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No Bull: Beef is Back

High-protein diets, strong economy fuel comeback

By Nancy A. Melville
HealthSCOUT Reporter

SATURDAY, Nov. 6 (HealthSCOUT) -- Despite warnings from nutritionists and harangues by animal-rights activists, the government reports more meat is back on America's front burner.

With high-protein dieters feasting on sirloins and a savvy beef industry plugging the power of lean cuts, meat demand has increased 4 percent since 1998, reversing a downward slide that began two decades ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Regimens like the high-protein, low-carbohydrate "Dr. Atkins Diet" have dominated bestseller lists, convincing dieters tired of low-fat products to taste more forbidden foods such as bacon and beef.

But meat-heavy diets are strongly criticized by nutritionists who say time will demonstrate the many health risks.

"A lot of the food sources the diets recommend are very high in saturated fat," says Roxanne Moore, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She says, "That means they can raise cholesterol levels, which precede cardiovascular disease. And then there's the concern that such a high protein intake can overwork the kidneys and eventually cause some kidney problems down the road."

Also worrisome, she says, is that "all the high-protein diets advocate more protein than the average person typically needs. A normal recommended portion [of meat] is two to three ounces, which is only about the size of a deck of cards."

Moore advises eating meat no more than three times a week and limiting consumption of saturated fats. "In choosing the lean cuts of meat, such as the loin and the round, one can avoid the kind of high cholesterol levels that are attributed to these high saturated fats and meats," Moore says.

She says the meat industry appears to have responded well to nutritional concerns. "We're seeing more advertising for leaner cuts of meat and we're even seeing labeling with meats in different grocery stores where they'll call it, for instance, 'Dieter's Choice.' So there's clearly an awareness."

Beef-industry insiders acknowledge the surge in meat consumption can be traced, in part, to high-protein diets, cholesterol-conscious butchers and the nation's good economy.

"We see that a very strong economy, low unemployment, low interest rates, rising wages and other broad economic factors have brought this on," says Julie Quick, spokesperson for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, D.C. "If consumers have more dollars to spend, we often see them spend that on beef."

Quick says a push to put more meat in the microwave has also has helped meat producers. "The beef industry has been working to develop new heat-and-serve products that can be ready to eat for people with busy lifestyles."

Whether you're microwaving or grilling, Moore says keep in mind the type of cut and size of the portion.

What To Do

Find out everything you ever wanted to know about beef at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Beef Home Page.

And head to the American Dietetic Association for information on a balanced diet.

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