Giving up sugar to reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes is practically a no-brainer. Soda sales are slumping and processed food companies and fast food giants are scrambling to reformulate their offerings to reduce sugar content. But there may be another culprit stretching America’s waistline: red meat.
It’s been known for decades that red meat contributes to numerous health issues from heart disease and high cholesterol to an increased risk of cancer. But new research out of the University of Adelaide points to red meat as contributing to obesity rates just as much as sugar.
Published in BMC Nutrition and the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, the research concluded that the protein in red meat is not often used immediately by the body, and is instead often stored as fat, just like too much sugar.
“This means that increased availability of meat may be making a significant contribution to global waist sizes,” reports the Independent.
Global meat consumption has been steadily increasing in recent years as developing nations pull themselves into modernity with more financial resources to eat red meat, which is often seen as a status food.
“After accounting for differences between countries, including levels of urbanisation, physical activity and calorific intake, the research found the availability of meat could account for 13% of the obesity rate – the same level as sugar,” the Independent noted.
The findings challenge current modes of thinking about diet and hot diet trends like the paleo diet that emphasize protein and fat over carbohydrates for leaner bodies. The theory behind these diets is that grains and high-carbohydrate foods (and formerly our misconceptions about fat) are to blame for our obesity epidemic. But that’s not entirely true, say the researchers.
While reducing sugar consumption via sodas and processed foods lead to weight loss, many people who see immediate weight-loss results with meat-heavy diets like paleo eventually gain it back as the body is overloaded on protein it can't use.
“Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs. Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body,” University of Adelaide PhD student and study author Wenpeng You told the Independent.
“Our findings are likely to be controversial because they suggest that meat contributes to obesity prevalence worldwide at the same extent as sugar,” Professor Maciej Henneberg, head of the university’s Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit said.
“While we believe it's important that the public should be alert to the over-consumption of sugar and some fats in their diets, based on our findings we believe meat protein in the human diet is also making a significant contribution to obesity.”
The research supports other data that have found excessive meat consumption linked to serious health issues including shorter lifespans than vegetarians and vegans.
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Red meat image via Shutterstock