The Untold Story


PART ONE: Beef and Health – The Untold Story

There’s lots to know about beef. Some things you know, but maybe some things you don’t. With diets getting steadily worse and obesity levels rising, there are some good reasons to consider why beef belongs on the tables of Canadians.

Do Canadians eat too much red meat? In fact, no we don’t.

• Considering there are 21 meals in a week, Canadians eat only 3 to 4 servings of red meat per week– that’s one lunch and two dinners for example. How big is a serving? Only 75 grams – that’s a steak about the size of your palm.

• Think red meat is on the rise as part of Canadian eating patterns? At a 14 gram decrease per day compared to what we ate in 2004, the fact is that there is less red meat than ever in Canadian diets.2

• Surprisingly, 56% of adolescent males, 48% of women between 31 and 50, and 69% of females >70 years old, eat LESS than the recommended 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives daily3. Is snacking on pizza the culprit?

Canadians have replaced foundational foods, like beef, with junk food.

• Over the last 30 years, obesity rates have tripled4; while the percent of calories we get from high-quality protein foods including beef, milk and eggs has significantly declined.5

• Ultra-processed food now accounts for almost ½ our daily calories. And alarmingly, our kids are the worst: 9 to 13 year olds get a whopping 57% of their calories from nutritionally poor, high calorie foods such as pizza, pop, crackers and baked goods.6

Is chicken better for you than beef? Maybe not so much…

• Beef is actually more nutrient-dense than chicken. With regards to iron, vitamin B12 and zinc, beef beats chicken by 200%, 600% and 700% respectively.7

• Beef qualifies as a “good” or “excellent” source of 7 nutrients, while chicken only meets this criteria for 5 nutrients.8

• Lean and Extra Lean Ground Beef have the same maximum fat content as Lean and Extra Lean Ground Chicken or Turkey. The terms that are used to describe maximum fat levels for ground meats apply to all ground meats and poultry and are defined by labelling laws.9

And on the topic of fat…

• On average, fresh red meat contributes only 7% of the fat consumed in the diet of Canadians.10

• More than half of the fat in beef is unsaturated. In fact, most of the unsaturated fat in beef is oleic acid, the same type of healthy fat found in avocados. You know, those “healthy fats” we’re all told to eat.11

• Based on an average composite of beef cuts, beef qualifies for the Health Canada claim ‘lean’.12

Are “plant-based” diets better for you?

It’s important to eat a balanced plate that’s ½ fruits and/or veg, ¼ whole grains, and ¼ protein-rich foods like meat – that’s ¾ of the plate already dedicated to plant -based foods. Increase your veggies – for sure, but with only 5% of our calories coming from red meat (and almost 50% from ultra-processed foods)13, worrying about red meat is like trying to fix the wrong problem!

• Each food in the diet contributes a unique nutrient ‘package’. Plant-based foods offer benefits like fibre and folate, nutrients not present in meat. Meats contribute vitamin B12, Omega- 3 fats, complete proteins, heme iron and zinc, nutrients not available from plants. So why the debate? It’s simply not a matter of one or the other.

• While it’s true that most people should up their intake of plant-based, healthy foods, plant and animal foods are simply better together.

• Eating meat improves nutrient absorption from plant foods. Known as the ‘meat factor’, eating beef or other meats with vegetables that contain zinc and iron improves absorption of those 2 nutrients from the plants by up to 150% for the iron.14

• The fibre in plants helps improve the digestion of meat. These foods belong together.

• Vegetarians need almost twice as much iron in their diets as meat eaters since the iron from plant sources is not well absorbed.15

The protein content in plants is simply not equal to what you get from meat.

• No other food beats meat when it comes to protein quality. Meats are ‘complete’ proteins with all the indispensable amino acids that humans need. Plant foods are not complete proteins.

• Meat is much more protein dense with more protein per calorie than what plant foods have. Consider this: it takes 3.5 servings of almonds at over 700 calories to get the same amount of protein that’s in 1 portion of beef at 184 calories.16

• Plant-based proteins, like nuts, seeds and legumes, don’t meet the qualifications to make the label claims: ‘excellent source’, ‘very high’, or ‘rich in’ protein.17

PART TWO: Beef and the Environment – The Untold Story

There’s lots to consider about beef and the impacts it has on the environment. Some things you know, but maybe some things you don’t. Here are some of the little-known facts about raising beef that don’t make the headlines. Good news seldom does. There are key reasons why beef belongs as part of a healthy ecosystem.

Are plant-based diets better for the health of the planet

• This should be a thoughtful conversation as there is no black and white answer. Whether growing lentils or raising beef, the act of creating any food and getting it to market1 has environmental impacts.

• It’s complicated. The United Nations cites 14 Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability assessments usually consider only water use and green house gas (GHG) emission factors. We need to look at the whole picture.2

• A comprehensive literature review study has demonstrated that choosing to consume one food over another is not the solution to reducing food production environmental impacts. Removing cattle from the landscape would have significant negative consequences such as the loss of native grasslands and the fragile Prairie ecosystems.2

• The FAO’s study, Livestock’s Long Shadow has many short-comings and errors authors themselves apologized for. But once the headlines have been made, they are not easy to erase.3

Cattle and greenhouse gases in perspective.

• Transportation in Canada accounts for 28% of Canada’s GHG emissions. Raising cattle in Canada accounts for 2.4% of the GHG emissions in Canada.

• On a global scale, Canadian beef production accounts for only 0.04% of GHG emissions.4,5

The surprising good things cattle do for the landscape.

• Just as grazing bison kept the grass- lands healthy and viable for centuries, cattle grazing has the same beneficial effects. Unfortunately 74% of Canada’s native grasslands like the Prairies have been lost due to cultivation or development. Eliminating cattle means eliminating vital ecosystems.6

• It’s more than just the grass under your feet. Grass and pasturelands sequester (store) carbon.7 Grass is like the solar panel that captures energy that becomes nourishment (energy) for cattle. Beef is the nutrient-dense good food for us all as a result.

• Cattle provide 68% of the Wildlife Habitat Capacity of all agricultural land in Canada.5 Many bird species at risk and other wildlife call cattle ranges and pastures their home. Cattle grazing keeps bird gazing.

An important part of our food-scape.

• Cattle make use of food waste by consuming crops and crop bi-products that can’t be used as human food. For example, in PEI, cattle feed on potatoes that are not suitable for us to eat.

• Cattle can take a food that grows naturally (grass), that we can’t use to eat and turns it into one of natures most nutrient dense foods. Now that’s efficient processing.

• Cattle are typically raised on lands that can’t be used for growing crops and vegetables. You can’t cultivate rocky terrain, areas of brush or dry regions.

• Only 9% of annual cropland is used for growing cattle feed in Canada.5,8

Although it’s a way of life, raising cattle is a tradition that’s NOT stuck in the past.

• Over a 30 year span, feed efficiencies and other technologies have demonstrated a 14% decline in greenhouse gas emissions per kg of beef produced since 1981.9

• Canadian studies track a reduction of 17% in water use to produce a kg of beef over a 30 year period. Water cycles through the environment and does not disappear forever.10

• The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) is granted to leaders in stewardship who make outstanding contributions to conservation practices. It’s the award that others strive for and the leaders that others learn from.11

Don’t just take our word for it –

• Conservation groups like Cows and Fish, Ducks Unlimited and Bird Studies Canada work on efforts to help ranchers and farmers keep their cattle grazing.

• The Keep Grazing project aims to keep beef farmers and ranchers as part of the landscape in Manitoba. Bird Studies Canada works with ranchers to support this conservation program.12

Four proven dietary changes that we can all make that will make a difference in reducing environmental impacts.

• Reduce waste. One third of our food production results in wasted food.2 Use what you have and don’t let it go to waste.

• Eat less. Over-eating is a type of food waste after all, so consider eating what you need and not more. Keep portions in proportion.

• Buy in season and buy local. Bringing in foods from other countries adds the burden of transportation impacts on the environment.

• Choose food that matters. Make meals with nutrient-dense foundational foods that use less resources to produce and make a valuable contribution to your health and well- being. Processed foods take more energy to manufacture and package.


1Canadian Community Health Surveys (Nutrition) 2015, Statistics Canada

2Canadian Community Health Surveys (Nutrition) 2004 and 2015, Statistics Canada

3Evidence Review for Dietary Guidance Technical Report, 2015, Health Canada

4Canadian Health Measures Survey: Household and physical measures data, 2012 to 2013.

5The growing Canadian energy gap: more the can than the couch? Public Health Nutrition: 12(11), 2216–2224

6Moubarac JC. Ultra-processed foods in Canada: consumption, impact on diet quality and policy implications. Montréal: TRANSNUT, University of Montreal; December 2017. la=en&hash=9FB9794C42D6B6BA93AB91335E2B6A612656C586

7Nutrient data derived from Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015, food codes: Beef 6172, Chicken, 842.

8Claim statements based on Daily Values derived from Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015, food codes: Beef 6172, Chicken, 842.

9Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Nutrient Content Claim Requirements for Fat. 2018.

10Fresh and Processed Meat Intake: A Canadian Perspective (2018). Data derived from the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey – Nutrition

11Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015. Food code 6172: Beef, composite cuts, steak/roast, lean and fat, cooked.

12Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015. Food code 6172, beef, composite cuts, steak/roast, lean and fat, cooked.

13Fresh and Processed Meat Intake: A Canadian Perspective (2018). Data derived from the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey – Nutrition.

14Engelmann, M,  Davidsson, L, Sandstrom, B, Walczyk, T, Hurrell, R, & Michaelsen, K. (1998). The influence of meat on nonheme iron absorption in infants. Pediatric Research, 43(6), 768-773.

15Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board.  HYPERLINK “″Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc : a Report of the Panel on Micronutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.

16Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015. Food codes: Almonds 2534, Beef 6172.

17Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Nutrient Content Claim Requirements for Protein. 2018.



1Canadian Community Health Surveys (Nutrition) 2015, Statistics Canada

2Bradley G Ridoutt,1,2 Gilly A Hendrie,3 and Manny Noakes3; 1Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Agriculture and Food, Victoria, Australia; 2University of the Free State, Department of Agricultural Economics, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and3CSIRO Biosecurity and Health, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Adv Nutr 2017;8:933–46:


4Legesse, G., Beauchemin, K. A., Ominski, K. H., McGeough, E. J., Kroebel, R., MacDonald, D., McAllister, T. A. (2015, December 23). Greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared to 2011. Animal Production Science.

5Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. (2016). National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Summary Report. Calgary:

6Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. (2016). National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Summary Report. Calgary:

7Government of Canada. (2016). National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada: 1990-2014; The Canadian Government’s Submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

8Statistics Canada. Human Activity and the Environment: Annual Statistics 2009. Table 1.2. Global availability of agricultural and arable land, 2005.

9Legesse, G., Beauchemin, K. A., Ominski, K. H., McGeough, E. J., Kroebel, R., MacDonald, D., McAllister, T. A. (2015, December 23). Greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared to 2011. Animal Production Science.

10Legesse, G., Cordeiro, M.R.C., Ominski, K.H., Beauchemin, K.A., Kroebel, R., McGeough, E.J., Pogue, S., McAllister, T. A. (2017, November) Water use intensity of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared to 2011. Elsevier. Science of the Total Environment 619-620 (2018) 1030-103





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