Making Red Meat Healthier
From Charles Poliquin
You are probably aware that the recent red meat—heart health study missed the boat. Media reports misrepresented the study, while the research group that did the study fell prey to imprecise interpretations of their own results. A closer look shows that it was the type of bacteria in the gut that led to an increased risk of heart disease when eating an omnivorous diet, not the red meat itself.
A short version of the study reveals the following:
In the red meat study, researchers found that depending on the type of bacteria in the gut, eating red meat can lead the gut macrobiota to produce TMAO, which is the compound that increases atherosclerosis risk by about 11 percent.
Gut bacteria will live off of what you eat. If you eat a low fiber diet with greater protein content, your gut bacteria will be more inflammatory (bad) than if you eat a high fiber diet from whole food sources. Now, the diet of the subjects in the study was not reported—all we know is that there were omnivores and vegetarians.
However, it’s a reasonable guess that the omnivores ate a typical Western diet that included meat and had a relatively low fiber intake. Vegetarians tend to consume more fiber than meat eaters, so let’s assume that the vegetarians in the study ate more fiber than the omnivores. It’s highly likely that it was the difference in fiber intake, and the different proportion of good or bad gut bacteria that contributed to the higher production of TMAO in the omnivores.
Of course, all fiber sources are not created equally. A recent review looked at the effect of “ancestral” carbs that are eaten on a Paleo-style diet compared to “Western” carbs on gut bacteria. Researchers noted that there are groups such as the Kitavan Islanders of Melanesia in Oceania who eat their “ancestral” diet with a high intake of carbohydrates (60 to 70 percent of the diet) from root vegetables and fruit, with some consumption of meat and fish. They eat no Western foods, virtually no grains, flour, sugar, or oil. They are lean and virtually free of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
The root tubers, leafy vegetables, fruit, and nuts of the Kitavan diet provide carbs that are not very energy dense and have cells that remain largely intact with cooking. In contrast, when energy dense grains are processed, cellular walls are broken down. When they enter the gut they stimulate the production of an inflammatory kind of bacteria, whereas the whole plant-based carbs stimulate bacteria that have the opposite effect.
Researchers suggest that gut bacteria dictate an individual’s body composition, cholesterol profile, and long-term heart health.
Therefore, it is absolutely critical that you solve your gut health if you are eating a high protein diet. Here is how to apply this:
• Shoot for nine servings of fiber-rich veggies a day. If you’re not getting that much, you may want to supplement with fiber.
• Eliminate ALL processed foods—that’s processed grains, fat, and sugar. Stick with whole foods.
• Opt for pasture-raised, organic meat and animal products whenever possible.
• Take a probiotic to support a healthy gut.
Spreadbury, I., et al. Comparison with Ancestral Diets Suggests Dense Acellular Carbohydrates Promote Inflammatory Microbiota, and May Be The Primary Dietary Cause of Leptin Resistance and Obesity. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity: Targets and Therapy. 2012.5, 175-189.