Meat Nutrition


Iron is needed for healthy blood, giving us energy and for brain development in babies. Iron is found in a number of foods, including red meat. In general, the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.

Iron is found in two forms: haem and non haem. Haem iron is absorbed more easily by the body and is found in beef, lamb, liver, kidney, pork, poultry and seafood. Only about 5% of non-haem iron is absorbed and is found in vegetables, bread, breakfast cereals, beans, eggs and fruit.

Red meat can help to increase absorption, boosting the use of non-haem iron by up to four times. Vitamin C has a similar effect. Eating a combination of foods high in both haem and non-haem iron will ensure an iron-rich diet.


Zinc is a component of every living cell in the body. It is essential for the structure and function of over 50 enzymes. It is important for growth, sperm production, night vision, appetite, sense of taste and smell, maintaining a strong immune system and for wound healing. Zinc is widely distributed in foods, but the amounts available for absorption vary.

• Beef and lamb have a high zinc content. Red meats, especially kidneys and liver, are higher in zinc than poultry, cheese, grains, legumes or vegetables. Beef and lamb are the most commonly eaten sources of zinc in New Zealand.

• The type of protein in foods such as beef and lamb promotes zinc absorption. This means zinc is more easily absorbed from meals containing meat. Plant foods such as grains and legumes often contain phytates and dietary fibre, which inhibit zinc absorption.


Protein is needed to build, repair and maintain body tissues, organs and cells in all parts of the body. Proteins are complex molecules and are made up of different combinations of smaller units called amino acids.

Our body can make some of the amino acids needed to manufacture protein and other necessary substances, but certain amino acids must come from the food we eat each day. These are known as the essential amino acids and are required throughout our life.

If a food provides all the essential amino acids for human needs, it is called a high quality protein food.

Beef and lamb are high quality protein foods with an optimum balance of essential amino acids. A serving of 100g cooked lean beef or lamb provides about 27-30g of protein.

Plant proteins, on the other hand, do not have the correct balance of amino acids for human needs, so are considered low quality protein.


B Vitamins

B group vitamins regulate many chemical reactions necessary to maintain health. Some help release energy in the body, some help to maintain good vision and health skin, some are important for optimal brain function, while others are needed for the manufacture of red blood cells.

• Beef and lamb contain vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6 and are particularly important dietary sources of vitamin B12.

• Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods, with beef and lamb among the richest sources of this essential nutrient. Just 100g of lean beef provides your total vitamin B12 needs for the day.

• On average, beef and lamb provide almost a quarter of New Zealanders’ vitamin B12 intake.

Vitamin D

• Vitamin D is involved with calcium in the body to give us strong bones. The main source of vitamin D comes from the sun, where it is synthesised in the skin, but due to limited exposure to ultraviolet rays outside, vitamin D becomes an essential nutrient that must come from our diet.

• Traditionally, food sources have included dairy products and oily fish, but beef and lamb could also provide an important amount. Red meat is now known to contain a more potent type of vitamin D, making it an effective source.

Vitamin A

• Vitamin A is needed for growth, to keep skin and respiratory (breathing) tracts healthy, for vision (helping eyes to adjust to dim light) and to fight infection.

• Liver is an excellent source of vitamin A. However, pregnant women are advised to eat no more than 100g of liver or liver pate per week due to potentially toxic effects on the foetus.


• The energy value of food is measured as kilojoules or calories.

• One kilojoule (kJ) = 4.2 calories (cal). The energy value of meat depends mainly on the amount of fat it contains and on the cooking method used for example, frying with added oil will have a higher energy content.

To find out how beef and lamb compare with other foods see table below.

Energy value per 100g Food Kilojoules Calories

Salami 2060 492
Bacon, grilled 1350 323
Cheese, cheddar 1770 422
Chicken drumstick,skin-on, roasted 930 222
Lamb, lean, cooked meat 855 205
Beef, lean, cooked meat (average) 757 181
Lamb leg steak, grilled 728 174
Pork leg, lean, roasted 725 174
Beef rump steak, lean, grilled 663 159

Reference: The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 6th edition, 2003, ISBN 0-478-10833-8.



• Fat is a concentrated source of energy, a preferred source by the body over sugar and is very satiating per gram this means you can eat less but still feel satisfied.

• A gram of fat provides 37 kilojoules (kJ) or 9 calories.

• In comparison, a gram of protein provides 17kJ (4 calories) and a gram of carbohydrate provides 16kJ (4 calories)

• Foods high in fat are high energy or energy dense.

It is important to remember we need to eat  dietary fat as it provides essential fatty acids and is required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as other fat-soluble nutrients such as lycopene in tomatoes.

Fat in food is almost always a combination of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Although many people perceive animal fat to be totally saturated fat, this is not true. Beef and lamb fat includes polyunsaturated and saturated fat with a good proportion of monounsaturated fat.

Lean beef and lamb actually contribute 9% of healthy monounsaturated fat to the New Zealand diet (more than from olive oil) and only 8% of the saturated fat eaten by New Zealanders.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

• Polyunsaturated fat is made up of two main families: omega 6 and omega 3. Omega 3 is known to help people with heart problems and is important for brain function.

• The small amount of polyunsaturated fat in beef and lamb also contains omega 3, potentially making a significant contribution to the diets of those who eat little fish.

• Importantly for New Zealand, beef and lamb from grass-fed animals contain higher levels of omega 3 than meat from grain-fed animals.

• Conjugated Linolec Acid (CLA). The other polyunsaturated fat attracting attention is CLA. Studies on rats have shown a reduction in the incidence of cancer, and reduced tumour size when CLA is used as a treatment.

• CLA is only found in products from ruminant animals (meat and milk), and at higher levels when those animals have been raised on pasture.

• Research in New Zealand has shown beef and lamb could provide up to 15% of the required daily amount of CLA.

Reference: New Zealand Food: New Zealand People, 1999. Key results of the 1997 National Nutrition Survey.

Nutrition Facts on New Zealand Beef and Lamb

• Beef and lamb are nutrient dense foods. They provide good quality protein, the vital minerals iron and zinc, and the B group vitamins: B12, B1, B2, B3 and B6. They also contribute to the intake of selenium and vitamin D in our diets.

• Lean beef and lamb are two of the best sources of iron in the New Zealand diet. Iron is an essential mineral to good health. It has a diverse range of functions, including transport of oxygen in the blood, maintenance of the immune system and the production of energy.

• Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, even in countries like New Zealand where many health problems are related to eating too much rather than too little.

• Iron deficiency in babies and children can have significant and permanent effects on brain development, particularly in infants under 24 months of age.

• Trimmed of visible fat, lean beef and lamb contain about 10g or less of fat per 100g.


Information supplied by the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Bureau.


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Nutrition Facts on New Zealand Beef and Lamb

• Beef and lamb are nutrient dense foods.

• Lean beef and lamb are two of the best sources of iron in the New Zealand diet.

• Iron is an essential mineral to good health.

• Lean b
eef and lamb can be included in low fat and cholesterol-lowering diets.