Is meat the new dietary hero?

What’s the real story here?

This weekend marks the return of grilling season. So what’s on your menu? You’re not alone if you now think loading up your grill with meat is a smart nutritional move.  Major media outlets have been profiling various opinions on the latest scientific research on saturated fat.

Check out  the Wall Street Journal’s essay,  The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease – Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade

What I think is dubious is the writer’s take on the research surrounding saturated fat and diet.  After reading Nina Teicholz’s opinion, I immediately googled her name and Paleo, as it sounded to me that she was a fervent follower of this eating style. Not surprisingly, I found she is among those who shun carbs and equates them all as equal. Whole grains and legumes, such as chick peas and lentils, are frowned upon in the same way as  sugar-laden soft drinks.

It was her maligning of Ancel Keys, the scientist who first discovered the health-promoting and disease-fighting benefits of the Mediterranean diet that clued me in.  It actually made me think that she was writing science fiction rather than science.

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, sums the WSJ article perfectly with a piece entitled,   Today’s WSJ Article on Saturated Fat and Heart Disease is Nonsense
All the fuss about the type of fat we consume came to a head as a result of a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It was a meta-analysis – a review of previously conducted studies-  which looked at our fat intake and its link to the risk of heart disease.

Sounds like good science, doesn’t it?

Not so fast, though. Here’s the thing: this type of study can select the research to include based on the findings of the investigations. In other words, you can choose the research which will support your theories.  It’s not exactly the kind of research  which recommendations should be based on.

Even then, the results of this research have been not been accurately reported yet articles like this are getting plenty of media coverage.

In addition, when you look at one particular nutrient in isolation, you don’t get a clear picture. So for example, in this study, those who consumed less saturated fat did not have a reduced risk of heart disease. But the investigation did not look into what the subjects ate instead.  Make no mistake about it: if you eat less saturated fat (less in the way of fat from meat and dairy products, for example), and fill that void with refined carbohydrates and sugar, you’re not taking steps to improve your health.  Giving up your big slab of steak and going for sugar-laden soft drinks, white bread or cookies and the like does not make you a healthier eater.

Filling the gap left by eating smaller portions of meat and high-fat dairy and  less saturated fat with assorted plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and healthy oils is a different story altogether. It’s an eating style, as demonstrated by the research on the Mediterranean diet,  linked to all round good health –  not just a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It offers an arsenal of weaponry against a wide variety of ills including certain cancers, diabetes and cognitive decline.

Up next: What are the potential consequences to your health of loading up on meat?

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Have you heard about this study? What’s your take and has it affected what you think you should be eating? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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