What’s the potential health impact of going whole hog on meat?

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?

Absolutely not.

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.

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Have you been increasing your meat portions due to all the talk about carbs? 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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9 Comments on “What’s the potential health impact of going whole hog on meat?”

  1. Kathy
    May 14, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    Rosie, I thought Pork was considered a white meat…not a red meat as suggested here?

    • May 14, 2014 at 8:43 am #

      Yes, Kathy, I have seen it promoted as a white meat but according to the American Institute of Cancer Research, they include pork as red meat. This statement is directly from this group.

  2. Vini
    May 14, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    Dietary fads come and go, research tells us one thing today, another tomorrow…….so I always say: everything in moderation.

    • May 14, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Vini, while moderation may seem to many to be wishy washy, science actually shows it to be a very smart strategy!

  3. Kelli
    May 14, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    You nailed it Rosie! Keep up the good work.

    • May 14, 2014 at 8:43 am #

      Thanks for the feedback, Kelli! It is very much appreciated!

  4. Paulette
    May 14, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Very well written article Rosie. My favourite quote is “Keep in mind, though, that research that doesn’t create excitement or doesn’t contradict current thinking, also won’t make any headlines. ” Science is about acquiring knowledge, formulating an idea & testing that idea and learning more in the process. Unfortunately preliminary findings are often presented as absolute proof. Inevitably continued study will present more information some of which is contradictory to the earlier thought.- Aha! proof positive that earlier thought was SO wrong! – I give you the recent posts about chocolate & red wine, not having the health saving properties that had been previously published. Sigh in the battle of headline makers, factual reporting is a frequent casualty. Glad to see thoughtful articles such as this to counteract the pendulum swings of the headline seeking media

  5. May 14, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Thanks for your feedback and comments. Paulette! They’ve very much appreciated. If more people had your understanding of the scientific process, countering all this nutrition misinformation would be easier! As for headline writers, I have fallen victim to overly enthusiastic ones a few times. And to say I have been mortified is an understatement.

    I have to say, though, that having read some of the methods of the chocolate and red wine study, makes me wonder about its conclusions. That being said, they, alone, won’t promote health.

  6. kathy
    August 8, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Have you actually read the Teicholz book? It is a damning indictment of the scientific methods and research that led to public policy wrongly but dogmatically condemning saturated fat. The Spanish research you cite must be considered against the other items in the diet, like carbs, that also drive glucose response. Your comment here and in the Globe response to Wente don’t deal with the substance of what Teicholz says which is that the guidelines governing food policy are suspect and have created an absolute fiasco in terms of public health. The evidence is all around us.

    It is TIME to toss the guidelines as Drs. Sarah Hallberg and Tim Noakes are doing, rather spectacularly, to right the damage of the last 65 years. Health Canada is still allowing trans fats in restaurant meals and you think Nina Teicholz is a problem? Sick and marginalized people are being directed by the medical establishment and all manner of NGOs to follow obeseogenic guidelines, Canada’s own food rules, which are guaranteed to make them more ill. Given the upward trends in heart disease, obesity and cancer, it might be better if we all looked again at how we got here.

    And about Gary Taube, if he had any problem with Nina’s use of the same material, he’d be saying so. His material is older and more dated. She’s done a great deal of research and her book is winning major international acclaim, including from Kirkus Review and the Economist.

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