How do vegetarian diets stack up against diets including lean meat?

Myth: Vegetarian diets are healthier than diets that include meat

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 5% of American adults consider themselves to be vegetarians. However,  vegetarian diets are a frequent topic of conversation in the news and in daily conversations. With all the chatter about vegetarianism, you may want to find out if vegetarian diets really are healthier than diets that include meat.

The Facts: Experts agree that the healthiest diets include a balance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and moderate portions of nutrient-dense lean meat and skinless poultry. In fact, there are some risks associated with vegetarian diets that don’t ensure adequate intake of important nutrients. A recent Glamour article notes a plant-based diet, plus lean meats and fish, is the diet that will make you feel your best.

Learn more about how incorporating lean meat, like beef, into your diet can ensure good health:

Lean meat is part of a healthy diet.

The body of scientific evidence continues to grow in support of a balanced and varied diet that includes lean meat as a key to long-term health. Just one 3-ounce serving of lean beef is an excellent source of six essential nutrients: protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium niacin and B6 and is a good source of four essential nutrients: phosphorus, choline, iron and riboflavin.

  • Many of America’s favorite cuts such as Top Sirloin, Tenderloin, Strip Steak and 93 percent lean or leaner Ground Beef are lean.
    • Lean beef cuts all have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3 ½ oz cooked serving.
    • Check out this lean beef tips sheet to find out which cuts are lean, including many favorites such as flank steak, T-Bone steak and sirloin steak.
    • This article, published in the journal Meat Science, explores how changes in retail trimming and cattle breeding and management practices over the past 40 years have resulted in an increased availability of leaner beef.
  • Vegetarian diets lacking in nutrients can lead to deficiencies. Unlike plant proteins, beef is a source of high-quality protein and is the food supply’s most readily available and easily absorbed source of iron and zinc.
    • Beef is an excellent source of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that is not readily available in plant protein sources.
    • According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide and can be caused by improperly planned vegetarian diets.
  • Vegetarian diets aren’t always diet-friendly. In fact, lean beef supplies significantly fewer calories than some vegetable proteins – and it provides more nutrients in fewer calories than most other animal proteins.
    • A 3-ounce serving of lean beef contains 25 grams of protein and:
      • Offers the most protein with the fewest calories when compared to plant proteins such as peanut butter, black beans and tofu.
      • Consists of approximately 150 calories – you would have to eat 564 calories of peanut butter (more than 6 tablespoons) to get the same amount of protein.

How much protein do you need?

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that increasing the proportion of protein in the diet, moderately, may improve body composition, facilitate weight loss and improve weight maintenance following weight loss.

Use this calculator to find estimated daily protein and calorie needs for healthy adults, as well as Body Mass Index (BMI).


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