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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Want a healthier heart? Eat a steak

I'm a cardiologist — and I encourage patients to eat red meat.

This advice defies conventional wisdom. For decades, nutritionists and physicians have urged people to limit consumption of red meat and other fatty foods, which were thought to cause heart disease.

But new studies debunk this conventional wisdom. Indeed, it now looks like low-quality carbohydrates — not saturated fats — are driving America's heart disease epidemic. It's time to stop demonizing steak.

The medical community frowns upon the kinds of saturated fats found in meat, dairy and coconut oil. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding red meat — and if people insist on eating it, they should “select the leanest cuts available.” Federal nutritional guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of one's daily calories come from saturated fats, while the AHA recommends even less.

These recommendations have never been supported by rigorous research. The idea that saturated fats cause heart disease stems from decades-old observational studies. Researchers asked participants to complete lengthy questionnaires about their eating habits and then tracked their health over time.

Researchers noticed that people who ate lots of saturated fats were more likely to contract heart disease. They concluded that meat and dairy were the root of all our chronic diseases, especially heart disease. Yet subsequent researchers found that in many cases, scientists cherry-picked data to support that conclusion.

More importantly, these kinds of observational claims are weak science. In 2011, a comprehensive analysis of 52 separate claims made in observational studies concluded that none — that's right, zero — could be confirmed in a clinical trial — a more rigorous type of science.

Observational studies can only show correlation, not prove causation. Vegetarians, for example, have lower rates of heart disease. Is this due to their meatless diet? Or because they smoke less and exercise more regularly than people who eat large amounts of meat? Observational studies cannot sort out these kinds of issues.

In recent years, numerous teams of researchers worldwide have reviewed all the data on saturated fats — and concluded that these fats do not have any effect on cardiovascular mortality.

A recent, comprehensive review of two dozen high-quality studies conducted by Purdue University researchers found no link between red meat intake and any negative cardiovascular outcome. In a separate 2014 analysis that examined 72 different observational and clinical trials involving more than 650,000 people, the lead researcher concluded that “[I]t’s not saturated fat that we should worry about.

So what should we worry about? Carbohydrates.

Consider how the American diet has evolved. The most recent government data reveals that from 1970 to 2014, the availability of red meat fell 28 percent. Whole milk availability declined 79 percent. And animal fats — like butter and lard — dropped 27 percent.

If saturated fats were truly unhealthy, then obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates should have plummeted alongside this drop in saturated fat consumption.

Instead, disease rates have skyrocketed — largely because Americans replaced saturated fats with carbohydrate-rich grains. From 1970 to 2014, grain availability surged 28 percent. The body converts these carbohydrates to glucose, thereby raising blood sugar levels which — over time — can contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

New research supports this idea. The largest-ever analysis of diet, which included 135,000 people in 18 countries, revealed that people who consumed high-carb diets were 28 percent more likely to die during the study than people with lower carbohydrate intake. By contrast, those who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fats had the lowest rates of stroke.

While this is observational data, it’s not alone in contradicting government recommendations.

Even more revealing is a recent controlled clinical study on people with Type 2 diabetes conducted with high-quality evidence. Researchers from Indiana University found that minimizing carbohydrates while encouraging fat — including saturated fat — actually reversed diabetes in 60 percent of patients after 1 year. The diet also reduced inflammation and triglycerides, and increased HDL — so-called good cholesterol — all strong indicators of improving cardiac and metabolic health.

Additional research points specifically to the potential benefits of eating red meat while decreasing carbs. Two studies led by researchers at the University of Western Australia found that substituting carbohydrate-rich foods with red meat reduced inflammation and blood pressure.

Medical experts have long dispensed unproven advice about meat. But newer, better research indicates that red meat and saturated fats aren't harmful when combined with a lower carbohydrate diet.

So if you're looking to safeguard your heart, fire up the grill and cook that burger — but skip the bun and the pasta salad.

Scher is a cardiologist in San Diego.


William Kendall said...

I'd go for one right about now!

Kay G. said...

Good to know. Now, if I could only afford red meat!

Anonymous said...

wow, that’s very convincing,,!,,,,

Anonymous said...

We eat beef once a week, maybe we should eat it more.

JFM said...

Sounds to good to be true but I am all for it ❤๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ‚๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ❤

Christine said...

Here's to red meat!

Louca por porcelana said...

Love reading this post!Thanks for sharing!

Tom said...

...good to hear!

Lorrie said...

Meanwhile, a generation or two has been convinced the other way. It's going to take a long time to reverse the trend. I'm glad I never jumped on the "no red meat and saturated fat" bandwagon.

Jean | said...

Graham, this is what I'm always telling people. Doctor recently told me my cholesterol was high and gave me a diet sheet of absolute junk! No, I won't be trading my organic grassfed beef and butter for soy protein and margarine. I love bread, and make fabulous bread, but I eat it in very limited quantities and I haven't had more than 6 teaspoons of sugar in a 24-hour period in years (most days I have none).

peppylady (Dora) said...

I ate beef liver for dinner.
Coffee is on

Linda said...

I am allergic to all mammal products, so is chicken okay? Harmful?

Linda said...

Kay makes a good point. Beef has gotten really expensive, at least here in the states. And oddly, a nice steak in the supermarket costs as much as a custom-grilled steak in a restaurant! There's no tipping at home, though.

Valerie-Jael said...

Sound advice! Valerie

Lady Caer Morganna said...

Atkins diet is one that worked for my friend years ago. I often considered it for myself as well!

Lee said...

Everything in moderation, I say. I don't eat meat every day...but I will not ever give it up completely. I love a good piece of steak...or roast beef...etc.

Conniecrafter said...

My head just spins from what we are told one minute totally changes and everyone seems to have their ideas on what is good and not good, I think we just need to eat as clean and whole as we can, skipping all the junk food and hope for the best

Sue said...

I know two people in our house who would be very pleased to hear this! xx

Carol Blackburn said...

Yes! I'll have mine med-well please.

Lowcarb team member said...

Linda (at Practical Parsimony) said:
I am allergic to all mammal products, so is chicken okay? Harmful?

Hello Linda, and many thanks for your comment and question.
I must point out that none of the low carb team are medical experts. We post various articles, recipes etc that we feel may be of interest to our readers. If any reader has food, allergy or health issues these must always be taken into account.

With regard to your question I can only point you in the direction of two articles that may help/be of interest to you.

Meat Allergy


Once again, many thanks for your comment - it is always nice to receive, read and share them.

All the best Jan

DMS said...

So interesting. Although I am a vegetarian- I used to eat a lot of red meat. I try to limit my carbs now and most of my diet consists of veggies in some form. Great post that reminds us to question what we are told and check the research! Thanks!

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

We know who paid for all those observational studies, don't we. Not the meat and dairy industry. :)

Magic Love Crow said...

Very interesting!! Thank you Graham!

carol l mckenna said...

Great post!

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