In his 1973 sci-fi comedy, “Sleeper,” Woody Allen plays Miles Monroe, a health food storeowner from the 1970s who was cryogenically preserved in tin foil and thawed out in the year 2174. I remember one of the laughs in that movie in particular. It's when Monroe learns that beef is considered a health food in the 22nd century.

The line got laughs for its absurdity, because in the 1970s beef's image was the antithesis of healthy. In fact, beef at that time was on the leading edge of a 25-year decline in demand that would see its market share plummet.

Allen's humorous prognostication has turned out to be correct, however, but it became reality within 30 years, not 2,000 years, as his movie postulated.

An Immunity Builder And A Tasty Multivitamin

Need proof? Consider this: Though Americans spend almost $1.7 billion annually on vitamins and health supplements, ABC News reports that nutrition experts say much of what the body needs to fight disease and infection is available in foods.

And as we enter the cold and flu season, what food is listed first on the list of the top-five foods to give the human body its best shot at building immunity? It's beef, according to the latest issue of Prevention magazine. While pointing out that an all-around healthy diet is crucial, nutritionist Heidi Skolnic told Good Morning America on Oct. 14, that beef, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tea and yogurt should be eaten every day to boost immunity.

“We should eat these daily, as often as we can, especially in this weather,” she said.

Moderation, she added, is the key. “People should still not be eating a 24-ounce porterhouse on a daily basis,” Skolnik said. “A three-ounce portion of beef — and importantly very lean beef that is low in fat — is an important source of zinc.”

Unmentioned by Skolnik, but heralded in literally thousands of magazine and newspaper articles and advertisements the past few years, is the fact that beef is also a tremendous source of other essential nutrients.

Consider that just a 3-oz. serving of lean ground beef contributes less than 10% of calories to a 2,000-calorie diet. Yet, it provides of the recommended daily requirement: protein — 50%, zinc — 39%, B12 — 37%, selenium — 24%, phosphorus — 20%, niacin — 18%, B6 — 16%, iron — 14% and riboflavin — 12%.

The fact is, a sizeable chunk of the credit for resurrecting beef's image among consumers and the health community goes to the beef checkoff. It's the result of millions of checkoff dollars spent in underwriting research that detailed and elucidated beef's nutritional profile, as well as millions of checkoff dollars spent to get that message out to consumers and human health experts.

It's true, as they say, that “hindsight is 20/20,” but folks first have to open their eyes to benefit from that perspective. An awful lot of folks have forgotten just how much the checkoff has accomplished the past 15 years in changing beef's image.

Mild Iron Deficiency Common

Beef, a great source of dietary iron, should have a big role to play in a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) push to cut incidence of mild iron deficiency in U.S. toddlers, teenage girls and women of childbearing age. The CDC says such mild iron deficiency is common in these groups.

Reuters reports the agency's goal is to reduce iron deficiency levels to 5% for 1- to 2-year-old toddlers, 1% for pre-school children and 7% for females aged 12 to 49 years.

“One of the national health objectives for 2010 is to reduce iron deficiency in these vulnerable populations by 3 to 4 percentage points,” says Anne Looker, CDC senior research epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, MD.

Reuters reports that the estimated prevalence of iron deficiency was greatest among 1- to 2-year-old toddlers (7%) and 12- to 49-year-old women (9%-16%).

Among minority women aged 12 to 49, the prevalence was two times higher than the 2010 national goals (19%-22%).
Joe Roybal