning our health. Honing our nutritional savvy will keep us sharply in tune with eating foods that keep us healthy.

Here's a tasty beef recipe.

About the Author: RAC member Sally Young has a Masters Degree in Nutrition Science from Penn State University and has written for Running Times Magazine and the RRCA's Footnotes Quarterly. She has a monthly column, "What's The BIG Idea?" which appears in running club newsletters/websites throughout the US.

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