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About 2.6 million years ago, our diet expanded with the incorporation of meat, making us omnivorous and giving us certain advantages. Many people love meat, beef in particular, but is it healthy? Let’s examine diverse facts, beef misconceptions, and beef recommendations to determine if you should eat beef regularly.

Dietary Recommendations

Despite the prevalent love for red meat, beef recommendations urge us to avoid consuming it regularly. But are these recommendations based on facts? This is what dietary guidelines say:

  • The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) current recommendations 2015–2020 suggest that you should limit red meat consumption to 1 to 2 servings per week, which is 6 ounces or less per week. And if you have heart disease or high cholesterol, the recommendation is to limit it to 3 ounces per week or less. 
  • USDA & HHS state that “evidence has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of meats, as well as processed meats and processed poultry, are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.”
  • The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recommend limiting red meat consumption to moderate amounts and consuming very little processed meat.
  • The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” and processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans.

Meat Recommendations Origins

The above recommendations have their origins in the late 1950s based on the lipid hypothesis. The main proponent of the lipid hypothesis was Norman Jolliffe, an overweight diabetic doctor confined to a wheelchair. He was the Director of the Nutrition Bureau of the New York Health Department and believed that red meat intake increases the risk of cholesterol and CVD due to its medium- and long-chain saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and cholesterol content.

In 1957, Dr. Jolliffe’s conducted a study where he split businessmen, ages 40 to 59, into two groups. Some were given the “Prudent Diet” which had corn oil and margarine instead of butter, cold breakfast cereals instead of eggs, and chicken and fish instead of beef. The other group ate eggs for breakfast and had meat three times a day. The experiment was published in 1966 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

They reported that those on the Prudent Diet had average serum cholesterol of 220, compared to 250 in the meat group. Even though there were eight deaths from heart disease among the Prudent Diet group and none from the meat group, conclusions reflected the higher cholesterol results related to those who ate red meat and recommended limiting red meat consumption. Dr. Jolliffe died in 1961 from a vascular thrombosis but obituaries listed “complications from diabetes” as his cause of death.

Despite decades of propaganda against meat, saturated fat, and animal products, there is no concrete causal evidence showing their deleterious effects. The lipid hypothesis is a beef misconception that you’ll learn more about when looking at recent research.

Facts – Dietary Trends

It’s important to look at some beef facts and dietary changes that have been taking place over the years to identify trends and their impact on our health.

We are consuming less of the following foods:

  • Beef consumption has been up and down over the years. In comparison to the early 1900s, it has increased by 46%. However, beef has fallen by more than a third since 1970. In 2007, we consumed 28.1 billion pounds. In 2014, beef consumption decreased to 24.7 billion pounds. In 2019, we consumed 27.3 billion pounds.
  • Whole milk consumption has declined by almost 50% since 1970.
  • Butter/ lard/ tallow consumption has plummeted from 30 pounds per person yearly to just under 10.
  • Consumption of eggs, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables has declined.

We are consuming more of the following foods:

  • Chicken has topped beef consumption. Chicken consumption has more than doubled since 1970. In 2014, Americans ate an average of 47.9 pounds of chicken a year, versus 39.4 pounds of beef. In 2018, we consumed 22.3 trillion tonnes of poultry.
  • Vegetable oil consumption, including hydrogenated fats, soybean, corn, and canola oils, has increased 437% – we now consume 59 pounds per person yearly.
  • Low-fat/fat-free milk consumption has doubled.
  • Grain consumption has increased by 29% since 1970 – mostly in the form of bread and baked goods, an equivalent to 122 pounds a year.
  • Sugar consumption (sugar and corn-derived sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup) has increased ridiculously. In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year, 18 pounds in 1800, and 90 pounds in 1900. It is calculated that in 2009, we consumed 180 pounds of sugar! – Those figures don’t include noncaloric sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose, and stevia.

Misconceptions & Recent Research

Just like fat was demonized for decades, red meat has had a bad rap as well. Evidence of an association between unprocessed red meat intake and CVD is confounded and inconsistent. We can’t make causal inferences between unprocessed red meat and adverse health events. If unprocessed red meat was a causal factor in raising the risk for health conditions, more meat-eaters would be sick. Simultaneously, there wouldn’t be societies that consume high levels of saturated fat and red meat with a low incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Non-pharma-sponsored research and recent studies tell a different story. Let’s look at some beef facts:

  • Dr. George Mann studied 1,500 Masai. These cattle-herding people from Africa have a diet rich in red meat, blood, milk, and buttermilk. He found no cardiovascular disease and very low levels of cholesterol in their blood despite their diet. He called the lipid hypothesis “the greatest scam in the history of medicine” that has been used to convince millions that they are sick and need drugs with serious side effects.
  • Current research now shows that the role of saturated fats (SFA) in causing cardiovascular disease (CV) has been much exaggerated. Until the 1980s it was believed that a high intake of SFA causes a raised total cholesterol leading to CV. Since the 1990s, evidence has steadily accumulated demonstrating that SFA plays a relatively minor role in CV. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that trans fats, refined carbs, and sugar have a stronger association with the risk of CV.
  • The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study followed 134,297 individuals enrolled from 21 low-, middle-, and high-income countries for 9.5 years. The results showed that higher unprocessed red meat intake (≥250 g/wk vs. <50 g/wk) was not significantly associated with mortality or major CVD. Simultaneously, there were no associations between poultry intake and health outcomes. Yet, higher processed meat intake was associated with a higher risk of mortality and CVD.
  • The Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium showed similar results. Their meta-analysis results from 23 cohort studies with 1.4 million participants reported that there is low certainty of evidence that decreasing unprocessed red meat intake lowers the risk for major cardiovascular outcomes (cardiovascular disease, stroke, and myocardial infarction) and type 2 diabetes.
  • Additionally, NutriRECS results from 17 cohorts with 2.2 million participants showed that there is no significant evidence that decreasing unprocessed red meat intake results in a reduction of overall lifetime cancer mortality (colorectal, gastric, pancreatic, endometrial, hepatic, intestinal, oral, ovarian, or prostate cancer).
  • Numerous studies show that SFA (saturated fatty acidsfound in butter, cheese, fatty meat, meat, whole milk), MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids – found in olive oil, avocados, nuts), and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids – found in salmon, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds) intake are not associated with a risk of cardiovascular disease. However, higher TFA (trans fatty acids – found in shortening, margarine, and fried, “fast” packaged, or processed foods) intake is associated with a greater risk of CVDs.

The Current State of Affairs

Unfortunately, we are now sicker and heavier than ever. The statistics are worrisome:

  • According to the DCD, the obesity rate went from 30% in 1999 to 42% in 2020. What’s even more worrisome is that 20% of our children (people under age 18) are obese. Carrying excess weight increases your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
  • 66% of all adults use prescription drugs. The common chronic conditions are diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, and cancer.
  • In 1893, there were fewer than 3 people with diabetes per 100,000. Today, diabetes strikes almost 8,000 out of every 100,000 people. Those with diabetes fill about 4 times as many prescriptions as the general population. 

The consensus that red meat is unhealthy is finally changing. Beef facts are changing the misconceptions related to beef that have inundated our society. Numerous factors are contributing to illness instead of red meat. Beef and animal fats have been part of our diet for centuries, vegetable oils, particularly hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods have not!

Now that you know the most prevalent beef misconceptions and facts, you can go ahead and enjoy your favorite beef cuts. Do not be afraid to eat saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, fatty meat, and whole milk either. They are great for your health. Learn the beef recommendations for different life stages andcheck out New York Beef Council for all beef-related content.

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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