The Skinny on Beef Fat

This is a guest post by Jessica Reingold.  Jessica spent 3 weeks at Canada Beef as part of her dietetic internship at North York General Hospital. She lives in downtown Toronto with her black standard poodle, Bridget, near an amazing off-leash dog park.

When I told my mom about my internship placement at Canada Beef, the first thing she asked was “what would you wear for that”? I didn’t know where she was going with this, but when she mentioned rubber boots, I realized she thought I was heading to the slaughterhouse. When I told her I’d be at Canada Beef, she was quite relieved.

Through a stroke of good luck, I was placed here of all places. It couldn’t be more perfect. The dietitian here, Karine Gale, is, well, pretty fabulous. Plus, we share the opinion that red meat is a healthy and normal part of the diet, and that its association with heart disease is absolutely unfounded. It is very frustrating to see something accepted as common knowledge when the scientific evidence says otherwise.

We are surrounded by nutrition messages that are confusing, inaccurate, and contradictory. Some foods are awarded the status of super foods, while others are unfairly vilified. Beef, for example, is often presented in the media as containing saturated fat and thereby contributing to heart disease. Despite compelling research that eating fresh beef does not raise heart disease risk, the truth seems to fall on deaf ears.

In the public conversation, the focus seems to have shifted from saturated fat to trans fat. In order to fully appreciate this shift, you need to understand what trans fat is. Industrial trans fat emerged in the food supply as a result of developing hydrogenated vegetable oils. The process of hydrogenation converts liquid oil to semi-solid or solid fat, for use in margarine, shortening, deep-frying, etc. They were presented to the public as healthier alternatives to solid animal fat. It sounds too good to be true because it is. Industrial trans fat is a by-product of the hydrogenation process.

Besides not tasting as good as the real thing, industrial trans fat lowers your good cholesterol (a bad thing), raises your bad cholesterol (another bad thing), and is associated with cardiovascular disease.[1] It’s important to distinguish between industrial trans fat and natural trans fat as they have very different health implications.

Natural trans fat is present in small amounts in the milk and meat of ruminant animals (i.e. cows, sheep, and goats). This is not a new source of trans fat in our diet as humans have been consuming it through meat and milk for thousands of years. The evidence indicates that natural trans fat, at levels naturally found in ruminant sources, does not cause adverse changes in blood cholesterol levels or increase risk of heart disease.[2] In fact, researchers are investigating potential health benefits of consuming natural trans fat.2 Quite simply, natural trans fat should be considered a good fat.

The point is often made that human genetics have changed very little over thousands of years, and therefore the environment is to blame for the emergence of obesity and chronic conditions like heart disease. Makes sense. Humans have enjoyed eating red meat, also for thousands of years. If we take eating red meat to be a relative constant throughout human history, why would we draw a cause-and-effect relationship between red meat and the current health crisis. It’s crazy. Red meat is an easy scapegoat but it makes no sense!

[1] Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. MEDICAL PROGRESS: Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(15):1601-13.

2 thoughts on “The Skinny on Beef Fat

  1. Pingback: Food resolutions for 2013 « Beef Blog: A blog about Canadian Beef

  2. Pingback: Beef is FULL of {good} surprises! | Beef Blog: A blog about Canadian Beef

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