Some things need warning labels. Hopping onto a roller coaster, for example, warrants a cautionary tag, as does applying pesticides, or walking on unstable terrain too close to the edge of a cliff, smoking a cigarette (real or electronic), or driving your tractor near an overhead powerline. It could even be argued that perhaps some people should come with a warning label. We all know That Guy who can turn a quiet evening of drinks at the local tavern one minute into an international adventure that involves an airplane trip the next. Spending time with those folks can lead to lasting side effects, and unsuspecting people deserve to know.
Some things do not need warning labels. Ground beef and pork do not need warning labels.
The rationale behind Health Canada’s proposed front-of-package warning label for ground beef is simply not sound. It seems they want to help shoppers avoid consuming products high in saturated fat and are willing to slap a label on ground beef and pork. Meanwhile, other animal-derived products – and more alarmingly – other highly processed, high sugar/high sodium/high fat products such as chips, cookies, and pop, are not affixed with labels at all.
These labels concern me deeply as a consumer, as a mom trying to feed my family the most nutritious and economical meals I can, and also as a rancher who raises commodity beef and direct-to-freezer products.
Does beef contain saturated fat? Like all animal products, it sure does. However, did you know there are three types of fats including unsaturated, saturated, and fatty acids? Unsaturated fats, like poly- and monounsaturated fats, are considered “healthy fats” which provide your body energy and help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K. More than half of the fat that beef contains is unsaturated. For people, including myself, who do want to reduce fat content during meal prep, I can simply drain my ground beef after browning it, like more than 90% of Canadians report doing. Or, I can grill my burgers, which again reduces fat content by up to a third.
You know what else beef contains? Heme iron. What’s that? It is the most bioavailable form of iron you can find in a food. This means your body can get ready-to-absorb iron in a smaller serving of beef with fewer calories than other iron-rich foods like spinach or legumes. This is a reason why Health Canada themselves suggests beef as a first food for babies.
Another nutritional nicety of beef is that fact that it can synergistically boost nutrients absorbed from other foods. For example, adding beef to a meal with plant-based proteins (think chili with beans) bumps up the absorption of iron from both the beans and the beef, compared to legume-only chili.
Here’s another fun fact: beef and other meats are considered complete proteins. That means they contain all the essential amino acids we require in our diets, unlike plant-based proteins which don’t contain a full set of amino acids and require mixing and matching in order to meet nutritional needs.
I also could continue to say that beef is an important source of zinc, Vitamin B12, selenium, magnesium, riboflavin, pantothenate, phosphorus, potassium, and so many more nutrients too numerous to mention. And let’s not forget that gram-for-gram, ground beef is the most economical, nutrient dense source of protein currently available in Canada.
Canadian consumers deserve economical, safe, highly nutritious, easy-to-prepare protein foods that are not processed. Ground beef checks those boxes.*
*beef also supports sustainable/functional ecosystems and provides habitat in a way that non-animal protein foods do not but there is not time to address that in this article, okay, thank you.
Worried about labels? Visit https://www.dontlabelmybeef.ca/
Looking for more science-based information on nutritional qualities of beef? Check out: