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Meat is Medicine

Meat is Medicine

Although animal fat often takes the blame for obesity and heart disease, research indicates fat is heart-healthy and a proven treatment for obesity.

I hope all the farm and ranch families out there have had a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year, and had the chance to slow down, take a break from hectic schedules, spend some time catching up with friends and family, and enjoying a holiday smorgasbord of beef, pork, and poultry.

Diet and nutrition are common topics of conversation for everyone this time of year, and of considerable importance for those in the ag world, considering with 2014 over, the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are in the process of updating the official U.S. Dietary Guidelines for 2015. Updated every five years since 1980, those guidelines have traditionally favored diets low in animal fat, according to Peter Ballerstedt, forage agronomist and forage product manager at Barenbrug USA.

Of the three macronutrients in human diets, fat and carbohydrates vary the most, and vary inversely – a low-fat diet is a high-carb diet and vice-versa. As Ballerstedt explains, the benefits of high-fat, low-carb diets were well-established long ago, and were considered conventional wisdom before a paradigm shift of ideals in the U.S. in the 1960s, bringing forth a new focus on heart health.

William Banting, an English undertaker, wrote the first published diet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public back in 1864. The diet was established after Banting lost weight by limiting intake of refined and easily digestible carbohydrates. Later on, the act of reducing intake of carbs was often referred to as "banting", and the diet influenced more recent low- carb diets like the well-known Atkins Diet.

Part of a heart-healthy diet
Since the paradigm changed, Ballerstedt says it hasn't worked out well. Today, Americans eat less than 60 pounds of beef per person a year, and eat 129 pounds of caloric sweetener per year, according to USDA Economic Research Service data. 68% of American adults are overweight or obese. Adult obesity rates went from 15% in 1980 to 35% in 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data.

Cholesterol often gets unfairly blamed for heart disease. Cholesterol alone isn't a factor, but the lipoprotein particles that carry cholesterol are. Increased High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is associated with less risk of heart disease. Risk associated with Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) depends on size – smaller LDL particles are associated with greater risk. Research by Ronald M. Krauss of the Department of Medicine at UCSF and Department of Nutritional Sciences at UC Berkeley has shown carbohydrate-restricted diets reduce triglycerides, elevate HDL cholesterol, and increase LDL particle size.

Unlike cholesterol, carbs aren't essential. Research by Krauss and a number of researchers shows low-fat, high-carb diets increase risk of metabolic syndrome, while high-fat diets reduce risk, although recent reports from the Journal of the American Medicine Association suggest glycemic index of dietary carbohydrates may not be as significant as previously thought. The point, Ballerstedt says, is animal products are heart-healthy and a proven treatment for obesity. In his words, "They are in fact medicine."

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