The wave of supermarkets falling all over themselves in a rush to distance their operations from the cloud hovering over “pink slime” has officially become a tsunami.

In the last four days, Kroger—which includes Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, King Soopers, QFC and Smith’s—joined Stop & Shop, Acme, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop ’n Save, Food Lion, Dominicks and Safeway in loudly pledging that never shall a beef product sold in their cases ever again contain the dreaded ingredient.

“Kroger listens to our customers carefully to provide the high-quality products they want at the great prices they deserve,” the company said in a statement.

Translation: Kroger listens carefully to everything from talk radio to cable news to mainstream media and has determined that there’s little profit to be lost by dropping textured beef and lots of traction to be gained by publicly renouncing its use.

So it goes in an era when perception doesn’t just become reality, it helps define reality.

In fact, so strong has the whirlwind generated by pink slime become that it’s pointless to bother with any attempt to dissuade retailers from abandoning a perfectly edible product or convince consumers that lean beef added to hamburger patties is far healthier than many an alternative ingredient typically added to a formulation.

It can get downright depressing, reading and listening to clueless reporters with zero knowledge of the subject wax eloquent about how awful it is to contemplate eating the beef obtained from cattle bones—as if our ancestors weren’t gnawing on those very same bones to obtain the exact same additional nutritional value.

Meat and mental health

Well, here’s at least a partial antidote to the week’s gloomy news: A new study from Australia determined that women who cut red meat out of their diet are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Those who ate less than the recommended amount of beef and lamb were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the mental health disorders, the researchers at the Deakin University School of Medicine reported.

A study of more than 1,000 women showed that switching to other protein sources, such as chicken and fish, is not as healthy as conventional wisdom might suggest.

“We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health, as studies from other countries had found red meat consumption to be associated with physical health risks, but it turns out that it actually may be quite important,” said lead researcher Felice Jacka, an associate professor and Research Fellow at Deakin University’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit in Geelong, Victoria, about 40 miles west of Melbourne.“When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.”

Jacka told The Express newspaper in Sydney that even when their study accounted for the overall healthiness of the women’s diets and such factors as socio-economic status, physical activity, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.

“Interestingly, there was no relationship between mental healthand other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins,” she said.“Vegetarianism was not the explanation either. Only 19 women in the study were vegetarians, and the results were the same when they were excluded from the study analyses.”

The study was published in the current issue of the clinical journal Psychotherapy Psychosomatics.

Jacka noted that it is well-known that the overall quality of one’s diet is an important factor in supporting positive mental health. But she said that her research suggested that eating a moderate amount of lean red meat—about three or four small servings a week—may be equally important, although she cautioned that “eating more than the recommended amount of red meat was also related to increased depression and anxiety.”

Hasn’t it been emphasized that moderation is the key in all dietary decisions?

Jacka also suggested that women should stick to grass-fed meats whenever possible. That’s understandable, given that Australian cattle are nearly all grass-finished. A grass-fed beef recommendation coming from anAussie researcher is like a French chef suggesting that a bottle of Bordeaux makes a nice addition to the dinner table.

“We know that red meat in Australia is a healthy product, as it contains high levels of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are important to mental and physical health,” she said.

To suggest that eating red meat equals good mental health would be a mistake along the lines of the recent study from Harvard University School of Public Health that processed meats increase the risk of early mortality. In both studies, the causation complex is multivariate and virtually impossible to untangle, certainly not to the point of fingering a specific food or a single nutrient as the reason we either stay sane or drop dead, as the case may be.

But it sure is nice to see the media blindly jump onto a bandwagon that touts the positive effects of eating meat for a change.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.