As the director of nutrition research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, my responsibility is to develop, manage and implement beef nutrition research programs that are designed to provide scientific evidence on beef’s role in a healthy diet. The dietary guidelines are a priority of mine that I stay engaged on year round.
Back in June, Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc and Vice Chair of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made a bold statement when she claimed: “these won’t be your grandmother’s dietary guidelines”, referring to the upcoming changes. Well, today’s beef is not your grandparents’ steak either. People are rethinking lean beef’s role in helping Americans build healthier diets.
Farmers and ranchers have responded to dietary guidance by supporting research and education to maximize the availability of lean beef. The industry has selected for leaner cattle, trimmed excessive fat, and encouraged people to choose appropriate portions of lean beef, more often. As an industry, we listened, we changed, and we wanted you to know about it.
When the first edition of the Dietary Guidelines was issued, fat trim on beef was one-half of an inch. Today, fat trim on retail beef cuts averages less than one-tenth of an inch – virtually devoid of external fat. In fact, two-thirds of the beef cuts sold in the retail meat case meet government guidelines for lean when cooked and trimmed.
While Americans’ waistlines are expanding, the consumption of calories and fat from beef has declined. Beef contributes only five percent of today’s calories, yet it supplies more than five percent of eight essential nutrients, like zinc, iron and protein.
Farmers and ranchers have listened to dietary guidance. Consumers are enjoying leaner beef. So what does this mean for the role of lean beef in healthful dietary patterns? Evaluating western versus prudent patterns is helpful – but there has been a lag in the USDA Nutrient Database to reflect lean beef changes, which affects the accuracy of data used in observational studies.
For example, the broad category of “red meat” used in large observational studies, like the Nurses’ Health Study, does not reflect the leaner supply of beef. So, the lean beef people are actually consuming is NOT used when comparing beef consumption with health outcomes.
Therefore, these comparisons fall short in assessing lean beef as part of a healthful dietary pattern.
Fortunately, there are numerous randomized controlled trials that consistently demonstrate four to five and one-half ounces of lean beef daily can contribute to overall healthful dietary patterns and improve markers for health.
We anticipate the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to be published in the fall of 2015. Until then, the Beef Checkoff and NCBA will continue to be a part of this conversation.
Source: Dr. Clara Lau, NCBA Director of Nutrition Research