Food guide not opposed to meat consumption: dietitian

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — The message to eat more plants is nothing new, says dietitian Carol Harrison, and it doesn’t mean eating less meat.

Harrison said many have interpreted the new Canada’s Food Guide recommendations to eat more plant-based protein as a directive to eat less red meat. However, she said the guide does not actually say that.

It does offer an opportunity for the beef industry to promote its product.

“The food guide is flexible and there’s a place for animal and plant protein,” she told the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association convention.

The guide increases the amount of protein shown on a plate, which is good news, she said.

But all the protein choices are not interchangeable.

For example, Harrison said a 75-gram portion of meat contains about 184 calories and 26 grams of protein.

A person would have to eat seven tablespoons of peanut butter, consuming more than 600 calories, to get the same amount of protein, or two bowls of hummus at about three-quarters of a cup each or two cups of black beans.

Harrison said protein density matters and red meat is a good source.

“It’s hard to pack more nutritional goodness into such a small package,” she said.

Harrison said data shows only five percent of calories people eat come from fresh red meat, but 50 percent of calories are coming from ultra processed foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients.

“The dangerous distraction for me with all this focus on animal versus plant protein is that it ignores this tsunami of health problems that are coming our way if we don’t address ultra-processed foods,” she said.

Canadians are second only to Americans when it comes to buying and consuming these foods, many of which are indeed plant-based.

“Plant-based is oversimplification of something that’s very complex,” she said. “A lot of food that harms us — refined grains, trans fats — these are foods that are plant-based.

Dietitians have long advised eating more fruits and vegetables.

“An ultra-processed burger is not what we had in mind, even if it is originally from plants,” she said.

The Beyond Meat burger contains 22 ingredients and an added 11 nutrients compared to the single ingredient of beef.

Harrison also said there is a myth that Canadians eat too much protein. The most recent data shows that Canadians get about 17 percent of their calories from protein. The recommended range is 17 to 35 percent.

New research is showing that protein requirements have been underestimated across the entire lifespan of a person, she said, and Canadians are already at the low end of consumption.

Harrison encouraged people to put meat on their plates because that also leads to more vegetable consumption. Meat helps bodies absorb iron from plant sources and the plants contain needed fibre.

She said the debate about fat is a complicated one that meat has become caught up in.

Forty-four percent of saturated fat in Canadian diets comes from ultra-processed foods while less than 10 percent actually comes from red meat, she added.

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