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Red MeatsLean beef is part of a healthy diet
March 13, 2012

Canadians can rest assured their enjoyment of red meat doesn’t need to change anytime soon despite the predictions of a new US study suggesting harm from eating large amounts.

The new study, published today, suggests eating high amounts of red meat are associated with increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease, but the results have little significance to Canadian meat eaters. Canadians eat red meat within national and international guidelines, based on a large body of scientific evidence.

The scientific evidence to support the role of lean beef in a healthy, balanced diet is strong and there is nothing in this study changing that fact.

Research clearly shows choosing lean beef as part of a healthful diet is associated with improved overall nutrient intake, overall diet quality and positive health outcomes. Overall, lifestyle patterns including a healthy diet and physical activity, not consumption of any individual food, have been shown to affect mortality.

“Red meat continues to be a healthy part of a balanced diet and nutrition decisions should be based on the total body of evidence, not on single studies that include weak and inconsistent evidence and stand in contrast to other research and to the dietary guidelines for Canadians,” said Karine Gale, RD and Nutrition Program Manager at Canada Beef Inc.

It is significant to note this was an observational study. Observational studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect.

The men and women in these studies who had higher intakes of red meat also tended to be less healthy than those with a lower intake of red meat:

  • They were less likely to be physically active, more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and have a higher body mass index.
  • They were more likely to have a higher energy intake and ate less whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

In addition to being physically active, the most important thing we can do as Canadians to live healthfully is to choose a balanced diet including a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and protein-rich foods like lean beef.

If there is one thing scientists agree on, it is responsible dietary advice must be drawn from a look at the entire body of evidence, including rigorous, gold standard randomized control trials when they are available. In the case of beef, there are several randomized control trials which have convincingly shown lean beef, when included as part of a healthy, balanced diet, improves heart health by lowering cholesterol. Most recently, the BOLD (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) study showed eating lean beef every day, as part of a heart-healthy diet, could reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 per cent…as much as any other recommended heart healthy diets, including the well known DASH diet.

The BOLD study adds to the body of evidence regarding lean beef in a heart-healthy diet, as does a recent Harvard review of 20 epidemiological studies encompassing more than one million subjects concluding that red meat intake does not increase risk of heart disease.

Beef is part of a healthy diet as recommended by Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends 1 to 3 servings of Meat & Alternatives per day, 75 g per serving, depending on age and gender. Canadians on average are eating 74 grams of red meat a day, about 1 serving from the Meat and Alternatives Food Group.
  • Many Canadians aren’t eating a balanced diet. They aren’t eating the recommended daily minimum of five servings of vegetables and fruit and are getting 22% of their total calories a day from foods low in nutritional value, like: fats and oils, condiments, candy, chips and beverages – that are not part of the four major food groups in the food guide. (Overview of Canadians’ Eating Habits 2004: Nutrition Findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey)

The bottom line is Canadian beef can be a lean, heart healthy food. Research supports this. Three recent, high quality recent studies have shown there isn’t a connection between red meat consumption and heart disease:

  1. 1. Micha R, et al. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation, 2010;121:00-00

    Conclusion: Red meat not associated with higher incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke or diabetes

  2. Roussell MA et al. Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet Study: effects on lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(1):9–16.

    Conclusion: Heart healthy diets including daily servings of lean beef can reduce heart disease risk

  3. Mente A, et al. A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(7):659-669

    Conclusion: No evidence to support causal link between consumption of meat and heart disease

Canadians can continue to enjoy lean Canadian beef with confidence.

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