Since 2005 when the USDA rolled out a new food pyramid that the meat industry said reduced red meat’s place in a healthy diet to a mere “condiment,” the USDA has continued to discredit red meat as a healthful food. Then, an advisory committee developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for American, which are revamped every five years, said Americans should eat less red and processed meat in favor of a “diet higher in plant-based foods,” further inflaming the meat industry. Committee members even played the environment card and wrote that a red meat-based diet “has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use,” compared to plant-based and Mediterranean-style diets.
As red meat continues to be vilified, here is some of the meat industry’s pushback.
No science links red meat to cancer, stroke and heart attacks
This is the meat industry’s story and it is sticking to it, like Big Tobacco maintaining cigarette safety until the bitter end. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) calls the new guidelines “flawed” and “nonsensical,” and cites “inconsistencies” in the links between red meat and health problems in a 44-page rebuttal to the new guideline proposals.
Yet a quick glance at the medical literature shows nothing “nonsensical.” The first search term under “red meat” on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website is “cancer” where 1,065 research entries are found. The third search term is for “colorectal” cancer where there are 452 research entries. Other top search choices include “cardiovascular disease,” “heart,” “breast cancer,” “diabetes” and “red meat consumption and mortality.”
The first entries on the American Heart Association website under red meat are for articles called “Eat More Chicken, Fish And Beans,” “Processed Red Meat Linked To Higher Risk Of Heart Failure, Death,” and “Choosing Healthier Protein-Rich Foods Instead Of Red And Processed Meat.”
The American Cancer Society says “because of a wealth of studies linking colon cancer to diets high in red meats (beef, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (hot dogs, bologna, etc.), the Society encourages people to eat more vegetables and fish and less red and processed meats.”
Meat today is “leaner” than it used to be—so “better” for you
The new, 2015 guidelines absolve cholesterol from contributing to heart disease but blame saturated fat. So meat producers are trying to downplay how much saturated fat is in red meat. “Today’s beef supply is leaner than ever before with more than 30 cuts of beef recognized as lean by the government’s own standards,” boasts the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “The fat content of lean red meat has reduced substantially over the past few decades. A change in farming methods and butchery techniques now means that lean beef contains as little as 5% fat, lean pork 4% fat and lean lamb 8% fat,” agrees another pro red meat website. The North American Meat Institute even goes so far as to say that ham and processed meat can be “lean.”
There is another risk from meat fat which is especially prevalent during barbecue season: dripping fat creates carcinogens called “heterocyclic amines” and “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” say health experts. And even when red meat is lean, it may still be a heart risk. Increasingly two components found in meat—Trimethylamine N-Oxide and Neu5GC—are viewed as a key mechanism that drives the heart risks through causing inflammation in the artery wall.
Meat is an ideal protein because it is “nutrient dense”
Meat’s biggest virtue says the meat industry is it is “nutrient dense”—meaning rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Meat’s calories, sorry, density say promoters make it superior to other protein because it provides “satiety” that other food lack. Not only do you feel fuller for longer, the satiety factor can even make you lose weight in the same way that makes Snickers bars are a diet food. “For long-term weight loss, improvements in satiety levels—a measure of the state of fullness between meals—have been demonstrated in people who opt for protein-rich foods like lean red meat as part of a reduced calorie, moderate fat diet,” says a red meat website. And even if you don’t actually lose weight eating red meat, you don’t need to gain it says NAMI. “Processed meats, even consumed twice daily for a week, allow Americans to stay within daily calorie goals.”
Of course, other protein foods like nuts and legumes are also dense and provide satiety and calories and some sound like they have benefits beyond those of red meat. Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an “inverse association between nut consumption and the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in US male physicians.”
Martha Rosenberg is a nationally recognized investigative health reporter whose food and drug expose, “Born with a Junk Food Deficiency,” won an American Society of Journalists and Authors honorable mention. Rosenberg has appeared on CSPAN, National Public Radio and lectured at the medical school and university levels. Check her Facebook page.