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Have a Cow: Heart Association Lines Up With Producers to Support Healthy Beef-Eating

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Animal rights activists may disagree, but beef is delicious. It's primal and earthy and packed with protein, which is probably why many Americans eat more red meat than they should.

But the Texas Beef Council's aggressively pushing another rationale for red meat consumption: It's good for you.

The organization is again sponsoring a Firehouse Grill-Off at the State Fair, featuring "big burly firefighters grilling heart-healthy recipes."

The council is so intent on demonstrating beef's cardiovascular benefits that it's partnering with the American Heart Association to present the event, which Alex Roberts, a publicist e-mailing on behalf of the Texas Beef Council, characterizes as an important step "to lower the risk of developing heart disease."

Beef and healthy hearts aren't exactly natural bedfellows. Numerous studies have shown the outlook for regular red meat eaters is grim: According to research released last year, daily red meat eaters are 30 percent more likely to die early than their counterparts who lay off the beef.

"This is a slam-dunk to say that, 'Yes, indeed, if people want to be healthy and live longer, consume less red and processed meat'," University of North Carolina professor of global nutrition Barry M. Popkin told the Washington Post.

The nation's ranchers consider those fighting words, which is why the beef industry has long sought the approval of groups such as the American Heart Association. The National Cattleman's Beef Association's official time line of cattle industry history includes the Dallas-based AHA's 1987 endorsement of "beef as a healthy food" alongside other landmark events such as the introduction of federal meat grading and NAFTA.

Beef proponents have seized on new evidence that eating lean, unprocessed red meats in moderation might not pose a heart risk. Although the meta-analysis, combining the results of several studies, didn't investigate the relationship between red meat and cancer, it suggested salt -- not beef -- might be the real culprit driving up mortality rates.

"We definitely support the promotion of portion-controlled, lean beef choices as a part of a heart healthy lifestyle," e-mails Claire Kinzy, communications director for the American Heart Association's South Central Affiliate.

According to Kinzy, the American Heart Association trusts consumers to make smart choices about red meat. (The association also annually accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the Texas Beef Council.)

"There seems to be a perception that all beef is high in saturated fats and is not suitable to someone afflicted with cardiovascular disease or associated with cardiovascular risk factors," Kinzy writes. "With 29 lean cuts of beef to choose from, a person doesn't necessarily have to sacrifice taste and choice for their health."

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