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Eating Red, Processed Meats: A Dietitian's Thoughts on the US Dietary Guidelines

Food Manufacturing sat down with Jennifer Christman, Registered Dietitian and Clinical Nutrition Manager at Medifast, to discuss her thoughts on the dietary guideline suggestions of meat intake.

Later this year, the U.S. will see a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The USDA's report is updated every five years and serves the purpose of providing information to consumers on food intake, physical activity and how to reduce the risk of various chronic diseases.

The guidelines will offer some changes this year, one of them likely to be from the advisory panel pushing to limit the intake of red and processed meats.

Food Manufacturing sat down with Jennifer Christman, Registered Dietitian and Clinical Nutrition Manager at Medifast, to discuss her thoughts on the dietary guideline suggestions of meat intake.

Q: What is your stance on the overall concept of the dietary recommendations? Do you believe having these guidelines is beneficial to consumers?

A: I do think it is beneficial to have them. One of the great things about the dietary guidelines is they are evidence-based, meaning they are based on in-depth analyses. I think it is helpful to have these recommendations because it gives Americans a base to go on and guidance when they are making their food choices.

Q: Last month's proposal recommends that people eat less red and processed meats. Do you agree with those guidelines?

A: Consumers should definitely be eating less processed meat. It doesn't mean that they should eliminate lean, red meats from their diet though, because that can be part of a healthy diet. It's just when you super-consume anything, good or bad, it can be detrimental. Everything in moderation I guess is the old standby.

Q: The meat industry has been trying to rehabilitate its image after it has been tarnished in recent years by health groups. If the meat guidelines are altered in the new guidelines, in what ways do you think it will effect meat companies?

A: I think it depends on how the meat industry reacts to it and whether they take a positive spin on it. Focusing more on advertising, promoting health and pushing how lean meats can help consumers searching for a healthy diet would be beneficial for meat companies. But it really just depends on how the industry uses its marketing and how they are working to reach the growing amount of health-conscious consumers out there. 

It depends how meat processors react to the changes to the dietary guidelines. If they try to fight the changes, it can almost look like meat is bad consumers, but if they focus their energies on promoting the healthy choices of lean, red meats then I think it could be an opportunity for them to educate and to gain more consumers that maybe they didn't have in the past.

Q: For those consumers who seek the nutritional benefits of meat and poultry products, what would be some healthy alternatives if trying to reduce their meat intake?

A: If you wanted to get away from red meats, first off obviously fish and chicken would be good options. But if you are looking for more vegetarian options, beans, legumes, tofu, other soy like tempeh, Greek yogurt, etc. would be great choices. Pairing vegetarian proteins together can make sure that consumers are getting all of their essential amino acids. For example, pairing legumes with whole grains, or grains with low fat dairy, or legumes with dairy — those would all be great alternatives.

One of the great things about meat though is it has high biological value protein and it is a complete protein. So, if you are incorporating alternatives in your diet, you should still make sure you are getting your essential amino acids by pairing them together correctly.

Q: The U.S. Dietary Guidelines are also taking aim at sugar intake. Many Americans have reported being confused by the constantly changing recommendations. What would be some ways to make it simpler for consumers to understand what they should or should not be eating?

A: This can be confusing for consumers, especially when we talk about sugar because there are two types of sugars: natural and added sugars. Sometimes as a dietician it can be upsetting to see people wanting to eliminate all sugars from their diets, such as fruits which are healthy and contain natural sugars. Really, focusing on those added sugars and trying to simplify that for consumers is very important. Where you find all these added sugars are in things like soda, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, etc. Just trying to eliminate those types of foods or at least using them in moderation is key.

Eliminating sweetened beverages is a simple way to reduce any added sugars that might be hiding in your diet and really just focusing on things like milk and water to get some nutrients and hydration. Also, you want to be careful when incorporating snack foods like candies, cookies, cake and other processed foods.

Q: You speak about the need for eliminating sugary beverages. Some cities, like San Francisco, are trying to pass laws to put warning labels on sodas and sugary beverages. Do you think that would help consumers to cut down on some of those added sugars? 

A: It depends on how it is being labeled and what the message behind it is. Knowledge is power, so I think if people know what they are purchasing and they realize what it has in it, they can make that choice. And I think consumers should be able to make an educated choice. But I do think we have strong evidence to support that sugars can be detrimental in the diet so by labeling that this has a high amount of added sugars, I think that can only be helpful to support consumers in making an informed decision.

Q: Is there anything I haven't yet touched on that you think is important in mentioning as it pertains to the Dietary Guidelines?

A: There are two separate things I wanted to note. There are some nutrients of concern with the Dietary Guidelines: calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium. In general, the guidelines recommend to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and whole grains. And by naturally doing that you are going to naturally increase the consumption of those nutrients. It's important to note that that is part of a healthy diet.