A Meat-Loving Dietitian’s Year in Reflection

by Karine Gale, RD

As 2012 recently came to a close and we begin 2013, I find myself reflecting on some of the health and nutrition stories from this past year.

A few caught my eye.  One about ‘vegan’ babies I found particularly concerning.  This actually made a list of one of the trends shaping up for 2013.  This is serious stuff.  Where do I start?  Parents have a responsibility to their infants to provide the basics for optimal development.  This includes adequate nutrition.  There are some ‘non-negotiable’ nutrients required for growth and brain development.  Examples of these are protein, iron and zinc, to name a few.  Being deficient in iron in early childhood, for example, puts a child at risk of irreversible delays in brain development.  Yikes!  Add to this that the occurrence of iron deficiency is already high in the under 5 set – before a trend to veganism which only elevates the risk…  It is notable that Health Canada recently released strong wording regarding infant feeding: specifically to ensure babies are eating iron-rich foods as a priority as soon as they start solids.  This was a big health story for 2012.  Meat is specifically named in these guidelines as iron is most easily available from animal sources, and particularly from red meats.  Being vegan makes achieving nutrient needs tricky – protein, iron, and zinc needs to name but a few. Don’t think I would risk that for my baby.

One story I thought was very interesting was a study put out toward the end of December.  The study, “The Global Burden of Disease Study (2010)”, published in the very high profile journal Lancet, was an examination of a variety of factors with the goal of estimating each one’s relative contribution to disease and disability.  It is the largest systematic study ever compiled to look at this.

This study found the 3 leading risk factors for global disease burden were high blood pressure, tobacco smoke, and alcohol use. The study identified diets low in fruits and high in sodium as the most prominent dietary risk factors for disease.

In case you are curious, here’s what made the top 20:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Smoking
  3. Alcohol use
  4. Household air pollution
  5. Low fruit consumption
  6. High body mass index
  7. High fasting blood glucose
  8. Childhood underweight
  9. Ambient pollution
  10. Physical inactivity
  11. High sodium intake
  12. Low nuts and seeds intake
  13. Iron deficiency
  14. Suboptimal breastfeeding
  15. High total blood cholesterol
  16. Low whole grains intake
  17. Low vegetable intake
  18. Low omega-3 intake
  19. Drug use
  20. Occupational injury

As you will notice, red meat is not on the list.  The researchers evaluated red meat; it actually ranked dead last in the list of the 43 factors they examined.

This study is important as the findings provide us with the opportunity to see the big picture with respect to risk factors for disease.  This is desperately needed!  When we understand risks, we can prioritize health efforts properly and focus on those with the most benefit. I hear a lot of rhetoric about reducing red meat intake for health, but what is this based on?  Consider the facts: low fruit and high sodium intakes were the leading dietary factors contributing to disease in this global study.  It so happens that Canadians’ intake of fruit and veg is largely inadequate, and sodium intakes are too high.  Clearly then, these are priorities!

In contrast, Canadians consume a moderate amount of red meat (74 g/day on average), in line with Canada’s Food Guide. Thus, efforts to increase vegetable and fruit intake and reduce sodium intake are likely to be beneficial; whereas, advice to limit red meat, such as beef, is likely to prove ineffective.

2013 will no doubt surprise us with new research, some crazy stories, and definitely a few conflicting pieces of nutrition advice.  One thing we know for sure, the world didn’t end in 2012.  And at least I continue to have lots to write about!

Cheers to 2013!

About the Author:

Karine & JamesKarine is a Registered Dietitian with Canada Beef Inc, passionate foodie and world traveler. Beef, of course, is a favourite food in her home – providing nourishing and nurturing meals for her hubby, growing 7 year old and the friends and other family they often entertain. There are not many conversations, either at work or at home, that don’t weave their way back somehow to food, recipes, nutrition, or beef. “Is “beef” all you talk about at work?”, Karine’s son recently asked. Karine proudly responded “yes”…

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