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The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is the highest ranked peer-reviewed scientific journal in nutrition. That should tell you a lot about the field, since it’s published by the American Society of Nutrition, whose sustaining partners include the Sugar Association, candy bar and soda companies, the corn syrup people, and the meat, dairy, and egg industries. And this is the highest ranked nutrition journal. The fact that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is a sustaining partner may help explain their publication of this article.
Imagine you’re in the pocket of Big Beef and Big Pig. How could you possibly pull off a study showing that eating red meat does not negatively inﬂuence cardiovascular disease risk factors? A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials showing that eating more versus less red meat does not inﬂuence cholesterol or blood pressure. Drs. Barnard and Willett pointed out the fatal flaw in their editorial, “The Misuse of Meta-analysis in Nutrition Research,” by asking the question “Compared to What?” Of the 39 trials that they had chosen on LDL cholesterol, nearly 90 percent of them were just swapping one meat for another, comparing red meat to white meat.
They were using chicken control diets or fish control diets. And we know that when it comes to cholesterol, the impact of beef consumption is just as bad as fish or poultry, and so that’s how they pulled it off. They just swapped meats. That’s like publishing a study saying total Twinkie intake does not negatively inﬂuence risk factors by switching Twinkies with Ding Dongs. Those randomized to zero Twinkies didn’t do any better. Yeah, because now they were eating Ding Dongs. It’s a classic drug industry trick: testing your drug against something known to be terrible.
Whereas if you swap out meat for plant-based meats—plant-based sausages, plant-based chicken patties, and veggie dogs—you end up with significantly lower cholesterol. Well duh, you say, there’s less saturated fat in plant-based meats. But even independent of saturated fat content, you end up with higher LDL cholesterol with red meat or white meat—any kind of meat—compared to non-meat protein sources. The researchers conclude that this is in keeping with recommendations promoting diets with a high proportion of plant-based food but, based on cholesterol effects, white meat like chicken and turkey is just as bad as red. And fish may be even worse––though what they often did is try to standardize the saturated fat content by adding something like butter. But at the same saturated fat content, fish appears to be worse than beef, and chicken is just as bad as beef. Yet plant protein sources like legumes, soy, and nuts—beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, and nuts—did better.
Switch out a single serving of even lean beef with the same amount of calories of nuts or soybeans, and you can lower LDL bad cholesterol, a key risk factor for the #1 killer of men and women in the United States and around much of the world. But wait, is that why a single serving of nuts a day is associated with 22 percent reduction in the risk of premature death? Why millions of deaths every year may be attributable to inadequate nut intake? Maybe the benefit is just because they’re eating nuts instead of meat? No. The drop in heart attacks amongst more frequent nut eaters is just as strong or even stronger among vegetarians. The reduced mortality associated with nut consumption is independent of health condition. It’s not just health nuts eating nuts. In fact, in a comparison of a dozen different food groups, nuts beat out even vegetables when it came to a lower risk of premature death.
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