Oct. 22 2015 06:36 AM

Adequate protein consumption is crucial. Beef can play a central role in meeting that need.

beef on the grill

By Amanda Smith, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

Most people readily recognize the "Beef, It's What's for Dinner" slogan. Yet, higher than average beef prices at the supermarket has dampened consumers' purchasing inclination. Coupled with that, dietary advice for the past 40-plus years has largely been skewed towards fat and carbohydrate recommendations, while ignoring protein.

"Although its benefits to the human diet are indisputable, in the past, protein often has been left out of the discussion when it comes to the three macronutrients," noted Shalene McNeill, executive director of nutrition research for the Beef Checkoff, in a recent Checkoff News.

Starting with the 1977 Dietary Goals, the American public was urged to eat less fat, sugar and salt, while bumping up their carbohydrate intake. As a nation, we took that advice to heart – now, concerns surrounding human health, and in particular obesity, are at peak levels.

So, what would happen if the optimal amount of protein in the diet was reexamined?

Through research, it has been well established that amino acids are used to create proteins that support vital body functions and are a key source of energy. More importantly, research has shown that not all proteins are the same. Essential amino acids (EAA) cannot be made in the body and must be supplied by the diet. When eaten alone, plant proteins do not contain all of the EAA in sufficient quantities.

Animal-based proteins are more bioavailable and readily usable by the body. For example, three ounces of lean beef contains 25 grams of protein and 154 calories, noted Checkoff News. To obtain the same amount of protein in a less usable form would require six tablespoons of peanut butter with 564 calories.

"Animal protein is superior to plant forms of protein in stimulating muscle protein synthesis," noted Stuart Phillips, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and McMaster University.

He went on to note that there are minimal and optimal levels of protein consumption. Today's Recommended Dietary Allowances should be categorized as the former, not the latter.

"Recommended Dietary Allowances suggest that not only are these level what are recommended, but what are allowed. But that level of protein is the minimal level of protein to offset protein deficiency in 98 percent of individuals," Phillips added.

Higher protein intakes contribute to better diet quality, healthy weight management, improved body composition and maintenance of lean body mass for certain populations, noted researchers at the Protein Summit 2.0, which was held in 2013.

According to USDA statistics, per capita beef consumption has steadily declined over the past decade. In 2014, per capita consumption reached a never before seen low, with Americans consuming just over 54 pounds of beef each. By 2016, estimates show this number may bump up slightly to 55 pounds. Meanwhile, pork and chicken are experiencing per capita consumption resurgences.

Amanda blog footer
The author is an associate editor and an animal science graduate of Cornell University. Smith covers feeding, milk quality and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. She grew up on a Medina, N.Y., dairy, and interned at a 1,700-cow western New York dairy, a large New York calf and heifer farm, and studied in New Zealand for one semester.

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