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“Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimizing the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits.” Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD, Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

“These results suggest that the health effects of a low-carb diet may depend on the type of protein and fat, and a diet that includes mostly vegetable sources of protein and fat is preferable to a diet with mostly animal sources of protein and fat.” Teresa Fung, ScD, Department of Nutrition at Simmons College in Boston, and colleagues

Red Meat Risky, Studies Find

Caveman diets, heavy on red meat, may not be a good choice in modern times. In addition, low-carb diets with mostly animal sources of protein and fat may also be unwise. That's what I take away from two long-term, observational studies involving over 200,000 people.

Conventional thinking, among cardiologists and others, is that red meat should be eaten sparingly, if at all. Be that as it may, knowledgeable people such as Professor Art De Vany, and Al Sears, a medical doctor, have no qualms about making red meat a regular part of their diet, often eating it twice a day. Their primary rationale is that ancient man ate that way, and that’s how we are designed to eat. (See their books for full details.) 

The De Vany and Sears diets also restrict carbohydrates.  

The new studies may help you decided what’s best for you.

The first study followed 84,136 women (nurses) aged 30 to 55 years for 26 years; it was published August 16, 2010, in the journal Circulation.

The researchers examined the medical history and lifestyle of the women with questionnaires issued regularly throughout the 26-year study. It differs from other studies because of the long follow-up, greater precision in dietary measurement due to the great number of cases and repeated dietary questionnaires. It also differs because of the emphasis on substitution of other protein-rich foods for red meat.

Red Meat Raises Risk

“Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimizing the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits,” said lead author Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. Co-authors included Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, and Walter C. Willett, MD, PhD. 

Women who had two servings per day of red meat, compared to those who had half a serving per day, had a 30 percent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Compared with one serving each day of red meat, women who substituted other protein-rich foods experienced significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease:

● 30 percent lower risk with one serving each day of nuts

● 24 percent lower risk with one serving each day of fish

● 19 percent lower risk with one serving each day of poultry

● 13 percent lower risk with one serving each day of low-fat dairy products

“Although this study involved only women, our overall knowledge of risk factors for heart disease suggests that the findings are likely to apply to men as well,” said Dr. Bernstein. 

“Those who are concerned and want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider replacing red meat with other protein-rich foods including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products, and nuts,” said Dr. Bernstein.

Second Study

The aim of the second study, reported September 7, 2010, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was to compare low-carb diets relying on meat for fat and protein with one relying on mostly vegetable sources of protein and fat.

This is a long term study involving men and women. It followed 85,168 women (nurses age 34-59) for 26 years, and 44,548 men ages 40-75 for 20 years. The first researcher is Teresa Fung, ScD, of the Department of Nutrition at Simmons College in Boston.  Harvard researchers Willett and Hu were once again involved in the study.

Data on low-carb diets and mortality are scar, according to the researchers. Their study is believed to be the first large, long follow-up study to compare all-cause mortality with different types of low-carb diets.

Meat-Based Low-Carb Diets Riskier

Low-carb diets relying on meat were associated with a substantial increase in death risk, while versions with higher intakes of vegetables and fruit were associated with a substantial decrease in the risk of death.

The specifics are striking. Low-carb diets high in meat were linked to a 23% higher mortality from all causes and from cardiovascular causes. But low-carb diets with higher vegetable intake were associated with a 20% lower risk of death from all causes and a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality.

“The lower cardiovascular disease mortality observed with higher vegetable low-carbohydrate score in our study is probably due in part to the established benefit of unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and micronutrients,” the researchers opined in their report.

“These results suggest that the health effects of a low-carb diet may depend on the type of protein and fat, and a diet that includes mostly vegetable sources of protein and fat is preferable to a diet with mostly animal sources of protein and fat,” Teresa Fung and colleagues concluded.

In an accompanying editorial, William S. Yancy, Jr., MD, of Duke University Medical Center and co-authors urged caution in interpreting the results. “No one can legitimately claim that a low-carbohydrate diet is either harmful or safe with any degree of certainty until a large-scale, randomized study with meaningful clinical endpoints is done.” They applaud the study, but observe that controlled trails are more definitive in determining cause and effect.

My View

I have long been on record against low-carb diets—of any kind. I believe such diets are unnecessary, unpleasant, and inhibit athletic performance. Low-carb diets were designed for rapid weight loss (and some health problems); they were not intended for active people. It is well-established that carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for the brain and are required for high-intensity exercise. Athletes need plenty of carbohydrates (unrefined is best most of the time) to think and train at high levels. For full details, see Facts on Carbs for Active People http://www.cbass.com/Carbs_Athletes.htm

Fortunately, there is no need to chose between animal and vegetable sources of protein and fat. A middle ground solves the problem nicely and is healthy for the vast majority of people.

Red meat is low on the Totem Pole when it comes to protein quality. Except for an occasional treat, I don't eat it.  To the best of my knowledge, there's no nutritional upside.

Eggs (not too many) and low-fat dairy products provide the highest quality protein, and just about everyone agrees that fish (especially fatty fish) is a healthy source of protein and fat. Add nuts (almonds, pecans and walnuts are my favorites), lentils, beans, soy (not too much), and, if you like, poultry. And don’t forget peanut butter; see New Peanut Butter! http://www.cbass.com/Peanutbutter.htm

You’re home free. I’ve been studying and eating this way for decades. Your taste buds and your body will both thank you.

 Eat healthy and be happy.

(For a short summary of my diet philosophy: http://www.cbass.com/PHILOSOP.HTM )

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