Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dietitians' Recommendations: Progress, but Cognitive Dissonance

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has officially acknowledged well-founded scientific findings(1).  Specifically,

  • Saturated fat is fine.
  • Cholesterol is fine.
  • Red meat has important nutrients, such as protein and iron. They call red meat an "important source of shortfall nutrients, such as iron." They add, "The Academy did not interpret that recommendation as impugning the healthfulness of red meat or its place in recommended meal patterns as a protein..."

Hooray! The fifty pounds of angus beef in my freezer has their blessing! They even called it healthful!

But wait--don't eat too much of it: " meat consumption [at an average of 20 ounces per week] exceeds [our] recommendations for most subgroups and...a greater share of recommended protein consumption should be met by seafood, legumes and nuts."

Let's break this down: red meat is entirely, or almost entirely, fat and protein. If protein is good, and saturated and monounsaturated fat (the two main types of fat in beef, for instance) are good, where's the problem? They don't say, so let's take a look at a few nutrients in some common types of red meat, fish, legumes and nuts.

protein (g)carbs (g)iron (%DV)calories
ground beef, 75% lean, pan fried26015277
pinto beans (cooked)93115162
*per 100-gram serving

The beef, almonds and salmon score well for protein, but pinto beans are over three-quarters carbohydrate, which (except fiber) breaks down into sugar in the body. It's hard to see how such a starchy food that's low in protein (it's only 20% protein) is considered a good protein source. Almonds are three-quarters fat and only 13% protein--hence the high calorie level. Salmon is three-quarters protein and the 75% lean ground beef is 41% protein.

If you replace 200 grams of red meat (7 ounces, or 2 medium-sized burgers) with 100 grams of almonds and 100 grams of pinto beans, you'll get 21 fewer grams of protein, 50 more grams of carbohydrate, and 205 more calories.

Since the Academy mentioned iron as a shortfall nutrient, let's look at iron levels in these foods. Everything except salmon has a good deal of iron in it, but the trouble with nuts and beans is that they contain phytate, which inhibits your absorption of various minerals including iron. In other words, much of that wonderful iron from nuts and beans will go down the toilet undigested. Iron absorption from various beans is around 1% to 2%; same for nuts. If you replace a couple of hamburgers with an equal weight of beans and nuts or even salmon, you'll be reducing significantly reducing your iron intake.

It's time official agencies acknowledged that red meat is healthy. Meantime, it means more burgers for me.

Source: (1) "Academy Comments re: the DGAC Scientific Report,"  Pepin Andrew Tuma, May 8, 2015


Larcana said...

Iron has to be in meat form to be well least for most people. When i was a fat Vegan I was anemic. I ate all the iron containing foods allowed. I gave that up and ate red meat and within a month my anemia went away. I know it's just my response but it happened to my sister, too. My Mom eats no meat and is anemic. She refuses to eat meat to fix the problem and likely will go the same path as my Dad...dying with heart failure. Sadly.

Lori Miller said...

After reading your comment from the last post, I started to double down on my iron supplement, and felt a lot better--my heart felt like it was working normally. Had a grass-fed burger and felt wonderful, too.

Sorry to hear about your parents. Maybe vegetarianism is one reason heart disease is so common in India.

Lowcarb team member said...

I may not win 100% of fans here, and how anyone chooses to eat is a personal choice, but I do think meat should be included within our menu plans along with fish too.

Vegetables form an important part of my menu plans too as does dairy.

To me the most important thing that needs to be greatly reduced in our diets/ menu's are the processed foods.

We still have a way to go with the recommendations ...

All the best Jan

Lori Miller said...

I totally agree, Jan--meat, vegetables and fish all have important nutrients.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The recommendation of these poor, not to mention high-carb,non-animal sources of protein is bewildering. Eating animals is what's gotten us here as a species. Yo.

Still, thankful for small steps in the right direction. I suspect reversing the 1980 Guidelines that started it all will be like turning around a cruise ship in a harbor - many many many tiny turns.

Lori Miller said...

If they don't turn the ship around, it will run into an iceburg called type 2 diabetes expenses.