Ask the nutritionist: Lean beef healthy, but limit consumption

Posted12/19/2012 6:18 AM

Q. Is it true that beef is now considered heart-healthy?

A. Most research shows that frequently eating red meat, which includes beef, lamb and pork, is linked to increased risk of heart disease. This is especially true for processed red meat, such as hot dogs and sausage.

You may have heard that beef can be heart healthy from recent news stories. One study of 36 adults with elevated cholesterol for example, compared a diet high in beef and low in fiber to a diet low in beef and filled with high-fiber vegetables and fruits. Both diets reduced LDL ("bad") cholesterol equally well whether high or low in beef.

The low-beef diet in this study provided lean beef in amounts equivalent to about two decks of cards (about 6 ounces) per week. The higher beef diet provided lean beef equal to about one to one-and-a-half decks of cards (about 4 ounces) daily. The study was five weeks and funded by the beef industry; it is not enough to support a change in diet recommendations. And although the drops in lipids like LDL were similar, that may not be the whole answer for heart health, as factors like inflammation play an important role.

Beef is high in a form of iron called heme iron. One large population study recently linked higher consumption of heme iron from red meat with a 65 percent increase in heart disease. Higher heme iron content is thought to be one of the reasons that high red meat (over 18 ounces per week) consumption is linked to increased risk of colon cancer.

For now, the best move for most of us for heart and overall health, if you want to include beef, is to choose lean cuts of fresh meat and to limit amounts to no more than 18 ounces per week.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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