by Marion Nestle
Feb 19 2011

American Heart Association says “I ♥ beef”!

The Beef Board, the USDA-managed checkoff program for marketing beef, proudly announces its new partnership with the American Heart Association (AHA).  The Beef Board gets its money from a compulsory tax on cattle ranchers computed every time they sell an animal.  Evidently, the money is well spent.

The AHA will put its HeartCheck symbol on three cuts of lean beef:

  • Boneless Top Sirloin Petite Roast (select grade)
  • Top Sirloin Filet (select grade)
  • Top Sirloin Kabob (select grade)

A member of the Beef Board says: “”We are extremely thrilled to receive the American Heart Association certification because, for consumers, it represents the independent voice of a trusted health organization.”

I’ll bet they are.

Today’s quiz: How much money is the Beef Board paying the AHA to use its CheckMark logo?

I hope it’s a lot more than what the AHA gets (or used to get) for putting its check mark on sugary cereals.  This was $4,500 per product when I updated Food Politics in 2007.  After all, sugary cereals don’t have any saturated fat or cholesterol so they must be heart healthy, no?

Ah partnerships and alliances.  You have to love them.  How will the Beef Board use the HeartCheck?  With an I ♥ Beef  campaign, of course.  Fat content unspecified.

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  • I am all for scrutiny with these alliances. The politics isn’t pretty. But please don’t confuse the issue. As more research shows refined sugar and starch is the primary issue in obesity, diabetes, CVD and other inflammatory disease states, maybe we should be celebrating lean protein along with fruits, vegetables and other plants. Then we need to get CAFOs out of the picture and let the animals eat their natural diet.

  • Doc Mudd

    Fine, you have a grudge against AHA for once questioning the validity of a medical diagnosis of ‘metabolic syndrome’. And you detest, on the principle of the thing, beef as representative of our modern professional food system. We get it.

    But, what are the specific failings of the labeled ‘nutrition facts’ that incriminate AHA in malpractice by their endorsement? In which particulars are the AHA’s evaluation inaccurate or deceptive?

    Surely there must be a scientific de-militarized zone where facts can be fairly evaluated both by organizations who profit from instances of published evaluative approval as well as by academics who profit from a career of publishing popularized disapproval?

  • Mitzi

    Just speaking as a gastrointestinal researcher, if Doc Mudd or Ms. Modugno look into the actual medical literature (as opposed to popular books based on selected bits), they will see why the AHA should not be endorsing sugary cereals OR red meat. Both contribute to diabetes (fats make you insulin resistant by reducing the number of glucose transporters in the cell membrane, sugars in the bloodstream do the damage). Red meat contributes directly to colorectal and hormone-related cancers (like prostate). Americans eat way more of everything than they actually need, so “high quality animal protein” consumption at current levels is counterproductive. I read articles and go to seminars by speakers on both sides. And the best evidence, both in the literature and in the health of researchers willing to change their lifestyles based on what they find, points to a plant-based, very low SOFAS, low animal-product diet. Put the heart on broccoli and snow peas, oranges and sweet potatoes. Let the meat sellers use that tax money to help the farmers with their own health issues- my grandfather pastured his beef and dairy cattle, pigs, and chickens, and consumed their meat and other products- and died of a heart attack at 62. Let’s eat mostly plants. A bit of steak on your stir fry may be OK, but I look at intestinal cancer cells every day. I say, “no, thanks.”

  • vconst

    @Mitzi: Why do you use “fats” so loosely? There are different kinds(e.g., unsat. fat, sat. fat, etc) and then, you have different kinds of those(e.g., sat. fat. has various forms). Each kind affecting the body in different ways. Also, the quantity matters and being in the presence of other foods.

    So do all fats make you insulin resistant or is it particular kinds, in the presence of particular substrates for some given quantity? Are is all that not important? (Quiz: what kind of saturated fat is found in dark chocolate and what kind of effect does it have on the heart; in what quantity?)

    What kind of red meat contributes to colorectal and hormonal-related cancers? e.g., from a cow? a buffalo? what are you talking about here? Moreover, how was the animal raised? What was its food composition? Are those variables not important?

    And now you lump the quantity of food with the offending food products. So is it both things which people should be aware of, or one in particular, etc? You need to make this clear if you want to advocate a clear position.

    And sure, you have sound advice for recommending plant based foods in a diet. But it really says quite a bit about your self(e.g., your lack of emphasis on physical activity suggests to me you do
    very little of that, otherwise you would have likely recommended that as well) — that is important because you can strive to eat as healthy as you like but it can mean very little if you don’t exercise.

    Furthermore, your grandfather having a heart-attack at the mentioned age and having had mentioned animal proteins in his diet is not evidence of anything. That’s called anecdotal and it is meaningless: consider, my great-grandmother lived until 96 and had a crappy diet(and dipped too) but she was incredibly active. What does that mean? Squat. It is an individual and it tells you nothing about some other individual.

    Also, a heavily plant based diet is not ideal for everyone(de-emphasizing animal protein); it is based on your nutritional requirements. For example, if you run 50+ miles a week and lift weights, then you should make sure you have a sound understanding of nutrition and how it impacts your overall health(physically, mentally). In this regard, limiting animal
    proteins can lead to setting yourself up for failure.

    So be careful in what you recommend and consider the person’s
    lifestyle (otherwise your advice could end up being dangerous). And to avoid making this post too long, recall the words of Marion Nestle: ”The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”

    Those are very wise words!

  • Renee

    I think all the previous commenters have missed the point –isn’t it pretty obvious that the I heart beef is an ad campaign? Neither the AHA nor the Beef Board is interesting in anything but selling MORE meat. Look at the hats and t-shirts! Should the AHA really be in the business of marketing meat?

  • Tom

    I could go along with this campaign if two conditions were met : 1)the ended subsidies for beef(mainly in the form of artificially low graizing fees, but also in feed) , to correct the overconsumption of beef due to market distortions vis-a vis vegetables and fruits and 2) it was grass-fed. I’m not worried about some natural fat, if you don’t have fat, you more than likely raising carbohydraytes(protein usually doesn’t go up that much) and they are on of the secrets of the Western diet and it’s increased heart problems. Their are records of primitive tribes that consume a lot of meat and have significantly less heart disease than Americans.

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  • Interesting when you read the Heart label by the AHA and the reasoning behind each “approval.” You’ll see things like oatmeal or even potato chips that claim to have “x” grams of whole grain wheat in each serving. The AHA label will say “a diet with whole grains or soluble fiber will help reduce the chances of heart disease” (or something to that affect).

    Speaking of potato chips, it’s funny how when they started claiming they were made of whole grains that all of a sudden people started eating more of them justifying that “it’s whole grain, there fore healthy for me, so I can eat the whole bag and be a-okay.”

    I remember I was in a lecture and this “healthy” woman (translation: overweight) brought a big bag of Sunchips and was eating them like clockwork. I asked her if she really liked sun chips and her response was “not necessarily. They have whole grains and I want to add more whole grains to my diet. It’s good for your health.”

    Needless to say, that was the end of THAT conversation. The point is… reading the ingredients label is really the only label that matters. And even then that may not be entirely accurate.

    Now let’s see if my 2lbs of top cut sirloin is ready…

  • Anthro

    The point is that the beef producers are taking an approval of three particular cuts of beef and then spring boarding that to an approval of meat in general, REGARDLESS OF FAT CONTENT or portion size.

  • Beatrice Izzey

    Maybe I am super naive, but here goes: I am super, super disappointed with the American Heart Association.

    Their imprimatur on things like beef and sugary breakfast products is really misleading. And that they make money on the endorsements! Like politicians, these quasi-official medical non profits should have to disclose their ties in a clear way.

    I had thought until today that the AHA was akin to the Mayo Clinic or the NIH…. This is disturbing.

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  • Torontodad

    AHA moment … As usual, cynical exploitation of your tax dollars to underwrite greater corporate profits. Meat is fine as a component, but it’s production, and the unwillingness of consumers to pay it’s true cost is the menace. And lets stop beating on the low-fat drum, shall we – a sham killing everyone.
    Why are these depts the tools of the Agro-industrial complex?

  • Brandon

    Forget the fat, its that 65g of sodium thats going to kill me.

    Also, choline has a DV?

  • “Heart” and “beef” in the same sentence, never mind the same slogan? Seriously? Right. And not for nothing but this is still industrial meat we’re talking about.

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  • Jon

    To be fair, I mean, this isn’t as bad as their love affair with sugar ever since Keys took over in the 70s, or their fling with margarine.

    The AHA has always disappointed me in this way. As long as you work with the industry you’re supposed to be giving consumer advice about, you’re untrustworthy.

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  • Mike

    Beef is perfectly OK in moderation, in fact, so is sugar. The problem is that we don’t consume either in moderation. Therefore we should be trying to reduce their consumption.

    I consume too much whole wheat, though most of the country consumes too little. I’m putting on weight. I’m cutting back on all carbs in favor of more fruits and vegetables.

    Beef that is free range and grass fed is much lower in saturated fat than the beef you usually find in the supermarket.

    The American Heart Association is, at its core, a lobbying organization that uses telemarketing to raise money for its CEO’s 7-figure salary.

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