Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Red Meat 'Guilty by Association'

After having so many people tell me that they’ve given up red meat because of their cholesterol levels or because they couldn’t lose weight, I wanted to say something about it.  Before I do, though, I first want to preface this with a couple of points:

1. If you’ve given up eating red meat (or any meat or animal products for that matter), for ethical, environmental, or another reason non-diet related, then this information wouldn’t apply.

2. When I talk about eating meat/fish, ideally it’s grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild caught; free from added anything, including hormones, antibiotics, pesticide from soy or corn feed–which are also genetically modified.  This also implies that the animals have been raised humanely.

In an article written by Gary Taubes that was published in the Journal Science back in 2001, he raised the complex nature of fat in the diet and made these points:

  • while saturated fats raise LDL-C (which is plaque building and associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease), they also raise HDL-C (which is good);
  • some saturated fats, like stearic acid, found in chocolate are considered neutral because they raise HDL-C and do little or nothing to LDL-C; (a more recent review of stearic acid reported that it lowered LDL-C and was neutral with respect to HDL-C);
  • monounsaturated fats are beneficial because they raise HDL-C and lower LDL-C;
  • trans fats are bad because they raise LDL and lower HDL

He then goes on to show how this complexity can be applied to a select cut, porterhouse steak with a half-centimeter layer of fat (nutritional info can be found on the USDA website here).  After broiling this piece of meat, it reduces to almost equal portions of fat and protein.

  • 51% of the fat is monounsaturated (90% of this is oleic acid - the same healthy fat found in olive oil);
  • 45% of the fat is saturated, but 1/3 of that is stearic acid (the same fat found in chocolate, which is harmless);
  •  the remaining 4% is polyunsaturated fat, which improves cholesterol levels

This means that over 70% of the fat in this steak will improve cholesterol levels.   And, if this study was performed on a feedlot piece of meat, then the beneficial, omega-3 fatty acid profile may be understated compared to beef from a grass fed cow.  Think about what a porterhouse steak meal would look like if you added potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta to it.  Now, you’ve added foods that will raise your insulin and promote fat storage.   Is it possible that this steak is guilty by association?    Do you think that same piece of meat would be involved in fat storage if it were served with a plate filled with non-starchy vegetables and a fresh salad?  I don’t. 

Does this mean that I’m telling you to stock your freezer with beef and eat burgers everyday?  No.  For myself, I actually eat meat only occasionally, but I do it without fear.  But having this information will allow you to make informed decisions if you choose to reduce your animal product consumption, which I do think most of us should do, or decide to remove it altogether from your diet.  

Image courtesy of Suat Eman

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