Where’s the Beef?

25 08 2011

For many a year I have preached the Grassroots Gourmet Gospel about eating fresh and avoiding adulterated products through following The Path of The Three“Be’s”:

  • Be Aware and Avoid the call of the Junk Food/Fast Food Siren
  • Be Fresh-But No Adultery!
  • Be On Time and In Proportion

Yet, many people are still unaware that this goes beyond simply avoiding fast food or junk food. Simply because something is purchased at a supermarket does not mean it is free from prior manipulation. The act of altering our foodstuffs by adding or subtracting compounds and/or altering the form of the food by cooking, irradiating or freezing has some effects. Some, perhaps the vast majority, of these effects are negligible. Perhaps some only have significance with long cumulative exposure or critical combination. Perhaps others are altered, for better or worse, by a tincture of time. Other effects may only manifest in the setting of susceptible genetics or physiology. These are the great unknowns regarding the Law of Unintended Consequences. What is clear is that the variables and thus the result operate in equations much more complex than simple addition and subtraction.

And it is also an oversimplification to label groups of foods as simply good or bad. Red meat, as a group, contains the entire gamut of possibilities. There are fresh lean game cuts and grass fed free range beef steaks. AT the other end there are industrialized geometrically symmetrically processed patties with a list of additives longer than Keith Richards’ toxicology report. As chef and an interventional cardiologist I am often asked my opinion about red meat consumption. So I shall opine: as but one in long lineage of omnivores, to put it quite simply, I love my meatses. And I love my meatses fresh. Although my choices are driven by my taste buds and several million years of evolutionary hardwiring I find adjudication within the confines of medical science. As an example several recent studies, including a meta-analysis comprising over a million participants worldwide performed by Harvard, have failed to demonstrate a correlation between consumption of fresh red meat and increased cardiovascular risk[i],[ii],[iii],[iv],[v]. However, there did appear to be increased cardiovascular risk and an increased risk of developing diabetes when highly processed meat products were regularly consumed.

Why? How? Is there a difference?  Isn’t eating any red meat the cardiovascular equivalent of launching an atherosclerotic drone into your coronary artery? The answer is there appear to be major differences and it’s time we moved beyond bovine bigotry by regarding all red meat as a single class of foodstuffs. It’s like lumping a Yugo and a Ferrari together as “cars” and being confused at the quarter mile time trial results.

Consistent with the previous data examining cardiovascular risk and the consumption of fresh red meat, the largest study to date examining red meat consumption and stroke risk was recently published[vi]. Over 40,000 Swedish men aged 45-79 were followed by questionnaire for over a ten year period. The researchers found that consumption “of processed meat, but not of fresh red meat, was positively associated with risk of stroke.”  The increased risk was over twenty percent. Dr. Robert Eckel, a Professor of Medicine at The University of Colorado and a past President of The American Heart Association also noted that the group with the highest intake of processed meat in the Swedish study also had a healthier diet overall, including more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. He commented that this “suggests that the effects of processed meat may confound the benefit of a heart-healthy diet.”

This study follows on the heels of a very large and interesting study demonstrating the increased cardiovascular risk when the dietary ratio of sodium (often referred to as “salt intake”) to potassium is greater than one. This may explain why previous studies have failed to definitively link increased absolute amounts of sodium to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The effect may lie in a ratio, not absolutes. The processing of a piece of fresh pork, with sodium to potassium ratio less than one, to produce a slice of ham (even low-fat ham) inverts that ratio. The causative possibilities are intriguing, but the important question remains.

Where’s the beef?

It should be back on the menu-but only if you keep it fresh!

[i] (Micha, Wallace, & Mozaffarian, 2010)

[ii] (Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu, & Krauss, 2010)

[iii] (Micha & Mozaffarian, Saturated fat and cardiometabolic risk factors, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a fresh look at the evidence, 2010)

[iv] (Siri-Tarino P. , Sun, Hu, & Krauss, 2010)

[v] (Siri-Tarino P. , Sun, Hu, & Krauss, Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease, 2010)

[vi] (Larsson, Virtamo, & Wolk, 2011)




2 responses

25 08 2011

Excellent report, and in line with your other conclusions; frankly, eating an animal these days appeals less and less to me. Except for lamb which turns me into a glutton. Grass-fed especially.

25 08 2011
What's Cooking with Dr. Mike: The Grassroots Gourmet™

@TOB:Thanks-I find it hard to resist any deliciously grilled meat!

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