When it comes to food, everyone has an opinion and each of us have many questions. Take beef for instance. It seems you either eat it or you don’t. And if you choose not to, one concern for avoiding it could be the fear of hormones in beef.  How do we know beef is safe to eat and why are hormones used anyway?

The “beef” over eating meat

The sensationalism surrounding beef being filled with hormones is just that – an over exaggeration.  It’s important to understand all living things – plants, animals, and people – produce hormones. Hormones are special chemical messengers necessary for controlling most major body functions from hunger to reproduction. The hormones used in beef production are only those that are also naturally produced by cattle. They include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as synthetic versions of them.

Why are hormones used?

The simple answer why cattle are implanted with hormones is to help the cattle grow faster. These growth-promoting hormone pellets, about the size of an Advil tablet, contain a small amount of hormones and are put under the skin on the backside of the ear – cattle ears are never used in food production, thus they do not end up in the food we eat.

If you’re worried about the amount of hormones in these pellets, don’t be. The amount is a fraction of the natural production of mature bulls or heifers. A 1,300 pound steer is implanted with 30 milligrams of estrogen to last 150 days and that’s it. Compare this to the amount of ingested hormones a woman on birth control pills takes for months or years. Also, hormones don’t build-up in the cow’s system so there is no residue from the pellets in your meat.

These hormones not only help the animal gain weight faster, but they also have less of an impact on the environment than a non-treated animal. This means less time, food, and water are used to finish the animal making them less expensive to produce, a cost-savings passed on to us as consumers.  Research from Iowa State University found that hormone implants have no effect on beef quality or safety.

Photo Taken by Cheryl Mussatto

Hormone levels in beef compared to other foods

So will you ingest hormones eating beef? Yes.  And yes, you will also be ingesting hormones when you eat broccoli, kale and many other nutritious foods.  However, beef gets a bad rap for the amount of hormones they contain, yet when compared to other foods’ hormonal levels, beef is far down on the list.  To put the hormone levels of beef into perspective, here is a look at the level of steroids in an eight-ounce serving of common foods, listed in nanograms, (which is one-billionth of a gram):

  • Tofu – 113,500,000
  • Pinto beans – 900,000
  • White bread – 300,000
  • Eggs – 555
  • Milk – 32
  • Beef (implanted steer) – 7
  • Beef (nonimplanted steer) – 5

As you can see, there are plenty of other foods with much higher levels of hormones than beef.

Is beef a nutritious and safe food?

Yes, beef is nutritious and a safe food for all of us to consume. According to the Dietary Guidelines, beef is an important source of many nutrients which include protein, selenium, choline, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and the B vitamins of niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and riboflavin.

We should place our focus on the health benefits of lean beef instead of fussing over the amount of hormones in it. Beef is one of our best sources of protein – necessary to prevent muscle loss with aging, manage weight control, and improve metabolic functioning.  Beef is also a rich source of the mineral iron, essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the body’s tissues.

Ranchers and farmers, who produce beef like my father did, are dedicated to feeding families a healthy and safe product. Whether you choose to eat beef or not is a personal decision.  All of us make various food choices every day and have the right to decide what foods, including beef, we want on our dinner plate. If beef fits your nutritional needs, personal preference and budget, it is one of the safest and nutritious foods you can enjoy with no worries over hormones.

Categories: Health


Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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