Meat has become the preferred fare of choice for many. Moderation is no longer their credo as they say, science supports their dietary choices. In my last post, I pointed to the example of the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) piece by Paleo advocate, Nina Teicholz’s, 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
Hold on a second, though. What happened to holistic health? (That’s not to say that the WSJ presented valid arguments about dietary fat and cardiovascular disease.)
But as a registered dietitian who counsels individuals, if someone consults me about their blood cholesterol readings or their risk for heart disease, do I ignore their risk for an assortment of ills in a quest to only reduce their odds of having a heart attack or stroke?
Nutrition recommendations shouldn’t be aimed only at one disease. They should incorporate a person’s risk for all of society’s common maladies.
So how does meat rank on the illness quotient?
Lean, well-trimmed meat in portion-controlled servings is certainly a nutrient-rich option. But if you throw moderation out the window, you’ll also boost your risk for illnesses such as diabetes and certain cancers.
Eating an excess of saturated fat could increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, the kind that’s linked to insulin resistance. And when you consider that we’re in the midst of a diabetes epidemic, limiting saturated fat may certainly be a wise move.
(Here’s a little background on type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, insulin, which is necessary to regulate blood sugar readings, is not produced by the pancreas With type 2 diabetes, to begin with, there is plenty of insulin. But the sensitivity to insulin can diminish over time, for a variety of reasons, and lead to a condition called insulin resistance. As the resistance to insulin increases, blood sugar levels can climb and lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Eventually the body doesn’t produce enough insulin.)
A number of studies have shown a connection between saturated fat intake and insulin resistance. In the latest investigation, Spanish scientists looked at the effect of different types of dietary fat and blood sugar control in subjects with normal and high fasting triglycerides. They observed that a certain saturated fat, palmitic acid, found in many common foods such as meat and dairy products, lessened pancreatic function and insulin sensitivity following their consumption.
On the other hand, the predominate fatty acid found in olive oil, oleic acid, had the opposite effect by improving the release of insulin by the pancreas while at the same time, increasing insulin sensitivity.
It’s yet another example of the wisdom of the ages where meat, for a variety of reasons, was only a garnish rather than the centrepiece of a Mediterranean diet meal.
As for eating large portions of meat, even if they’re well-trimmed and lean, consider that this food is made up of a number of different components including the fat, protein and vitamins and minerals. Possibly due to the iron contained, excess red meat consumption is linked to a higher likelihood of developing colon cancer. In their recommendations for reducing colon cancer risk, the American Institute of Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week – roughly the equivalent of five or six small cooked portions of beef, lamb or pork – and avoiding processed meat.
How you cook your meat can also have an impact on disease risk, especially as you fire up your grill. Smart grilling practices, such as using herbs and spices in marinades and keeping flare-ups to a minimum, can make your fare much healthier.
Healthy eating these days may indeed seem like a confusing prospect. Keep in mind, though, that research that doesn’t create excitement or doesn’t contradict current thinking, also won’t make any headlines. But it’s also key to consider that nutrition research is ongoing and while the pendulum may swing in one direction or another, it does come back to the centre eventually.
Have you been increasing your meat portions due to all the talk about carbs? Please share in the comment section below.