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Does Red Meat Increase Diabetes Risk?

Does Red Meat Increase Diabetes Risk?

Does red meat [3] increase your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes? A new study released on June 17 [4]by JAMA Internal Medicine has come to that conclusion, recommending that folks consume less red meat to reduce the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. CBS News first scooped the results of the study [5], and the conclusions are troubling. However, despite the research, I’m waving my B.S. flag on this one, and that doesn’t stand for bachelor of science.

But first, let’s address the usual counter-arguments that will come my way. No, I’m not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist, so I wouldn’t be considered an expert in this field. Yes, I raise beef cattle, so some might say I have skin in the game. However, while I may not have the credentials to counter this study, there are others who do, and I will reference them in this post.

First, a little background. Beef [6] (namely saturated fat) was demonized in the 1970s-80s when the new mantra of “counting calories, limiting your fat and burning off excess,” became the new-age advice from the medical establishment, a departure from how Grandma grew up eating, for sure. Forget that our bodies rely on fat to thrive [7]; doctors were now telling us that fat makes you fat.

Start by reading “Jude Capper On Brain Food.” [8]

Capper is an adjunct professort at Washington State University, affiliate at Montana State University and a sustainability consultant at Merck. She says, “We need to get over the perception that fat is bad, particularly that fats found in dairy and meat are worse than fats found in olive oil. Oleic acid, which is prevalent in olive oil, is also found in grain-fed beef. This offers us protection against heart disease and diabetes. Overall, it’s important to have a balanced, healthy diet [9]that also tastes great, too.”

Meanwhile, Gary Taubes [10] is the author of the best-selling books, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.” He explains how the obesity epidemic, which is linked to modern diseases like diabetes, was caused by our increased consumption of not animal fats but sweets.

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Beef Industry CouncilThe fact is that Americans consumed 75 lbs. of sugar/person/year in 1986. By the early 2000s, Americans consumed 90 lbs. of suger/person/year. It’s estimated that this number is even higher today.

Of these figures, Taubes explains, “That this increase happened to coincide with the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes is one reason that it’s tempting to blame sugars — sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — for the problem. In 1980, roughly one in seven Americans was obese, and almost 6 million were diabetic, and the obesity rates, at least, hadn’t changed significantly in the 20 years previously.

“By the early 2000s, when sugar consumption peaked, one in every three Americans was obese, and 14 million were diabetic. This correlation between sugar consumption and diabetes is what defense attorneys call circumstantial evidence. It’s more compelling than it otherwise might be, though, because the last time sugar consumption jumped markedly in this country, it was also associated with a diabetes epidemic.”

Read Taubes’ entire article on this topic, “Is Sugar Toxic?” [11]

I can already hear the next argument from readers, and that will be, “Amanda, everything in moderation.” Frankly, this is one of the silliest pieces of advice I have ever heard. It’s equating the 500 calories from a ribeye steak [12] -- which is full of vitamins and healthy proteins and fats – with the 500 calories from a piece of cake.

So, how does diabetes work? It’s all about blood sugar levels and insulin.

Taubes describes how our bodies regulate blood sugar, “You secrete insulin in response to the foods you eat — particularly the carbohydrates [13] — to keep blood sugar in control after a meal. When your cells are resistant to insulin, your body (your pancreas, to be precise) responds to rising blood sugar by pumping out more and more insulin. Eventually the pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand, or it gives in to what diabetologists call ‘pancreatic exhaustion.’ Now your blood sugar will rise out of control, and you’ve got diabetes.”

In his article, “What If It’s All A Big Fat Lie?” [14]Taubes writes more on this topic.

“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980s, and that this was coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma [15]. (Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, also rose significantly through this period.) With these caveats, one of the few reasonably reliable facts about the obesity epidemic is that it started around the early 1980s. According to Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant through the 1960s and 1970s at 13-14%, and then shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980s. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese.

“That steep rise, which is consistent through all segments of American society and which continued unabated through the 1990s, is the singular feature of the epidemic. Any theory that tries to explain obesity in America has to account for that. Meanwhile, overweight children nearly tripled in number. And for the first time, physicians began diagnosing Type 2 diabetes in adolescents. Type 2 diabetes often accompanies obesity.

“What's forgotten in the current controversy is that the low-fat dogma itself is only about 25 years old. Until the late ’70s, the accepted wisdom was that fat and protein protected against overeating by making you sated, and that carbohydrates made you fat. Foods [16] considered more or less deadly under the low-fat dogma turn out to be comparatively benign if you actually look at their fat content.

“More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak [17], for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile (at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it); it's true that the remainder will raise your LDL, the bad stuff, but it will also boost your HDL.

“As a result, the major trends in American diets [18] since the late ’70s, according to the USDA agricultural economist Judith Putnam, have been a decrease in the percentage of fat calories and a ‘greatly increased consumption of carbohydrates.’ To be precise, annual grain consumption has increased almost 60 lbs./person, and caloric sweeteners (primarily high-fructose corn syrup) by 30 lbs.”

In addition to our increased consumption of sugar, meat consumption (the so-called culprit of the diabetes epidemic) is at an all-time low.

According to the CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report, “Per-capita beef consumption in 2010 was at the lowest level in our data set that goes back to 1955. 2010’s 59.7 lbs. broke the old low of 59.8 lbs. set in 1958 and was 1.4 lbs. lower than the level of 2009.”

If you are following along with the numbers, Americans today eat 90+ lbs. of sugar [19] annually and only 59.7 lbs. of beef. Even the new USDA MyPlate dietary guidelines urge us to limit our sweets intake. At 60 lbs./year, Americans are only eating 2.6 oz. of beef/day -- that’s not even reaching USDA dietary recommendations of 5-6 oz./day (total protein, not just beef). Meanwhile, at 90 lbs. of sugar/year, that equates to 3.9 oz, or approximately a 1/2 cup of sugar daily. Yowza!

I’m not here to demonize one food group over another, but we’ve got to use common sense when looking at and evaulating studies of this ilk. I think it’s irresponsible for news stations to perpetuate false notions from studies like this one. The fact of the matter is, Americans are already reducing their meat consumption [20] while increasing their carbohydrate consumption significantly. Perhaps this study is backed by people who would prefer we didn’t eat beef at all. After all, it’s hard to reduce from 2.6 oz.

Bottom line: Feel free to eat beef without fear of getting diabetes from it. It’s not raising your blood sugar. It’s not causing insulin resistance. The heart-healthy fats keep you fuller longer, thus reducing your caloric intake. And, they also help you think better, too, resulting in better decisions and smarter choices in your daily life. Plus, beef tastes pretty good, too. [21]

What do you think about this study? Is there any merit to the discussion? Feel free to tear apart my arguments with gusto, or eagerly shake your head in agreement. I’m always up for an open, intelligent debate. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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