Too much beef: it’s what’s for dinner

University researchers look into Americans’ eating habits.

by Devin Henry

University researchers have a beef with some American diets.

A study released Jan. 22 found certain diets can lead to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, its author, Ph.D. student Pam Lutsey, said.

“Metabolic syndrome is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” she said.

Diets that consist heavily of fried foods, diet soda or two or more servings of meat – about two patties’ worth – can lead to an increased risk of developing the syndrome, Lutsey said. Diets consisting of dairy products, however, decreased the risk of developing the condition by 13 percent.

Lisa Harnack, associate professor of epidemiology and community health, said dietary research has changed its focus in the past 10 years from looking at nutrients to foods, “in recognition that people eat food, not nutrients.”

The government’s dietary guidelines change every five years, she said, and research like this is important to help decide what to change. Harnack said this study actually helps confirm current food guidelines.

“New research is coming out and pointing in new directions,” she said. “This points in the same direction.”

Researchers looked at nine years of results from a survey that followed 15,792 people, monitoring their diets as well as their health statistics, such as height and weight.

Those who ate more meat and fried foods had a 26 percent greater chance of developing metabolic syndrome, Lutsey said. Those who drank one can of diet soda each day raised their risk for the condition by 34 percent.

Lutsey said the purpose of her study was to look at how certain eating habits affect the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and health risks associated with it.

“There is very little research that has looked prospectively at a relationship between diet and the metabolic syndrome,” she said.

For some, not eating enough meat can also be detrimental.

Fatuma Mohamed, a biochemistry senior, said she tried eating a vegetarian diet in 2004, but was told by her doctor to return to her regular diet.

“I had to go back,” she said. “I started having body aches.”

Nevertheless, Mohamed said she is very conscious about what she eats.

“I base my choices on if it’s healthy or not,” she said.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Jason Grimes said he never really considered how meat could affect his health.

“I’d say, eat meat,” he said.

Grimes also said despite the fact he doesn’t drink carbonated beverages, he wasn’t surprised about the risks associated with drinking soda.

“I just figured it’s bad for you,” he said.

Lutsey said while she expected the link between meat and fried foods and metabolic syndrome, she was surprised by the diet soda findings and said more research is warranted.

While Lutsey’s study didn’t find any definitive diet that reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, she said she hopes to do more research into other diets.

Harnack said more research is important to develop better dietary guidelines.

“We’re learning more as more studies are done,” she said.