Red Meat Study Ignores Real Health Problems of Americans

A new study that criticizes consumption of beef and pork products attempts to indict all red meat consumption by focusing on extremes in meat consumption rather than on what most Americans eat.

A new study that criticizes consumption of beef and pork products attempts to indict all red meat consumption by focusing on extremes in meat consumption rather than on what most Americans eat.

That’s the view of Ceci Snyder, registered dietitian at the National Pork Board, on the report, “Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People.”

Government data suggests actual daily red meat intake is 2.7 oz. for men and 1.5 oz. for women. The researchers used a comparison of 4.8 oz. of red meat per 2,000 calories to reach their conclusions.

“This level is far in excess of the average American diet and a level not recommended by the government’s MyPyramid,” Snyder explains. “Health professionals and consumers understand moderation and variety in all foods, including nutrient-dense meats.”

The American Meat Institute (AMI) says the new study in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine relies on notoriously unreliable self-reporting about eating habits.

This study relies on data collected using a food frequency questionnaire, which has been criticized because it asks people to remember how much they ate of different foods over the previous 12 months.

“Most people do not remember what they ate last week, so 12 months of diet history should be taken as questionable,” Snyder suggests.

The new health study also encourages participants to estimate or guess if they are not sure of their answers, rather than leaving a question blank.

Consumers who eat red meat in moderation don’t have to guess about the results.

“Meat is an excellent source of zinc, iron, B12 and other essential vitamins and minerals. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines say to eat a balanced diet that includes lean meat. In this way, you derive a wide array of nutrients from many different sources. It’s the best return on a nutritional investment you can get,” says AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges.

This study from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services also strays from some growing health concerns.

“Unfortunately, this study will divert attention away from the real problems of obesity, lack of physical activity and uneven health care access,” Snyder points out. “Meat has been shown to help with weight control. A study published this month in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when people ate high-quality protein foods for breakfast, including lean Canadian bacon, they had a greater sense of sustained fullness throughout the day compared to when more protein was eaten at lunch or dinner.

“The bottom line is that Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity for optimal health. Any study that attempts to single out one food – even with weak associations – as an increased cause of mortality should be viewed with skepticism,” she states.

The study was cited as the first large examination of the relationship between eating meat and overall mortality.

AMI points out that several other recently published papers reached far different conclusions about the role of meat in the diet, which were ignored by the new study’s authors:

--A paper published in the March 11 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegetarians had higher risk of colon cancer than meat eaters.

--A Harvard study of 725,000 people on red and processed meat and colon cancer – the largest of its kind published in 2004 – found no relationship between the two.

--A new study in this month’s peer-reviewed Journal of Nutrition conducted by the University of Illinois and Pennsylvania State University found that a moderate-protein diet can have a major positive effect on body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors such as cholesterol. Subjects on the moderate-protein diet reported less interest in snacks or desserts and reduced food cravings.

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