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What is biltong and should you eat it

    What is Biltong and should you eat it?

Biltong is a dry cured meat, most commonly beef, hailing initially from South Africa but now increasingly available in the UK. Most supermarkets now stock a version of biltong as we see a steep incline in the amount of protein based food products.

Some of these products are, to keep it in the parlance of our times, a bit dodgy. One example of this is ‘protein’ cereal. Usually a basic processed cereal with added gluten (really!). So is biltong all it’s cracked up to be?

Let’s take a look.

    How is it made?

Traditionally biltong is made from silverside beef but other cuts are sometimes used and even other meats including ostrich, venison and even tuna.

Stemming back from a time when curing and dehydrating meat was necessary for storage most modern manufacturers still use the same methods.

Usually the meat is cut into thin strips where it is then brined in vinegar and salt and herbs or spices may be added for flavour. Pepper, paprika and chilli being among the most common.

Once this is complete the biltong is left in a warm, dry place for a week or so to dehydrate it. Some methods may vary. The difference between biltong and jerky is that taste. Biltong has a much more natural flavour that usually reflects the quality of the meat used.

    What are the benefits?

Because it is dehydrated much of the fats are evaporated leaving you with a much more protein dense food. Biltong is often cited to contain 50% protein but some brands contain as much as 60%!

This is great news for athletes with a high protein demand. It is a great news for me, as I am lactose intolerant and often struggle to get adequate protein from food alone.

Here is the typical nutritional breakdown of 100g of biltong (source selfnutritiondata.com):

  •     Calories 288
  •     Total Fat 4g
  •     Saturated Fat 2.1g
  •     Cholesterol 0mg
  •     Sodium 3mg
  •     Potassium 0mg
  •     Carbohydrates 3.5g
  •     Protein 55.4g

In addition to this it is also a great source of iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B12 which are all common deficiencies, particularly in highly active individuals and those practice a plant based lifestyle.

    Is there a downside?

Obviously, you won’t eat biltong if you are a vegetarian or vegan and the texture can be quite tough which isn’t to everyone’s liking. Nutritionally it is a processed meat and does contain nitrates which we are often told is a carcinogen. However, the nitrate point is a moot one when you look at the overall nutritional benefits.

Where red meat is concerned the data is quite clear (1) that populations with the highest consumption of poor quality processed meats also generally have the highest alcohol consumption, smoke heavily, eat the fewest vegetables and perform the least amount of exercise.

So, if you like biltong, are active and eat plenty of vegetables the risk of it raising your chances of developing cancer are very slim.

    Is it good for sports?

If you’re not sure what your protein requirements are then read this blog which I wrote for Body Type Nutrition covers protein needs for athletes in detail. The answer, however, is yes – biltong is great for sportsmen.

Being that the more exercise a person performs the greater their need for protein biltong is a very safe and convenient addition to any sports nutrition program.

Being cured it keeps very well and can be transported in your kit bag and can be carried almost anywhere. You can even take it with you on long bike rides. Think about that for a second. If you are on a long bike tour, or maybe an ironman competitor, you will be in the saddle for hours and although you do need    to replenish your glycogen reserves with carbohydrates wouldn’t it be great to get in some satiating protein too? If only to break up the monotony and    sickliness of all those gels.

If you are a larger athlete and have a high protein target to hit a bag of biltong as a snack can definitely help you to get to that number and may even remove the need for protein shakes, thus ensuring that all your protein comes from food.

    What about weight loss?

Well, if losing body fat is important for you then you obviously need to be in an energy deficit. But, you do need protein, with of 1.5 g/kg body weight now being regarded as the minimum amount (2) to prevent the breakdown of muscle and support general health.

Protein is also more satiating than carbs and fats which means you can, to some extent, create an ‘accidental’ deficit simply by filling up on more protein foods. This means that the odd biltong snack may, help to create some automatic weight loss.

    Final thoughts

So, in short biltong is safe and healthy in moderation. It’s not a necessary addition to a healthy diet but is certainly useful and a great snack if you like the taste.

As with all food products there are always variabilities in quality and my advice would be to find a provider that uses ethically sourced meat, ideally from local cattle farms. The added flavours are a personal choice but I like mine spicy.

Beefit are a new company who produce a great tasting biltong product, it’s moist and has a lovely spicy flavour.

You can buy it in bulk from Amazon.co.uk: Click here

I would make it a regular addition to lunch boxes, sports bags and picnic baskets, just be prepared for constant pestering if you are eating in front of a dog.

    References:

    1. Binnie et al. “Red meats: Time for a paradigm shift in dietary advice”. Meat Science 98 (2014) 445–451

    2. Pencharz, Elango and Wolfe. “Recent developments in understanding protein needs – How much and what kind should we eat?”. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab.    41: 577–580 (2016) dx.doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2015-0549


Troy Martin is a Functional Fitness & Nutrition Coach

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Posted: 17 August, 2016