“I’m a cocktail-before-dinner guy, and hell will freeze over before I give up steak.”
So begins an intriguing article titled “Researcher contends meat may be essential.”
Writing in Canada’s Winnipeg Free Press, columnist W. Gifford Jones noted that, “I’ve found an ally in Prof. Duo Li, professor of nutrition at Zhejiang University in Hangahou, China.”
Prof. Li reported on his research quantifying the value of eating meat in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, which is a legitimate scientific publication—although one with a peculiarly practical bent—as these selected articles demonstrate:
- “A Novel Glutathione-Hydroxycinnamic Acid Product Generated in Oxidative Wine Conditions”
- “Investigating the Chemical Changes of Chlorogenic Acids During Coffee Brewing”
- “Identification of Phenolic Constituents in Cichorium endivia Salads by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography”
Li’s research underscores the reality that vegetarian diets are generally lacking in iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and essential omega-3 fatty acids, all nutrients necessary for optimal cardiovascular health. On the flip side of that coin, heavy consumption of vegetables tends to increase production of blood platelets, which play a key role in normal blood clotting. Too many, however, increase the risk of forming dangerous blood clots that can cause fatalities if they become lodged in coronary arteries or severe strokes if they end up in the brain.
Vegetable consumption also produces an increase in the amount of homocysteine in the circulatory system, which has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Prof. Li’s studies also show that a strict vegetarian diet results in a decreased amount of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called “good” cholesterol, also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The Big C and CoQ10
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but although industry proponents, researchers and dieticians have worked tirelessly to spread the gospel of a balanced diet that includes animal foods to add the quality protein, heme iron and B vitamins often lacking in processed foods, a similar balance is nowhere to be found in media coverage of food and nutrition issues. For example, the recommended daily allowance for iron is 18 milligrams, yet the typical North American diet contains only about 6 mg, which is a big problem for teens, pregnant mothers and those who are nursing.
Other than cursory references to “Make sure you get enough iron” in online tips for women who are expecting, there’s rarely a peep about a widespread and potentially serious nutritional deficiency among Americans that’s exacerbated by the endless flogging of vegetarian diets as the solution to pretty much every chronic disease WebMD ever profiled.
In addition, meat contains vitamins significant amounts of zinc, an essential nutrient needed for proper growth and metabolic functioning—and also lacking most typical diets.
Eating a moderate amount of lean meat—beef, pork, poultry—certainly makes sense nutritionally. As Jones phrased it, “It makes more sense than a totally veggie diet. After all, humans have been enjoying meat since the caveman discovered it could keep him and his mate alive.”
But what about the “Big C,” as in cholesterol? Although science has discounted the 1980s-vintage hysteria about cholesterol—seeing as how the typical human produces two-thirds of the body’s required cholesterol endogenously—all too many people still consider anything containing cholesterol to be “bad.” That’s why, as Jones noted, is why millions of people have switched from red meat to chicken and fish.
Of course, a typical six-ounce steak only contains 146 mg of cholesterol. Which, unfortunately, is a meaningless number to anyone not possessing a Master’s degree in human nutrition.
So here’s perhaps a more interesting fact to roll out next time you’re arguing with your veggie frenemies: Meat—particularly beef—is one of the principal dietary sources of co-enzyme Q10 (Co-Q10). Heart, liver and kidneys are also great sources, as are sardines and mackerel, but Americans aren’t about to suddenly embrace organ meats or mackerel as dinner time staples anytime soon, so beef remains the likely source of CoQ10 for the majority of consumers.
That’s important, because CoQ10, which is similar to a vitamin, is manufactured by the body, is found in virtually every cell and serves as a catalyst in the production of metabolic energy. CoQ10 also functions as an antioxidant to protect the body’s vital organs—especially the heart—from cellular-level damage. The National Cancer Institute, in fact, has done extensive research on CoQ10 as a clinical supplement to the use of conventional anti-cancer drugs.
Beef is a good source of this vital nutrient, although cooking a steak well-done not only ruins the eating experience (for me, anyway), but tends to denature CoQ10 and thus increase one’s risk of cardiac disease occurring later in life.
The bottom line is pretty simple: Eat meat and prosper.
Nutritionally speaking, anyway.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.