Local experts advocate for meat-based proteins
As a former body builder, Eric Berg understands the importance of protein.
When it comes to diet and health, he said burgers have gotten a bad rap.
Even looking at a Big Mac value meal, he said only 13 percent of the calories come from the meat in the burger.
"All we're eating is energy," Berg said. "That base of the food guide pyramid was all carbohydrates. We obviously took that to heart because all of the 'fat' food has been on the decline, being replaced by carbohydrates. The fat in our food products is being replaced by sugar."
The food guide pyramid, which consisted of 6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta, used to be the government's dietary guideline. It was recently replaced by MyPlate, an initiative based on 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that uses a place setting to illustrate the five food groups people should be eating.
Vegetables make up the largest portion of the plate, followed by grains. Fruits and protein look about equal with a small circle representing a glass of milk on the side.
Berg, a North Dakota State University professor of meat science and associate department head in the department of animal sciences, researches the role of meat in human diets.
He said in less than two generations, we've reached an obesity epidemic in America, but in that same timeframe, people have been eating less of every animal-based food product except chicken.
"The next time you go to a vending machine, try to find the protein in there," he said. "It's non-existent."
Sugar, including carbs, which end up as glucose, or blood sugar, is throwing people's bodies out of whack, Berg said.
Consuming sugar and carbohydrates causes a person's insulin levels to rise. If insulin is chronically elevated or spikes frequently, the body stores the excess fuel as fat, Berg said.
"Your insulin is still going to fluctuate on a meat and vegetable diet, but it's not going to have those big spikes," Berg said.
Berg is studying the effects of a meat-based diet on pigs because pigs are omnivores, like humans, and whatever they eat affects their physiology, similar to humans, he said.
Once the pigs are the equivalent of obese, Berg will put them on one of three diets.
One group will eat as much as they want of a soybean and corn diet (a typical pig diet.) The second group will get 6,000 to 8,000 calories of 75 percent lean hamburger daily. The third group will eat 6,000 to 8,000 calories of soybeans and corn a day.
Berg said he doesn't think the pigs on the hamburger diet will eat their full caloric allotment because protein causes you to feel fuller sooner.
"Not every calorie is equal," he said.
His goal is to see if insulin receptors become viable in muscle again once the pigs become lean. He expects he might have results in December.
Brooke Fredrickson, a registered dietician and director of nutrition services of the Cooperstown (N.D.) Medical Center, puts her weight-loss clients on diets that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, she said.
The biggest thing protein does is makes you feel full longer, she said, adding that it also provides for muscle maintenance.
"Our muscles are constantly degrading themselves and being rebuilt up and you need that constant flow of protein to keep building them up or you will lose bone and muscle mass," Fredrickson said.
She recommends 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. That's about a 4-ounce serving (approximately the size of a deck of cards) of meat.
"You can't just eat protein at one meal. You need to have it spread out throughout the day," said Fredrickson, adding that dairy counts toward the total.
With the push toward veganism and vegetarianism in the media, Fredrickson said she always feels compelled to defend meat from a nutrition standpoint.
"The difference between plant-based proteins and animal protein is the quality," she said. "Plant-based proteins have fewer amounts of the amino acids than the animal proteins do. They aren't as good at rebuilding muscle, and it takes a lot more of them to do that."
Plant-based proteins also do not contain vitamin B12, which is used for energy, metabolism and stimulating the nervous system, Fredrickson said.
Quinoa, a grain similar to brown rice, contains proper amounts of the essential amino acids to be considered a complete protein, but it does not contain vitamin B12, so people on vegan diets have to take B12 supplements, she said.
They may also have to eat more calories to get the equivalent protein found in meat, Fredrickson said.
It takes 12 ounces of black beans to equal the amount of protein in a 3-ounce serving of steak, but the beans have more than twice the calories, she said.
"Red meat has gotten an enormously huge bad rap over the years," Fredrickson said, adding that it is really high in iron compared to other meats. "There are studies out there that say red meat is not bad for you. There are studies that say it's the worst thing ever. It depends on who's doing the study."
The best thing to do is to eat a variety of unprocessed meat, dairy and eggs, which are the highest quality protein you can find, Fredrickson said.
"Most of the research that's coming out now is saying that people can eat one or two eggs a day and there will be no effects on your dietary cholesterol or on your serum (blood) cholesterol," she said. "There are so many good things in eggs that it outweighs any of the negatives."
Animal-based protein is especially necessary for adults 60 and older to maintain their lean body mass and bones, and for children in order to grow, she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526