Surprise?! Saturated Fat May Not Be As Bad As We Were Led to Believe

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nina Teicholz, former near vegetarian/flexitarian, investigative journalist and author of a new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet".

Nina Teicholz, former near vegetarian/flexitarian, investigative journalist and author of a new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”.

Ever question whether low saturated fat diets are all they are cracked up to be? From followers of Paleo to South Beach to Atkins types of diets, there are many who believe that restrictive low saturated fat diets are unnecessary and may even have unintended consequences. Nina Teicholz, former near vegetarian/flexitarian, investigative journalist and author of a new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” is one of those believers. We recently sat down with Nina to provide thoughts about the fat debate.

Why did you decide to write “The Big Fat Surprise”?

I had started to write a book about trans fats and quickly realized that there was a far larger mystery about dietary fats in general—which is the element in diet that American authorities have obsessed about most. Almost none of our commonly held beliefs about fat seemed to be true, and this appeared to be an almost unbelievable story. At the same time, I was writing a small restaurant review column for a paper that couldn’t afford to pay for meals, so I had to eat whatever the chef decided to send out to me. At the time, I was nearly a vegetarian and like so many Americans, on a low-fat diet. My inclination would have been to order stir-fry vegetables and a chicken breast, but I found that chefs weren’t interested in sending out those foods. Instead, they wanted to send me red meat, foie gras, pate, cream sauces—foods that I had rarely, if ever, eaten. And I found them to be rich, earthy and delicious. Plus, I lost the stubborn 10 pounds that I’d been fighting for many years, and my doctor told me that my cholesterol levels were fine. So there was a mystery, and as a journalist, I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

What process did you undergo to develop the conclusions and recommendations in the book?

I researched the science of nutrition for nearly a decade. It was important to me to go back to the original studies rather than rely upon summary review papers, because erroneous summaries of those early studies have been passed along over the years uncritically. These studies needed to be reexamined. By reading the criticisms of the scientists themselves, I learned how to dissect scientific studies and look for flaws. Beyond the science, I aimed, in my book, also to tell the story of how we got our current nutritional recommendations: who are the personalities? What were the institutions involved? I wanted to write a “nutrition thriller” about the last fifty years of nutrition science.

So do you think there are specific health benefits to saturated fat?

Yes. Saturated fats are the only known fat that raises the “good” HDL-cholesterol. And although saturated fat also raises the “bad” LDL-cholesterol, the current heart-disease science reveals that LDL-C is a relatively a poor predictor of heart disease. Better are LDL-C “subtractions” and the LDL particle number, and by these, more up-to-date biomarkers, saturated fat consumption looks just fine, if not actually positive.

Moreover, saturated fats are the only fats that are stable when used to cook at high temperatures–meaning that, unlike vegetable oils, saturated fats don’t degenerate into harmful oxidation products when heated. Fats like lard and butter are far more stable for cooking. They’re also long-lasting.

Finally, there’s some evidence to show that saturated fats are essential for lung functioning and immune-system health.

Your book discusses how nutrition science often gets “muddled” when it’s translated and applied to public health recommendations. How would you suggest we remedy this?

This is a very big question, but one remedy would be to rely less on epidemiological data, which can show only association and not causation. This type of weak science is the source of many of our flip-flopping health headlines that confuse consumers and has been at the root of most of our health advice over the past 50 years—going back to that original American Health Association (AHA) anti-saturated fat guideline in 1961. It was based only on an epidemiological study. Epidemiological studies can suggest hypotheses but not prove them. Going forward, I believe that our nutrition recommendations should only be based on evidence coming from randomized, well-controlled clinical trials, which is the type of study that can conclusively demonstrate cause and effect.

What do you believe are the unintended consequences of following a low-fat diet?

The principal unintended consequence to following official low-fat dietary guidelines is that Americans now eat more carbohydrates. We’ve reduced our saturated fat intake by 11 percent over the past 30 years while at the same time increasing carbohydrate consumption by 25 percent. In practical terms, that means we’re eating less meat and more pasta. Diets high in carbohydrates, regardless of whether they are refined or unrefined, have been shown to worsen outcomes for heart disease, diabetes and obesity, than diets higher in fat and low in carbohydrates.

How do you think this book will add to the national dialogue taking place to improve public health?

Our nutrition recommendations since the 1950s have been obsessed with dietary fat over every other element of the diet. My hope is that my book, by laying out the history and the science of this issue, will budge the nutrition conversation in a new direction.

How should people apply the recommendations/conclusions in the book?

In my opinion, based on my research, people should not be afraid to eat meat, cheese and eggs. Proteins, such as food from animals, are extremely dense in essential nutrients. Some of these nutrients, such as vitamins B12, iron and selenium, are hard if not impossible to obtain in plant foods, and the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are only properly absorbed when consumed with fat that naturally accompanies them. Animal foods are therefore excellent, natural packages of protein, fat and nutrients. We should not be avoiding these foods based on our long-standing fear of saturated fats, but should instead feel free to incorporate them into an overall healthy diet.

USDA Chief Economist: “Beef demand is strong; there is no question about that.”

Dr. Joseph Glauber, Chief Economist, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Dr. Joseph Glauber, Chief Economist, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff. The following is a transcript from a conversation on April 16 with Dr. Glauber about beef prices.

Dr. Glauber, to begin, please tell us about the role of the Office of the Chief Economist within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The office of the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) advises the Secretary of Agriculture on economic data and programs affecting the U.S. food and fiber system. The office also provides publicly available information, such as commodity, farm sector and weather forecasts, to agricultural producers and consumers to make informed decisions. The USDA has had a Chief Economist since the 1920’s.

Often you hear beef consumption reported as an indicator of demand for beef, can you clarify the difference.

During periods of high beef prices, consumers tend to look for more value cuts of beef. For example, if steak prices are high relative to ground beef, shoppers will be more likely to purchase ground beef for their beef needs. Or consumers may switch to lower priced meats like pork or poultry though prices for meats typically follow one another. However, beef demand is strong; there is no question about that. Demand is strong in both the foreign and domestic markets. It is also important to note, when you look at published inflation numbers and beef prices, this data does not necessarily capture how the item’s being featured (sale prices and discounts) in grocery stores.

Lately it has been widely reported in the media that beef prices are the highest since 1986; is that true?

This data is based off of individual cuts of beef, not beef as a whole. Overall inflation and inflation of all food items has increased a lot since 1986; if you look at inflation in real terms, meaning adjusting for the purchase price of the dollar, it’s not a record. We are down from those price levels. In nominal terms, meaning no adjustment to the purchasing power of a dollar, you are seeing some cuts at record levels.

There is a lot of mention of the domestic cattle herd size, and the herd size being the lowest is has been in a significant number of years. When do you forecast cattle producers will begin to rebuild the nation’s cattle herd?

We have been expecting the herd to be rebuilt for a number of years now. But because of high feed costs and drought we have not seen the expansion that we might have thought possible given the high price of cattle. Typically when there are higher prices for cattle, the domestic herd expands. Expansion takes time. If you look at a poultry flock, they (poultry producers) can make adjustments pretty quickly. Hogs take a little more time, cattle take the most time. A calf can take two years or more to go to market.

If you look at production numbers, we did see some increase in the cow herd in the Upper Midwest and the Eastern Corn Belt area. However, most of the areas west of the Mississippi did see a decline. The concern is that 45% or more of the cattle inventory is currently in a drought area. Some of these areas have been under persistent drought for over four years. There is also feeder cattle from Canada and Mexico being imported, those additional cattle help with the supply as well.

We believe we will see positive signs toward herd size increase in 2015, but that means we will not see significant supply changes until 2016.

You mentioned drought as a cause of higher prices and a smaller cow herd, what does the drought actually mean for cattle producers?

Some cattle are being moved out of areas where we are seeing drought conditions. They are being moved to areas with better pasture conditions. Long-term drought does take a toll. It would help to have better pasture conditions in the highest cattle-producing regions of the country. We are now in the fourth year of consecutive drought, and there is certainly a concern that drought will take a further toll before we are done.

 We often get the question, will the nation run out of beef. Is that a possibility?

We are not going to run out of beef. We are seeing the results of tighter supply in the form of higher prices, not shortages.

For more information about the Office of the Chief Economist visit www.usda.gov/oce/.

Be Nice To Your Waistline By Keeping Lean Beef On Your Holiday Menu

Mary_Lee_ChinMary Lee Chin, MS, RD, Food and Nutrition Consultant in Denver, Colo.

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As a registered dietitian, I understand it can be difficult to be health and weight conscious during this hectic time when we juggle travel, party planning and gift buying along with our regular schedules. On top of that, we hear a lot of myths about how to be healthy, such as don’t eat this or that. My best advice to help avoid holiday weight gain is to be nice instead of naughty and build your meals on a foundation of healthful foods. A way to lighten holiday fare is to focus on serving nutrient-rich choices from these important food groups: lean meats, low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Lean beef, with its high concentration of essential amino acids delivers high quality protein content, and easily fits into your healthier holiday meal planning and entertaining.

Research continues to illustrate the critical role high-quality protein plays in optimal health: maintaining muscle, fueling activity, and managing weight. Animal sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy tend to have a higher percentage of essential amino acids than plant sources and are more well correlated to inducing fat loss. Protein-rich lean beef can help in preserving lean muscle mass which contributes to the burning of fat. Coupled with exercise, lean beef can help you build muscle strength while you work to lose or maintain weight this holiday season.

Holiday celebrations can too often mean fat and sugar loaded treats that are too high in calories and too low in nutrient content. Including lean beef can help balance the nutrition scales. Beef is a natural source of 10 essential nutrients, such as a readily available and easily absorbed source of iron and zinc. Iron is a part of all cells and many enzymes. It carries oxygen from lungs throughout the body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. Zinc is vital for many biological functions, especially effecting our all-important immune system and physical and mental development. Beef also is an excellent source of B vitamins which help convert foods into energy to fuel your activity during these busy days. And its content of Vitamin B12 specifically promotes growth and helps maintain brain function.

Several studies show that protein generally increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat and may aid a reduction in overall calorie consumption.  Translate that into action by eating half of a lean roast beef sandwich on whole grain bread before you go out to the holiday buffet party. Blunting your appetite can help prevent your head first dive into the rich dips, creamy desserts and holiday cakes and cookies.

The American Psychological Association reports that half of women experience heightened stress during the holidays due to extra time spent on parties, cooking and shopping. Add in health and weight considerations and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s no wonder we are seeking healthier, and simpler, alternatives.

With beef, you have so many choices to lighten up your menu during the holidays, and simplify your cooking as well. Today there are 29 cuts of beef which meet government guidelines for leanness which includes many popular cuts. One tip: when shopping, make sure to look for lean sources of meat with the word “loin” in the name, such as sirloin or tenderloin. Loin cuts provide lean menu options for both everyday eating and holiday entertaining.

Before you face a busy day of mall shopping, place a bottom round roast with seasoning, winter root vegetables and red wine in a slow cooker. You’ll come home to an impossibly tender roast, and savory vegetables. Add some whole wheat rolls and you have a nutrient-rich, tasty—and easy meal after a tiring day.

Need appealing appetizers? Thinly slice sirloin and skewer with red and green peppers for color and crunch. Glaze with barbeque sauce, broil quickly and watch them disappear. Or make your mother’s famous meatball recipe with 95% lean ground beef. You’ll have great taste and the nutrition benefits of high quality beef.

Holiday happenings are special…and the food should be too. Whether you’re throwing a big bash or hosting an intimate evening, holiday entertaining for friends and family can present a challenge for serving spectacular, yet easy to prepare and healthier food and refreshment. Our family tradition is to carve a whole beef tenderloin for our holiday meal. It’s served with a sauce made from horseradish and low-fat yogurt, and rounded out with salad, roasted vegetables and whole grain rolls. It’s a spectacular entrée; indulgent, elegant and yet still very nutritious and low in calories. Since beef tenderloin is easy to prepare and cooks so quickly I spend more time with friends and family in the living room than isolated in the kitchen.

So is there room for dessert? Of course, satiated by good food, and good company, we always have a bit of room for the traditional family apple pie and chocolate cake. You should absolutely savor holiday treats; just keep portions within reason and treat them as,  well “treats,” not the focus of eating.

Include lean beef in your holidays and you’ll receive the benefits good taste, ease of preparation and nutritious eating, without sacrificing your waistline.

GMO Feeds are Safe for Animals, Meat Safe for Humans

macdonaldDr. Ruth MacDonald, Professor and Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over the past year, there has been resurgence in discussion about the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the food supply. Stuck in the middle are consumers trying to figure out whether they should be concerned about GMO food and if so, why.

People want to know that food is safe and wholesome and many don’t really understand what a GMO is and how it gets into their food. I don’t have room here to explain GMO technology, but www.gmoanswers.com is a great resource. For consumers, the important message is that GMO-derived foods and food ingredients taste, look and provide the same nutritional value as non-GMO foods. This has been well documented by the agency responsible for the safety of food: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There is substantial scientific evidence that food and food ingredients derived from GMO technology are safe for human and animal consumption. The key words in that statement are ‘substantial’ and ‘scientific evidence’. The way science works is that many people carry out research to address a question or problem. These researchers will ask slightly different questions, use different approaches, study designs and models. Their results are then submitted for review by their peers and, if found worthy, published in journals – generating scientific evidence. One study is never considered definitive and a premise of science is that results must be repeated before concepts or ideas are widely accepted. Hence, in order for scientists to come to consensus on an issue, the body of scientific evidence is collected from a wide range of sources and evaluated for consistent results. This was the process used by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Science in the Public Interest that led each of these organizations to conclude that GMO food and food ingredients are safe for humans and animals based on substantial scientific evidence.

An additional tool that is used to demonstrate safety is through practice. GMO products have been in the US food supply since 1996 – hence we have years of practice that have shown no negative impact on animal or human health. Farm animals, the most carefully monitored animals on the planet, have been raised on GMO corn and soybeans over several generations and there is no evidence of negative effects on growth, reproduction or disease. And there has been no documented case of human illness or allergen associated with GMO foods.

A concern that I have heard raised by consumers is that GMO technology puts foreign DNA into food and that DNA will affect their body when eaten. My first response to this is to remind that all food has DNA – any living material, plant and animal, contains DNA. We eat carrot DNA and strawberry DNA and don’t worry that we will grow carrot noses or strawberry hair, so why would it be that GMO DNA is somehow handled differently? It is not – the DNA in food is broken down to elemental parts through the digestive process and cannot be transferred from the intestine to cells within the body. This is true for human digestion as well as animals. There is no evidence that DNA from food is taken up into the animal – so meat from animals fed GMO grain will not be different from meat from animals fed non-GMO grain – and it would be virtually impossible to distinguish these meat products even with the most sophisticated technologies. So consuming meat, milk and eggs from animals fed GMO grain is completely safe for humans.

Consumers that wish to avoid GMO foods—including if they would like to purchase beef from cattle that were not fed GMO’s—may purchase Organic or Non-GMO labeled foods.

We are fortunate to live in the US where we have the safest, most abundant and varied food supply in the world. We also have a healthy and open system of debate around technology and agriculture. With these gifts, we have the responsibility to ensure our food supply is well managed and can be sustained. Given the challenges ahead, we need all the tools we can get in our toolbox – but we must also use these tools carefully. GMO is one tool that has great potential to advance our food system when used thoughtfully and with oversight. We should not allow fear of scientific technology keep us from using the tools that will help us meet the challenges we face to produce enough safe and wholesome food for ourselves and our future generations.

Having Agony Over the Agonists? Perspective from a Former USDA Food Safety Official

RaymondBy Richard Raymond, M.D., former Undersecretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With beta-agonists being in the news lately, I find myself frequently being asked questions about these animal feed ingredients and why they’re used in raising some livestock today.  Beta-agonists have been used in US swine production since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in1999 and in US cattle production since 2003. Approval for use in turkey production has followed, but is not used as widely as in cattle and swine.

Beta-agonists have been approved for use in finishing animals raised for food in more than two dozen countries, many of them major producers of red meat to feed a hungry world.

Beta-agonists promote heavier, leaner carcasses, providing less expensive meat and healthier choices.

It is estimated that beta-agonists used as feed ingredients at targeted points in the life cycle of animals raised for food increase pork yields by about 6-7 pounds per pig, and increase beef yields by an estimated additional 30 pounds of lean meat per cow.

If only half of the 24 million head of cattle harvested annually, a conservative estimate to be sure, yielded an additional 30 pounds of meat, this would provide 360 million more pounds of lean beef during a time when drought and high grain prices are forcing a reduction in the size of the American cattle herd. That would equate to 1.4 billion additional quarter pounders to help feed the world’s children, too many of whom go to bed hungry every night.

It is also estimated that over 700 million pigs have been supplemented with beta-agonists since its approval 14 years ago. I am not an Ag Economist, but I can do the simple math that says if each of those 700 million pigs produced an additional 6 pounds because of beta-agonist supplementation, that would be over 4 billion additional pounds of pork, or put another way, an additional 16 billion four ounce servings of protein.

As the former Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA, I also know that in those billions of servings of pork and beef, not one single incident of a foodborne illness or side effect in a human has been reported. That should make us feel confident as far as human safety goes.

So, why are beta-agonists used in animals raised for food of no significance to our health? There are multiple reasons.

First and foremost, these compounds have a very short half-life, meaning the animal’s organs break down, metabolize and excrete them very quickly. They are not, for the most part, ever detected in meat sampled by the USDA.And when the rare positive does pop up, it is far below the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) established for human safety by the FDA n and by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Secondly, beta-agonists have been used and studied in human medicine for decades. In human medicine, their route to the intended smooth muscle tissue is a direct entry into the cardio-pulmonary system in some of our most vulnerable patients.

Young children inhale beta-agonists directly into their lungs to relax the smooth muscle that is constricting their airways during an asthma attack which leaves them fighting for air. Beta-agonists are life savers.

Pregnant women in premature labor have beta-agonists injected directly into their blood through IVs, to relax the smooth muscle of the uterus to prevent a premature birth. Once again, Beta-agonists are life savers.

If we give them in significant doses to our most vulnerable patients, including young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, most people would agree then that it is safe to consume meat from animals supplemented with beta-agonists when it is basically undetectable.

As two billion more residents of the planet Earth enter the middle class and seek increasing amounts of protein, we can only supply safe, affordable food through technology. We won’t have more land, water or feed.

I believe that people should be able to have choices when it comes to food. I have no problem with people having food choices such as organic, cage free, antibiotic free, hormone free, etc. If they can afford to pay more for more expensive production methods, more power to them. However, I also believe that we should not reduce the use of safe, proven technologies—this would ultimately result in increasing costs from farm to form, meaning higher priced meat to the consumer and subsequently limit choice for those with a less disposable income.

It is a common myth floating out there in the media that 160 countries have banned the use of beta-agonists in animals raised for food. In fact, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is a joint effort of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, two subdivisions of the United Nations. Codex is comprised of over 180 countries, and is charged with establishing, among other things, MRLs for food additives and veterinary drugs.

Last July, the annual Codex meeting voted on MRLs for ractopamine, one of the beta-agonists used to promote heavier, leaner carcasses in animals raised for food. The majority approved the recommendations from the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives. How can we still think there are another 160 countries out there “banning” beta-agonists?

Some countries, such as the European Union and China, do have restrictions on beta-agonists due to prior illegal use of beta-agonists such as clenbuterol, which has a much longer half-life and has caused human illness because of high residues in muscle meats.

But the lack of a registration, or approval of the sales of a drug for use in animals, does not equate to a ban. For many countries, a registration has never been sought, and they have no ban in place.  The reason many have not sought registration is simply that they have no animal agriculture industry in place to use such technologies.

US beef and pork were exported to more than 100 countries in 2012 with no restrictions against beta-agonist use.

As a former “top food safety official in the US,” I see no reason, personally, to pay more for food based on how it was raised. I do not fear for my health, nor do I fear for the health of my Grandkids when they come to Granddad’s house for a sleep over and eat the less expensive meats I buy at my mainstream grocery. I feel confident that the FDA has approved this product as safe for humans and safe as a feed ingredient for animals. I’m incredibly proud of the efficient, sustainable and safe food supply that we have here in the United States and I feel incredibly fortunate that we’re able to pay less for our high-quality food than any other country in the world. Personally, I’m thankful that I can use this cost savings to spoil my Grandkids and donate to efforts to find the cure for true health problems, such as Multiple Sclerosis.

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