The Meat Myth: Solved
for Tri-State Livestock News
In today’s media-based world, it seems new research and studies are constantly being released in a never-ending cycle of proving, disproving and proving again the same theories. One hot topic in particular seems to be discussion of the health effects of red meat consumption.
The New York Times reports recent years have seen encouragement from public health official for Americans to limit their consumption of red and processed meats. The Times said a diet heavy in these products has been reported to be linked to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
A new study, however, was released about a month ago by a team of international researchers claiming the former research is not founded on strong scientific evidence. After examining 61 articles reported on 55 populations with more than 4 million participants, the team of researchers found the links connecting the consumption of red meat to disease and death to be small. The researchers even described the quality of evidence as being “low to very low.”
The team said while links are present, they can often be found only in studies conducted over large groups of people. The researchers concluded “an individual cannot conclude that he or she will be better off eating red meat.”
Megan Erickson, registered dietitian and nutrition field specialist at South Dakota State University Extension, sides with this new study, describing red meat as a nutrition powerhouse.
“Not only is red meat an excellent source of protein, but it also provides many other key nutrients that are essential to our overall health,” she added.
People of any age can benefit from adding red meat to their plate, Erickson said. She encourages the consumption of red meat and exercise to improve overall body function and stimulate muscle development.
While the recommended serving size of red meat does vary based on age, gender and activity level of each individual, Erickson describes a daily serving of red meat is a great way to achieve protein requirements.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid recommends a consumption of two or three servings of protein-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, eggs, beans or nuts per day. Within each serving, protein should be consumed in a size of two to three ounces, which is generally about the size of a deck of cards.
In regard to beef specifically, a protein Erickson said is one of the most popular red meats, one serving provides the consumer with 25 grams of protein and 10 other essential nutrients.
“Red meat is very nutrient dense,” she explains. “Nutrients in food can help nourish the body and satisfy our dietary needs.”
Despite the dangers of misinformation being spread to consumers, Erickson said she believes these faulty studies stem from good intentions.
“People want cures or ways to prevent diseases,” she said, “but it’s unrealistic to take a single food like red meat and say that it causes cancer or other diseases.”
Erickson said there is no single food that either causes or cures cancer. Cancer is what Erickson describes as a complex disease based on a number of external factors such as lifestyle choices and environment rather than one food group.
In fact, she said there is actually an abundance of research proving a combination of physical activity and a well-balanced diet play a large role in promoting good health.
The best method of filtering information in regard to nutrition is to search for evidence-based research and only putting value in studies done by reliable sources, Erickson added. She said pieces published by universities or extension services are great sources of information for those interested in learning more about nutrition. If an individual is ever unsure of what they should or should not be including in their diet, Erickson said they reach out to professionals such as extension field specialists to help answer those questions.
Even as Erickson encourages agricultural producers to continue advocating for the consumption of their products, she believes it is up to consumers to start actively searching for accurate information about the food they are purchasing and putting on their plates.
“Consumers need to get back to the roots of where their food comes from,” she added.
At the end of the day, Erickson’s biggest piece of advice is to emphasize a balanced, well-rounded diet. She said building a nutrition plan involving protein sources such as red meat is more beneficial than singling out a specific food group.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News