50 Surprising Facts About Beef

Beef is simple enough, right? You buy it, then you cook it, then you eat it. But do you know about the long list of health benefits that comes with every bite of a delicious steak, or the amount of hamburger eaten each year by the typical American? Below are 50 surprising facts about beef that are sure you thinking twice about your favorite food.

The top countries for beef production are the United States and Brazil.

Despite the rapid loss of farms and farmlands in the U.S., America remains one of the top two countries in the world for beef production. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are approximately 94.4 million cattle in the United States, at least 31.7 of which are beef cattle. If you think nearly 100 million cattle is impressive, consider this: Brazil is home to approximately 209 million cattle (but only 208 million people!).

The U.S. produces 25% of the world’s beef.

Producing a quarter of the world’s beef is pretty impressive, especially considering America’s 31.7 million beef cattle only make up 10% of the beef cattle on earth. Other top beef producers include Brazil, the European Union, and China.

A whole lot of beef is produced worldwide each year.

In 2017, the beef-producing countries of the world produced 61,318,000 metric tons of beef. This is the most beef produced of any year on record (though 2018 is expected to produce even more).

The beef and cattle industry is one of the largest in the United States.

In the United States, the combined value of the beef and cattle industry is approximately $200 billion. The farming of beef cattle is the largest segment of American agriculture, and the vast majority of American cattle come from the state of Texas.

The typical meat-eating American consumes 61 pounds of beef annually.

On average, a person living in the United States eats 61 pounds of beef each year, the majority of which is in the form of ground beef. To put that in perspective, that’s like eating 5% of a steer’s total weight.

Surprisingly, that’s less than at any other time in history.

The average annual weight of beef consumed by individual Americans has been gradually decreasing over the course of the last four decades. For example, in 1985, a single American ate approximately 80 pounds of beef per year. In 1995, that number decreased to 66.6 pounds.

Argentinians eat more beef than anyone else.

Though they are not one of the biggest beef-producing countries, Argentina residents each eat about 140 pounds of beef per year — more beef than anyone else in the world and more than twice the amount eaten by individual Americans.

About 450 pounds of edible beef is yielded from a processed beef animal.

That’s a little less than half of the weight of a live steer, and about half of the weight of a heifer or bullock.

Processed cattle produce much more than just meat.

Though advocates for vegetarianism may insist otherwise, a whopping 98% of the animal is used after it’s processed. Approximately 35% produces meat, while the rest is used for products such as pet food, leather, glue, insulin and other pharmaceuticals, gelatin, china, and soap, among other things.

All of your favorite sports equipment is made with from beef cattle.

The hide from a single processed steer or heifer can be used to produce 12 basketballs, 144 baseballs, and 20 soccerballs. Furthermore, it takes 3,000 hides to make the number of footballs used each year by the NFL.

Beef is a type of red meat.

Okay, so this one might be obvious, but believe it or not, beef isn’t considered red meat just because it’s, well, red in color. Rather, it’s red meat because it contains a certain amount of myoglobin, a type of protein that holds oxygen. Other properly termed red meats are veal, lamb, and pork.

The production of beef is one of the most complex lifecycles of any food.

According to Beef USA, the beef industry is the “most unique and complex lifecycle of any food,” as it includes a variety of segments. All in all, it takes approximately 2-3 years to bring a beef serving from farm to table.

Beef cattle are generally around two years old at the time of slaughter.

As you probably already know, types of cattle and their purposes vary widely. Generally, beef comes from steers (males) around two years of age.

One steer can provide a family food for six months.

The hamburger meat provided by a single steer would produce a whopping 720 quarter-pound burgers. That’s enough for a couple to enjoy a hamburger every single day for a year, or a family of four to have a burger every day for six months.

Don’t overcook your beef.

Not only is overcooked beef less than appetizing, it also isn’t so great for your health. When beef is overcooked, its fats, sugars, and proteins fuse together. This makes the meat overly chewy and difficult to digest. In fact, overcooked meat has even been linked certain cancers such as breast, colon, and prostate.

The amount of fat beef contains contributes to its energy content.

Every cut of beef contains varying amounts of both saturated and monounsaturated fats, or beef tallow. The most common of these fats are stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid. The only exception to this is lean meat, which is generally made up of only 5-10% fat.

The amount of fat on a cut of beef depends upon many factors.

The type of cut and any trimming may be the most obvious factors for the level of fat in beef, however there is actually much more that goes into a piece of beef’s fat content. The age of the animal, its breed and gender, and the type of feed it was given all contribute to its fat content. Perhaps not surprisingly, processed meat products, such as salami and sausage, are higher in fat content than are traditional cuts of meat.

Expect to pay more for your beef during or right after a drought.

No one fears a drought more than farmers, but perhaps that fear should extend to budget-conscious consumers, too. During a drought, there is less grass on which cattle can graze. This requires cattle farmers to purchase expensive grain-based feeds such as hay and corn. This extra cost is then passed onto consumers.

Most beef cattle are pasture fed.

The vast majority of beef cattle in the United States are pasture fed, then finished with grain. More specifically, the cattle spend the first year and a half of their lives in pastures eating grass. For the last four to six months of their lives, they live on feedlots and fed grain-based rations balanced by a professional veterinary nutritionist. These grain-based rations improve meat quality.

You really are what you eat. And so are cattle.

If you think the hype surrounding grass-fed beef is nothing more than politics and marketing, consider this: beef either 100% grass fed or finished with grass has a higher level of Omega 3 fatty acids than beef raised on feedlots or finished with corn.

These Omega 3s are just one of the reasons grass-fed beef is healthier beef.

Omega 3s are essential nutrients that have been proven beneficial for preventing and managing things like heart disease and high blood pressure. But additionally, grass-fed beef is leaner and higher in key nutrients such as vitamins, antioxidants, and conjugated linoleic acid, the latter of which has been found to improve immunity and inflammation.

The Red Meat scare of the last half century has been largely debunked in study after study.

Populations have been eating beef forever, but that hasn’t stopped the food from coming under fire. Fortunately, scares surrounding red meat have been proven completely false in study after study. In truth, beef and other red meats are full of important vitamins and minerals, and is therefore one of the healthiest foods one can eat.

The Saturated Fat scare? Also debunked.

It has long been theorized that the saturated fats contained in beef and other red meats contribute to heart disease. Despite these long-time theories, a number of respectable studies done in recent years have found that there is absolutely no significant link between heart disease and saturated fats.

The link between beef and heart disease is still being debated.

Whether or not beef contributes to a higher risk of heart disease is still being debated, though it looks like this is yet another beef-related myth that will be debunked. Studies done have had mixed results, but it’s important to remember that most of these studies are observational studies. Observational studies cannot prove causation, only whether or not eaters of red meat are more or less likely to get heart disease. According to Healthline, avid meat eaters are less likely to eat vegetables, fruits, and fiber. They are also less likely to exercise and more likely to be overweight.

Beef can even lower cholesterol.

Chicken gets most of the credit when it comes to the types of meat that can lower cholesterol, but as it turns out, beef in moderation is just as effective. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that lean beef-based diets improved cholesterol levels by about 10 percent — the same amount as the typical low cholesterol diet of fruits, vegetables, and poultry.

Beef is more nutritionally dense than other meats, including chicken.

Both beef and chicken are extremely beneficial in terms of protein, but beef has higher levels of iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and other crucial vitamins and minerals. Grass-fed beef has even higher amounts.

Beef is easily one of the best sources available for 10 essential nutrients.

Three ounces of lean beef can provide a person with 10% of the daily recommended value of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, iron, protein, selenium, zinc, choline, phosphorous, niacin, and riboflavin. Furthermore, eating beef is one of the healthiest ways to obtain the necessary amounts of protein, vitamin B12, and zinc.

….And iron.

A three-ounce serving of lean beef contains approximately 2.2 mg of iron. To obtain the same amount of iron without consuming beef, you’d have to eat at least three cups of raw spinach or eight ounces of chicken breast.

….And protein!

That same three-ounce serving of lean beef supplies the human body with half of the daily amount of protein needed to build, maintain, and repair body tissue. To obtain the same amount of protein without consuming those three ounces of beef, you’d need to eat 236 calories of raw soy tofu, 670 calories of peanut butter, or 374 calories of black beans.

In fact, beef is one of the only natural sources of vitamin B12.

Meat, including beef, is the only natural dietary source of vitamin B12. This essential nutrient is extremely important to the overall health of a human, as it aids in blood formation and the function of both the brain and nervous system.

Beef contains a number of antioxidants.

When they think of antioxidants, most people will think of berries and other fruits before they think of meat. But in fact, beef contains a number of beneficial antioxidants. These include creatine (an energy source for muscles), taurine (helps with heart and muscle function), and glutathione (important for cell development and function), among others.

Not every cut of beef can accurately be considered lean.

The healthiest beef is lean beef, but a cut of meat must meet rigorous government standards in order to be labeled “lean.” Of the various possible cuts of beef, only 29 meet the proper guidelines for being lean. A cut must then be found to have fewer than 10g of fat, fewer than 95mg of cholesterol per 100g of meat, and no more than 4.5g of saturated fat.

So which cuts of beef are leanest?

According to the American Heart Association, the leanest cuts of beef include sirloin, chuck, loin, or round. The Association also suggests choosing “Choice” or “Select” grade beef over “Prime,” which tends to have a higher fat content. Worried that even your lean cut of beef contains too much fat? That’s okay. Simply cut off any excess fat before preparing it, or choose to broil, braise, or grill instead of frying in a pan.

Grades matter.

If you’ve ever stood in a grocery store and compared a cut of beef labeled “Choice” to one without a label, you may have wondered just what such a label means and whether or not it really matters. In truth, quite a lot goes into the grading of a cut of beef. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beef Quality grades are determined by estimating the animal’s age; observing the color, texture, and general appearance of the meat; and determining the amount of fat marbling. Only 2% of all beef earns the coveted “Prime” rating, while approximately 44% earns the next-best “Choice” grade.

Cattle are ruminant animals.

Cattle, like deer and sheep, are ruminant animals. This means they are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by pre-digesting it in a specialized stomach called the rumen. This unique biological process allows the cattle to contain trans fats known as ruminant trans fats.

Unlike industrially produced trans fats, ruminated trans fats are healthy.

Ruminated trans fats such as conjugated linoleic acid, found in beef and some dairy products,  have various health benefits, the best known of which is weight loss.

There are currently 800,000 cattle ranchers in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are approximately 800,000 cattle farmers in the country. Additionally, more than 97% of beef cattle farms are owned and operated by a single family.

Even Uncle Sam produced beef.

During the War of 1812, American soldiers received shipments of beef labeled ‘U.S. Beef.’ The shipments actually came from Sam Wilson, a meatpacker from New York. Soldiers began calling their beef “Uncle Sam’s beef,” and the name and character of Uncle Sam stuck.

That hormone use in beef production is harmful to the environment is another myth that has been debunked.

The five hormones approved for beef production have been repeatedly proven as safe the environment. According to the Meat Institute, “Hormone use in beef production means more beef can be produced from fewer cattle and less land. In fact, hormone use reduces the land required to produce a pound of beef by 67 percent.” The Meat Institute also points out that using fewer cattle means 40% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Those hormones are safe for humans too.

The myth that hormones used in beef production is bad for consumers has also been proven false. Estradiol is the most common hormone used in beef production. According to the Center for Veterinary Medicine, “One pound of beef from cattle implanted with […] estradiol contains 15,000 times less estradiol than the amount of estrogen produced daily by the average male, and nine million times less than the amount of estrogen produced by a pregnant female.”

No, cutting beef out of our diets would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As the media likes to remind us, the production of beef results in the emission of greenhouse gasses. But it’s important to remember that the production of all foods result in the emission of greenhouse gasses. Beef provides us with necessary protein, and if we cut out that beef, we would simply need to replace it with an equivalent source of protein and a whole different set of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ground beef makes up 40% of beef products.

Though it varies slightly by country, ground or minced meat makes up about 40% of all beef production. The vast majority of that ground beef is used for hamburgers.

Speaking of ground beef, Americans really love it.

More than half of all the beef products consumed in the United States is ground beef and/or hamburger.

Still, beef is only Americans’ third favorite meat.

Though 75 million Americans consume beef each day, it is still only the third most popular meat consumed. Both pork and poultry are eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.

Beef is an especially beneficial food for the elderly.

As previously discussed, beef is chock-full of healthy components, and is referred to as a “complete” protein source thanks to the essential amino acids with which it provides the human body. Unfortunately, the average elderly person in the United States does not consume enough beef. This leads to inadequate protein intake and a higher risk of developing sarcopenia, a serious health issue characterized by age-related muscle wasting.

If you’re adverse to the idea of a tapeworm, then don’t eat raw beef.

Okay, it’s not quite as bad as we just made it sound, but it turns out that the beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata) is a real thing. The tapeworm is an intestinal parasite that can reach lengths of several feet. It’s most common in countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, and can be caught by consuming raw or undercooked beef.

If you want thick, luscious hair, eat some beef.

Beef has a long list of health benefits, many of which we’ve mentioned above, but one of the most unique and appealing benefits has to do with hair. Beef products contain vitamin B12 and zinc, both of which increase collagen levels and reduce hair breakage. Consuming beef has been found to have excellent benefits for hair.

Salt a steak 45 minutes before cooking it.

Most people who cook steaks know that sprinkling them with salt and pepper is a great way to bring out the tasty flavors. According to Oscar Martinez, executive chef at Manhattan’s famed Old Homestead Steakhouse, a steak should be salted a full 45 minutes before hitting the grill. Says Martinez, “Besides the salt adding flavor, it draws moisture, which causes the salt to dissolve. Letting the salted steaks sit for at least 45 minutes allows the moisture to return into the meat. The salt makes a sumptuous crust on the exterior when it hits the grill.”

Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Beef.

Here’s a fun one: The White Pages lists nine people in the United States with the last name ‘Beef.’

Americans eat more beef on Memorial Day than on any other day of the year.

Is Memorial Day even Memorial Day if there aren’t hamburgers on the grill? The Fourth of July and Labor Day are the second and third most popular day for the consumption of beef.

Atlas Steak

Beef USA


Brotherhood Life

Business Insider

Farm Flavor

Fill Your Plate

Five Oaks Beef

Food Reference


Meat Institute