Meat – Considerations for the Wise

October 11, 2016 in Health Claims, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

If you’re trying to keep your weight under control and your arteries unclogged, it doesn’t take long before you realize that meat is an important issue of concern. Nutrition Action Health Letter which is a publication of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition watchdog and consumer advocacy group, advocating for safer and healthier foods, has published two helpful articles on meat – for free. I subscribe because I’m enthusiastic about their work; but you can read many of their excellent articles for free. Today, I’m going to focus on How to Reduce the Calories in Meat, published last year; and The heart-unhealthy nutrient in red meat and some dietary supplements which was posted yesterday.

When we’re talking meat there are a number of concerns; serving size; calorie variations; saturated fat; choline, carnitine and red meat.

  • Serving size – As pointed out by CSPI, the calories of fresh meat are not always easy to find (Sometimes the nutritional labels are on the sides of the meat case and the cuts posted don’t always match what the store is selling.)

As related to calories; the serving size offers an enormous opportunity to underestimate calories. If you’re thinking that what you’re served in a mid-priced restaurant (6 to 8 ounces of cooked chicken) or (6 to 12 ounces cooked steaks) is a serving size, look again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that the standard serving size is 3 ounces. Most people’s jaws would drop in alarm if they received just 3 ounces of cooked steak, roasts, chops, and poultry from their server. Note: If you’re buying a pound of meat or poultry for two people, that’s 8 ounces of raw meat each – which turns into two servings of cooked meat/poultry. If you divide the raw pound into three servings, then you’re only over one ounce per person. The point is that serving size is one of the easiest ways for fat and calories to sneak into your diet and onto your body.

  • Calorie variations – CSPI does a fabulous job of demonstrating how the fat varies; their article How to Reduce the Calories in Meat does a great job to help you rank-order your meat choices if you’re striving to reduce the total fat and thus the calories. In short you can order chicken meat; skinless chicken breast meat, followed by drumstick meat, wing meat, and last thigh meat (4oz. cooked 3.5 grams of saturated fat). But the numbers really jump out at you when you move to red meat. If you move up from a 4 oz. cooked serving of round roast (fairly lean) to a cut like chuck blade roast you’re up to 12.5 grams of saturated fat. Note: if you think about a person who needs about 2000 calories a day, they should limit their intake to 16 or fewer grams of saturated fat per day. So if you choose a mere 4-ounce serving of the chuck blade roast a day, there’s not much left from other items. If you have one ounce of cheddar cheese in that same day, you’re up to 18.5 grams. I hope this helps us understand how easy it is to run up a diet high in calories and saturated fat.

The bottom line here is trim as much fat off as possible – maybe use the scalpel mentioned in CSPI’s article. When you eat chicken or turkey, skip the skin.

Be extra careful when you’re reading percentage fat labels. Commercially ground beef has a limit of 70% lean as the fattiest ground beef allowed on the market. CSPI says that even 80% or 85% is still fatty.

  • Red meat – I’ve written considerable information about concerns with frequent red meat consumption. One really large study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine based upon over 500,000 participants, who ate the most red meat (about 5 ounce a day) were 30 percent more likely to die – mostly of heart disease or cancer – over the next 10 years than those who ate the least red meat (about two-thirds of an ounce a day). At the time of the Archives of Internal Medicine study there were no really strong relationships to say whether the problem was with the heme iron in the red meat or some other factor. But now it looks like science is building a case for a combination of a half dozen different compounds and nutrients that lead to the higher risk of heart disease. Carnitine is one of those compounds; there were hints that carnitine was involved clear back in the 1980’s. They’re now postulating that the carnitine in meat and/or supplements is digested by the microbes in our intestines and the byproduct is converted in the liver into a compound called TMAO (tri-methylamine-N-oxide). This TMAO is being billed as the troublemaker for our hearts. In those who are constantly eating meat, there is more TMAO in their blood. Vegans had virtually none. The researchers have demonstrated how animals’ arteries get clogged from TMAO; but the researchers, of course, can’t feed carnitine to people for years to see if it clogs their arteries. So far they have found that increased blood carnitine and TMAO levels is correlated to increased risks for cardiovascular disease and major adverse events like heart attack, stroke, and death. Don’t miss reading CSPI’s article about heart-unhealthy nutrients in red meat and some dietary supplements.

In the meanwhile, you can cut back on red meat and don’t take supplements of  carnitine, choline, or lecithin (phosphatidylcholine). Unless, your physician has instructed you, it is unlikely that you need supplements because your body can make it; and you don’t even need to be a meat-eater.

These cutting-edge research projects will eventually help us understand much more exactly what is going on in the human body. In the meantime, however, the evidence seems to grow and grow for our wise consideration to limit frequent and generous servings of meat, especially fatty red meat.