Controversies surrounding the impact of the fat content of beef on human health
Whether ‘red’ or ‘processed meat’ intake is related to adverse health outcomes in the US population and other developed countries is a topic under intense debate. Beef, lamb and pork all are typically labelled as ‘red meats’; however, beef is the most prevalent source of red meat in the US diet (55%; beefUSA.org). Despite this, few studies have specifically investigated the relationship between beef consumption and cardiovascular disease (CVD), which will be the primary focus of this chapter. Some studies, of note, have evaluated the relationship between red meat (not distinguishing beef) and CVD. Like many other foods, guidelines for meat consumption in cardiovascular health were based historically on the research conducted on isolated nutrients (i.e. saturated fat and cholesterol). Epidemiologic studies have linked beef (as well as other red meat) consumption to increased CVD, cancer mortality, acute myocardial infarction and metabolic syndrome. In contrast, however, there also are numerous epidemiologic studies that have not reported an association between beef (and other red meat) consumption and CVD. It is important to note that epidemiologic studies of nutrition and chronic disease do not establish whether the relationships are real or simply random associations. Concerns about whether red or processed meat causes adverse outcomes cannot simply be justified because epidemiologic studies might not adequately account for fat content, meat processing treatments and cooking methods. These factors can modify the health effects of lean red meat (i.e. specifically, beef) in the diet. For example,
it is important to distinguish the health outcomes that result from processed meats versus unprocessed red meat, and for the purposes of this chapter, lean beef.