Where’s the beef?

Back on the dinner plate where it should be.

A recently completed meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of several other studies) found that while there is a link between processed meats and risk of heart disease and diabetes, such a link is not found for unprocessed beef, pork and lamb.

Processed meat includes bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats. Unprocessed meat would be things like steak, chops, roasts, ribs and ground (with nothing added).

Researchers reviewed almost 1,600 studies from around the world that had examined possible connections between meat, heart disease and diabetes. Their meta-analysis did something that most individual studies do not do–it looked for differences in risk between processed and unprocessed meats.

They found that eating unprocessed meat was not associated with an increase in heart disease or diabetes, but eating as little as 1.8 ounces of processed meat a day (that’s a slice or two of deli meat or one hot dog) was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

I should point out that whenever you read about a certain lifestyle habit or behavior (dietary or otherwise) being associated with an increased risk a certain bad outcome, that does not mean that does not mean the behavior causes the bad outcome. One of the challenges of research is isolating the factor you are studying (in this case, meat in processed and unprocessed forms). You want to be as sure as you can be that some other factor isn’t really causing the increased rate of heart disease (or whatever bad outcome you’re looking at).

The researchers did of course look at other factors that could confuse their results, and found that other lifestyle factors were similar between those who ate processed vs. unprocessed meats (so, it’s not that the processed meat eaters were heavy smokers or drinkers). They also found that the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat is similar between the two categories of meat. What is different is the amount of sodium and nitrate preservatives, which is about four times higher in processed meats. Golly, you mean it could be all those chemicals in additives in the meat?

This study (published in the journal Circulation) caught my eye because I’m all over the steady trickle of emerging information that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are not (for most people) the one-way ticket to a heart attack that we’ve been led to believe. No, it turns out that ticket may well have been in the hands of all the lowfat, refined-carbohydrate Snackwells and crap we started ingesting in the 90’s (or was it earlier?).

As the Reuters article about the study put it:

Most dietary guidelines recommend eating less meat. Individual studies looking at relationships between eating meat and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have had mixed results.

Indeed. There was a lot of bad science and ignoring of contrary data back in the 1950s, when the whole “saturated fat is bad” bandwagon got a rollin’. So don’t be afraid of quality meat, preferably served alongside a big pile of veggies!

Once again, it comes down to this:

Unprocessed Food vs. Processed Food

Unprocessed, quality meat = Healthy

Processed meat = Not Healthy

Unprocessed whole grains = Healthy

Processed refined grains = Not Healthy

Fresh fruit with its natural fructose = Healthy

Processed high fructose corn syrup = Not Healthy