How Men’s Journal got it wrong on heme iron in beef

Let’s get the facts straight: beef isn’t an inflammatory food, and it contains absorbable heme iron.

Amanda Radke

March 20, 2017

3 Min Read
How Men’s Journal got it wrong on heme iron in beef

Grilling season is fast approaching, and that means it’s beef’s time to truly shine at the center of the dinner plate. However, confusing information presented on popular blogs and magazines is making consumers think twice before purchasing steaks for their next family gathering.

Today’s blog responds to an article published in the April 2017 issue of Men’s Journal magazine. I couldn’t possibly ignore the title, “More Bad News About Red Meat,” and I think the misinformation presented by writer Melaina Juntti needs to be corrected.

Juntti writes, “A 26-year study of more than 46,000 middle-aged men found that eating red meat six days a week increases the chances of developing diverticulitis — a common colon condition that causes piercing abdominal pain and can require surgery to fix. (You’re not off the hook if you eat red meat less frequently; each serving increases diverticulitis risk by 18%).

"What’s so bad about eating cow or lamb, specifically? Lead researcher Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, points out that red meat is high in a particular kind of iron (heme iron) that 'may encourage a type of gut bacteria that predisposes you to inflammation, the chronic low-lying infection that leads to diverticulitis. Beneficial compounds in chicken and fish may counteract the negatives of red meat.' The upshot: The next time you’re deciding between the steak and burger, opt for poultry or seafood instead.”

First, let’s talk about heme iron, which this article demonized, but in fact is a very healthy, beneficial type of iron to consume.

According to research presented in Pediatrics magazine and on, “Lean meats contain heme iron, which is much more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron found in plant foods. Heme iron is an important dietary component for promoting cognitive health, including memory, ability to learn and reasoning. Heme iron is particularly beneficial for growing children because research indicates that some toddlers are at higher risk for iron deficiency, and childhood iron-deficiency anemia is associated with behavioral and cognitive delays.

“Through an effect known as the ‘meat factor,’ beef helps the body absorb non-heme iron. Unlike plant proteins, beef is the food supply’s most easily absorbed source of iron. In addition, beef is an excellent source of readily available zinc. The absorption of zinc from beef is about four times greater than that from a high-fiber breakfast cereal. As with iron, including meat in your diet also improves the absorption of zinc from other foods.”

Second, let’s address the causes of inflammation that result in diverticulitis. Guess what? It’s not caused by beef.

Kelsey Marksteiner, RD, says in a guest post for the Chris Kresser blog, that consumers should identify the sources of intestinal inflammation and seek to eliminate them.

She writes, “By avoiding potentially irritating and inflammatory foods such as grains and omega-6 fatty acids, we can reduce intestinal inflammation and encourage proper gut health. A paleo diet (rich in whole foods like meat and vegetables) also positively influences gut bacteria, which in turn results in reduced inflammation as well. A paleo diet for diverticular disease should focus on gelatinous cuts of meat, bone broths, well-cooked vegetables, starchy tubers, and fermented foods.”

This is just one of countless examples of print magazines and bloggers taking liberties with an easy punching bag like beef. The truth of the matter is — beef is a healthful, nourishing food that aids in muscle building, weight loss, energy, satiety and brain fuel.

As an industry, we must take the time to address these inaccurate articles and share balanced information our consumers can rely on. If we don’t, we’ll continue to lose market share to the cheaper alternative proteins.

May Beef Month may be two months away yet, but we can start now in promoting beef to our health-conscious consumers. For starters, share this blog post and email me at [email protected] if you run across other articles that need to be debunked.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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