Nutrition-wise blog

Pink slime and red meat — What's the takeaway?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 4, 2012

This past month has been especially noteworthy for meat news. First came the revelation that most ground beef contains a processed meat byproduct called "pink slime." More delicately known as "lean finely textured beef trimmings," this product is made from connective tissue (versus meat muscle) and fat, and is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill salmonella and E. coli.

Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers this process safe enough to allow the resulting product to be added to ground beef. However, current regulations don't require that companies disclose use of this ingredient on meat labels.

Speaking of meat labels, a new USDA rule requires that packages of ground or certain whole cuts of meat and poultry now carry Nutrition Facts panels on their labels. This means you'll be able to see the calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat that a product contains. In addition, products that list a lean percentage will also have to list a fat percentage — for example 80/20. It's important to pay attention to the recommended serving size, usually 4 ounces raw (which cooks down to about 3 ounces).

The other big story was the release of findings from a huge study on red meat published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Harvard researchers have been tracking 37,000 male and 83,000 female health care workers since the 1980s and have found that one serving (defined as 3 ounces) of red meat a day — whole or processed — was associated with increased risk of total, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. Red meat was defined as beef (including hamburger), pork and lamb. Processed red meat included sausage, salami, bacon and bologna. Substitution of other healthy proteins, such as fish, poultry, legumes and low-fat dairy, lowered the risk.

Final estimates were that 9 percent of deaths in men and 7 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if individuals lowered their red meat consumption to no more than one-half serving (defined as 1.5 ounces) a day. Note that this is half of the serving size listed on the new Nutrition Facts label for meat.

The meat controversy continues to sizzle. To me, though, the message is clear: We should eat less red meat, less often. Choose your motivation — the "ick" factor or the medical research. What's your take on it?

- Jennifer

April 04, 2012