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NDSU researcher concerned about meat recommendation in Dietary Guidelines report

FARGO -- A North Dakota State University professor and researcher says red meat and processed meats should be a focus, not a footnote, of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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Eric Berg, NDSU’s Associate Head of Animal Sciences, recently testified in front of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., about their recommendation that Americans get most of their calories from plant sources and limit their intake of red and processed meats. Cody Rogness/The Forum

FARGO -- A North Dakota State University professor and researcher says red meat and processed meats should be a focus, not a footnote, of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Eric Berg, NDSU's associate head of Animal Sciences, recently testified in front of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Berg, a meat scientist who also represented the American Meat Science Association, was one of 70 people chosen to provide oral public comment on the recently released report, 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The report recommends Americans get most of their calories from plant sources and limit their intake of red and processed meats.

But Berg, who has studied the role beef plays in our diets, said during his testimony that recommendation "does not distinguish the superior amino acid quality of muscle foods, including red and processed meats."

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In most cases, he said, it will not be possible for people consuming diets based on plant proteins to meet their amino acid requirements.

"Foods of animal origin, including red and processed meats, are the richest source of all nine indispensable amino acids," he said.

Q: Why are these recommendations so important?

A: These recommendations, once the final report comes out, they are used to develop the school lunch program for kids. I thought that could have devastating effects if now we don't just have meatless Monday, but maybe there's only meat on Monday. In my mind, I think that has devastating effects on kids in their development and beyond that, their cognitive ability, their attention, all of that.

In any federal nutrition program it's going to influence what types of foods are acceptable.

It's what nutritionists and dietitians use when they're counseling people, so this is a very important committee.

What issues were you there to address?

I'm a meat scientist so there are a couple of issues that relate to muscle foods or foods of animal origin.

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The first was that five years ago, dietary cholesterol was still a big deal and this committee said that the last 30 to 40 years of research have not shown that dietary cholesterol is a nutrient of concern for people's health. That's been dogma forever.

We've been trying to get that removed for quite awhile because just as they've concluded, there are associations, but causation really hasn't been established.

They took that out, but also in their summary, they recommend diets low in red and processed meats.

The advocates for red meat have pointed out there are many cuts of meat that are as lean as a chicken breast. On the pork side, they've also done the same thing with identifying lean cuts.

Many people think red meat is all saturated fat, which is not true. It can be as low as 17 percent of the total fat. And over 50 percent of the fat in pork and in high-quality beef is going to be oleic acid. That's the monounsaturated fat that is so good in canola oil, olive oil and I would argue it tastes better eating it that way than it does in a tablespoon of olive oil.

What was the focus of your testimony?

I really focused on the quality of protein. In my opening statement, I was concerned the Dietary Guidelines don't account for amino acids that make up the proteins. There are nine essential amino acids that your body can't make, so we have to have those in the diet. There are different types of protein that are higher in those amino acids, especially those in muscle foods because they're a complete source of all nine of those essential amino acids in one food source.

Plant sources of protein aren't as high in the amino acids. This is a mistake I've made over the years. My kids like to eat bagels for breakfast, so I'll buy a brand of bagels with 24 grams of protein, but it's only 41 percent of the essential amino acids. The unintended consequence is we have a nutrient deficiency. It's the quality of the protein that's in there, so you could be nutrient deficient on sufficient protein. Also, what comes along with these poor protein-quality sources is a lot of carbohydrates.

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What is the danger of amino acid deficiency?

If you're skewed in that part of the diet, over time you could have chronically elevated glucose, and this is what we need to do research on.

It's not been done on the human side. We've seen it in pigs. Pigs are a widely accepted model for studying how diet affects obesity and obesity-related disorders.

I looked at 10 different studies. In these studies they were deficient in just one of the essential amino acids, that was lysine. During their growth period, they had 19 percent more subcutaneous fat, like we would get around our mid-section. They had 8 percent less muscle size. And within the muscle itself, there was 89 percent more intramuscular fat.

The public can provide written comments on the report through May 8. It's available at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov . The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will jointly release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015, later this year. They release a new edition every five years.

Online: To watch a video of the testimony before the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, got to: http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=15845&bhcp=1 . Eric Berg’s presentation starts around 1:32:42.

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North Dakota State University researcher and professor Eric Berg talked about the importance of red and processed meats as he testified in front of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., March 24. Photo special to The Forum

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