On “lean meat”

On “lean meat” in the DGAC report, which is such a source of controversy:

The DGAC report is contradictory on this topic, so I attempted in my BMJ piece to distinguish between its primary message and subsidiary, contradictory ones:

The 2015 top recommendation, bolded in the text of the report, as its primary, overarching theme, is this:

The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats;i and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. 

(Part B, Ch 2, p. 2, lines 43-47).

This is its definition of a “healthy” Dietary Pattern, which is repeated 20+ of times in the text of the report

This is a change from the 2010 Report, which states, as its top dietary recommendation, on page 2:

  • Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

Thus, I think it is fair and accurate to say that although lean meat was downplayed in 2010, it has been altogether deleted in 2015.

However, this top-line 2015 recommendation is then contradicted in a footnote and table of the report as follows:

Yet neither of these can be considered a recommendation to eat “lean meat.”

The placement of these messages in the report, in a footnote and table, are clearly meant to be less authoritative than the top-line, oft-repeated message about the components of a healthy Dietary Pattern presented as the main overarching theme of the report.

Moreover, the footnote is not included in the online version of the report, and Table D1.32 is not included in the online table of contents. Thus, it seems unlikely that these messages are meant to prevail (And it seems fair to say that most people are likely to read the report online).

So, in conclusion, a reader is led to understand that “lean meat” is not recommended as part of a healthy Dietary Pattern.

I think the question of why the DGAC report is contradictory on this topic is a question for the committee. Why is it not clear about its recommendation on lean meat? Why does it contradict itself in a footnote and a Table?

I think our confusion is understandable. Yet I have tried to conclude the dominant advice from the report, based on its messaging. I do think my BMJ piece could have explained this in further detail, but we perhaps did not anticipate that it would be such a focus of scrutiny compared to the other sections of the article.

I gain confidence from the fact that my piece was peer reviewed by experts in the DGA process who thought the statement about meat was fair. I also interviewed several former committee members as well as other experts who confirmed this for me.

Also, it’s encouraging–and ironic–that the committee is so defensive about this recommendation. So apparently they did not, after all, mean to remove lean meat from the recommended diet? It would be nice for the public to have clear, non-contradictory advice on this important topic.

Comments 3

  1. The wording of the 2015 DGAC report regarding lean red meat was certainly unclear. This gave the USCA reason to be alarmed, while it allowed Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell to claim that there was no change in the lean meat recommendation.

    Personally, I think that fatty meat is more healthy than lean meat, and the real problem with the DGAC report is how they justified the 10% limit on saturated fat. Now that the lean meat, sustainability and sugar tax issues have been resolved, maybe we can examine if the limit on saturated fat is based on sound science.

  2. Hi Ms.Teicholz, my name is Ethan Sheehan, I am 12 years old and I want to know you really inspired me. I wrote a google doc about why animal products belong in a healthy diet, and I agree that fatty or lean meat is healthy.

    1. Post

      Hello, Ethan,
      I’m so glad that you were inspired by my work! I hope that you will continue to eat healthy food and stay curious about nutrition and science.
      Take good care,

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