Beef industry out to change nutrition message

The sector wants to turn the tables in the debate and focus instead on the harmful effects of ultra-processed food

The Canadian beef industry wants to change the message the public is hearing about healthy eating.

The message now dominating much public debate says people eat too much beef, which adversely affects their health.

But research shows those statements are too simplistic.

“We need to change the narrative and talk about the role of ultra-processed foods in our diet,” Joyce Parslow, executive director of consumers relations for Canada Beef, said during the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary.

Research shows Canadians are deriving five percent of their daily caloric needs from beef but 47 percent from ultra-processed food.

Plant-based diets are not new but the jargon is changing, says Parlow and dietitian Carol Harrison, who represents several commodity groups to promote better eating.

“The new jargon has introduced something that is distracting and concerning. It introduces the idea that suggests pitting plants and meats against each other,” Harrison said.

The greater concern should be the high consumption of processed foods that are rich in salt, sugar and fat.

“This is the first generation of kids growing up with foods in the diet that a lot of us wouldn’t even consider real foods. They don’t even resemble the intact food they came from,” she said.

Canada Beef is partnering with dietitians at Loblaws to counter some of the myths. Recipes are available to promote healthy eating and scientists like Tim McAllister of Agriculture Canada have been invited to talk about beef sustainability.

When people buy beef, they cite taste, quality and price as the most important factors. Ground beef makes up the bulk of purchases but people may equate beef with junk food because it is often a staple of fast foods.

In reality, Canadians eat about three servings of beef per week. They are also eating eggs, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu and dairy products.

This year, the Canada Beef campaign is working with the national women’s curling team to promote the benefits of beef in a healthy diet.

It also joined with Dairy Farmers of Canada to ask consumers their impression of the newly released food guide.

The new food guide raised eyebrows because many argued it was emphasizing a vegan approach.

That is not the case, said Harrison.

“Beef is on the food guide because it is an important part of a healthy diet,” she said.

The new guide talks to Canadians about what to eat and how to build a healthy meal and eliminate ultra-processed foods. It also talks about the importance of families eating together.

Proteins have not been removed from the guide and red meat, as well as plant-based proteins, are recommended.

The confusing part for many modern consumers is understanding that proteins are not created equal and they are not all interchangeable.

All of the foods have a unique nutrient package. Beef is a good source of all the essential amino acids, iron, B12 and zinc whereas plant-based proteins provide fibre.

“They both belong on our plate. They are good foods that we should be eating and including in our diet,” Harrison said.

More importantly, people need to be educated around quantity, she said.

A 75 gram serving of beef is 180 calories. To get the same amount of protein, a person would need to eat one and half cups of hummus, seven tablespoons of peanut butter or two cups of beans.

The reality is Canadians should be eating more fruit and vegetables. They also tend not to meet their protein requirements. The elderly, children and those who want to lose weight all need more protein.

As well, plant based does not always mean healthy.

Processed vegetable patties contain up to 22 ingredients and should not be able to call themselves meat, said Harrison.

Saturated fats in beef are hotly debated but 10 percent comes from meat while 44 percent of fat comes from ultra-processed foods that are calorie rich but nutrient poor, she added.

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