A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has journalists again assuming meat has some kind of correlation with weight, health and other measures of optimal living. The study itself was simply to determine the differences in nutrition based upon style of eating but the headlines that hit the Internet seemed to imply that, calorie for calorie, if you ate meat instead of veggies you were likely to be fatter and less healthy in terms of overall nutrients.
I have a few problems with the study as does anyone that probably reads them. This study does little to prove causation of anything and really just reinforces proper eating for any ones goals is not going to involve any myopic way of eating, neither Atkins nor vegetarianism or any of the other isms. Ill lay out my few concerns/thoughts and let the readers be the judge.
The study was a cross-sectional study of 71,751 subjects. Big study right? This occurred over a 5 year term and the participants answered a questionnaire upon completion. These were mixed and matched every which way, excluding exercise and socioeconomic data (usually pretty relevant) and then spit out so we could see that somehow everyone ate roughly the same amount of calories and meat eaters lacked all the goodness that vegetarians obtained. The meat eaters lost out on plant proteins, fiber, beta carotene and magnesium most notably and had all the benefits of saturated, trans, arachidonic, and docosahexaenoic fatty acids. Meat eaters lose again right? Not exactly.
1. Cross-sectional study: means nothing except random compilation of data for the most part. Its a lot like a census. Its simply data collected at a defined time that is used to determine the prevalence of condition. In this case its just a compilation of data from all over. The researchers had no control of how the information was collected.
2. The study was done like all the others regarding food intake, a food questionnaire. These are notoriously inaccurate. Why? What did you eat last Tuesday for lunch? Now remember everything you ate going back the last 5 years. Its funny how people forget all the Twinkies and ho-ho's they ate and how they remembered to eat all their other healthy foods. There were likely tons of factors and foods eaten that weren't or were impossible to be tabulated. Sure I ate meat and few veggies but I never touched any snack or junk food.
3. BMI is a terrible way to determine overall health or even weight of an individual. Its generally used for expedience but is a terrible indicator to use for health purposes. This is because it doesn't assess lean muscle and body fat percentages. Basically all pro athletes with their large percentage of lean muscle and higher weight fall in an "obese" category even though this is obviously not the case.
4. The only thing this did show is those eating veggies and meat tended to eat fewer calories (1700 on average compared to 2000 for everyone else). Again we see that eating meat with your veggies is going to provide satiety, a likely svelte body and reduced calorie intake, which is the one necessary factor for weight loss.
I was interested to see what the ratio of lean mass to fat was. The vegetarians had the lowest BMI and probably the worst ratio. Skeletal muscle is crucial to health and although it is unlikely all the meat eaters were body builders its likely the higher dietary protein allowed for more skeletal muscle among other health benefits. BMI was the real kicker in the study but no one was going to break out the calipers on 71,000 participants!
Eat your meat, eat your veggies and avoid the processed junk and surprise, surprise you are much more likely to have the reduced calorie intake, not feel as though you are starving yourself and reach your weight loss goals. People think they are eating correctly right up until the point where they try writing it down and see not only what they are eating but how much they have grossly underestimated the number of calories they are eating daily.