Perpetuating the ‘bad foods’ myth

by Bryan Salvage
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Decades ago, I attended a media luncheon hosted by an international ingredient manufacturer based on the East Coast. This event was held to educate members of the consumer and trade press about the “good foods, bad foods” myth that was being exacerbated primarily by the consumer media at that time. Speakers from the host company also went over the “risks/benefits” of eating a wide variety of foods.

Bottom line, the host felt there was no such thing as a “bad” food. Instead of avoiding certain foods (unless ordered to by a doctor for medical reasons), consumers should adopt a well-balanced, nutritious diet; not over-consume any particular type of food or beverage, plus exercise daily. Equally important, parents must learn the facts about diet and health and pass this knowledge on to their kids. This sounded like very sound advice to me.

Regardless, the good foods/bad foods myth continues today. The Meatless Mondays movement is one that has me scratching my head. According to Wikipedia, Meatless Monday is an international campaign that “encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet.” This non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns Inc. is in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future.

In recent months, I’ve seen news briefs on school districts and local governments considering adopting this measure. What worries me is that we are seeing more groups dictating to the masses what they should and shouldn’t consume. Are groups promoting this qualified to do so or are such movements simply extensions of the vegetarian agenda? Over the years meat has been blamed for contributing to a number of maladies: various types of cancer, diabetes, you name it. But in each case, sound science has refuted such charges.

Now on Nov. 9, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution requesting residents take a personal pledge to have a “Meatless Monday,” having already declared war on trans-fats and fast-food restaurants, reported the Los Angeles Daily News. Although this move does not have any legal binding, city officials hope it will spark a trend, make residents healthier and reduce the impact on the environment, the article relayed.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who had also called for a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles to fight obesity, pointed out this move followed the `good food' agenda the council recently adopted supporting local, sustainable food choices. "We can reduce saturated fats and reduce the risk of heart disease by 19 percent," Perry said.

One son of Councilman Ed Reyes, who co-proposed the resolution, has diabetes. "The issue is how does a local municipality engage in this and how do we create change," Reyes said. "If we do it one plate at time, one meal, one day, we are ratcheting down the impact on our environment. We start with one day a week and then, who knows, maybe we can change our habits for a lifetime."

As a result, the perception for many consumers due to such movements is meat is bad for you and that Americans eat too much of it — neither charge is true. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans consume 5 oz. to 7 oz. from the Protein Foods Group per day depending upon age, gender and level of activity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates men consume 6.9 oz. of meat and poultry, while women consume approximately 4.4 oz., according to Meat MythCrushers.

The American Meat Institute relays that Meat MythCrushers was developed in consultation with some of the leading experts in meat and animal science, food safety and nutrition to provide the other side of the story regarding various myths surrounding meat. While AMI hosts the site — www.meatmythcrushers.com — materials have been reviewed by the American Meat Science Association members and other experts in the field.

Yes, meat does contain saturated fat, but consumers limiting saturated fat intake should be aware that approximately 40 cuts of meat qualify for the government definition of “lean” and contain less than 10.5 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol. Fat in meat also has substantial portions of both mono- and polyunsaturated fat — or “good fats” — as well, a fact many people don’t know.

What’s more, the Protein Foods Group of the Dietary Guidelines is the only category consumed in the proper quantity, AMI relays. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are under-consumed while discretionary sugars and fats are over-consumed.

In terms of saturated fat concerns, a large 2010 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. In addition, important new research shows that meals that include meat are associated with a sense of satisfaction and lasting hunger control, which can help prevent the weight gain that can cause weight-related health issues.

Regarding the meat industry’s impact on the environment, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows all of agriculture contributes 7 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions while livestock production accounts for 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, Meat MythCrushers points out. Meanwhile, transportation accounts for 26 percent.

Research at Washington State Univ., Cornell and other universities shows beef production has evolved and, over time, has required fewer and fewer natural resources to raise the same wholesome products that help continue to feed a growing global population. Like all people, food animal producers, in general, have a vested interest in protecting the environment in which they live. Increasingly, they are producing more meat and poultry with fewer resources.

Agriculture operations of any size can be managed in environmentally sound ways, MythCrushers continues. But certainly modern operations can benefit from sophisticated environmental controls.
A 2010 Washington State Univ. study examined modern beef production and found that since 1977 advances in production practices resulted in 13 percent more beef with 13 percent fewer animals. The study found that modern beef production uses 30 percent less land and 20 percent less feed. When more cattle are together in a controlled environment, feed is provided and manure is managed through sophisticated systems, which reduce environmental impact.

Sure, there are other environmental problems from time to time such as runoff discovered from feedyards or slaughter plants, but once found those problems must be fixed immediately...otherwise, such companies will receive stiff government fines and risk strong consumer backlash for not quickly fixing this problem.

So, when will the self-appointed food police stop their assault on meat, poultry and other foods? Will banning half-lb. burgers or foot-long hot dogs be next? Will a “Vegetable-Free Monday” someday be encouraged by some unqualified local officials due to recent Salmonella recalls and illnesses? It would be crazy to do something like this — but nothing surprises me anymore.

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