... and ain't i a woman?: A beef about nutrition

Issue 

A beef about nutrition

There's more than one way to use women's bodies to sell products. The Australian Nutrition Foundation beef advertisement series hints that the majority of women who feel "run down" or tired are likely to be experiencing a lack of iron. The ads prescribe 125g of lean beef as panacea for imminent anaemia.

The ANF message purports to be based upon accurate scientific and social research. While glamorising "scientific" findings, these ANF ads appear to exploit any negative associations to words such as artificial. Ironically, non-halaal Australian animal flesh has usually been treated with preservatives and tenderisers. And antibiotic supplements administered to feed-lot cattle are arguably less than pure or natural.

However supplements, for all their faults, may be cheaper and more efficient than trips to the butcher or many restaurants. They are certainly less work than the purchase, storage, preparation and cleaning associated with a beef meal — and isn't tiredness in females supposedly what the ANF is worried about?

The advertisements compare rates of "absorption" of haem iron (from meat) with iron from silver beet or spinach, where the mineral is bound up in oxalate. Why not compare beef and a decent serve of tabouleh? No mention is made of factors which might enhance iron intake like Vitamin C, nor those which slow uptake such as frequent consumption of tea or coffee. Other causes of fatigue such as alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, stressors like poverty, junk food, prescribed or other drugs and erratic blood sugar levels are also ignored.

The ads conclude from a "National Dietary Survey of Adults" taken in 1983 that: "In Australia seven out of ten women aged 25-54 get less than the recommended dietary intake of iron".

1983! That was before Thai food hit Newtown!

Tempeh and salad have made inroads into the McDonald's and chiko roll market since then, haven't they? Do survey conclusions drawn 10 years ago have any relevance to current data about the iron requirements of pre-menopausal and post-menopausal females published in medical journals and databases in Australia, the United States, Britain and China?

Studies from the US discussed in recent editions of the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine claim that excess iron may contribute to atherosclerosis (a form of heart disease) in post-menopausal women and men of all ages.

Standing alone, the ad might make readers concerned about the environmental impact and inefficiency of livestock grazing or stock feed production, about cruelty or the waste of animal-based industries, and folk who simply favour a diet which balances meat with fish, soya products, a few dried apricots and sensible serves of greens, feel a little foolish and guilty about "neglecting" their health. The ad only fleetingly refers to the need for a balanced diet.

There's no outline of the sponsors and policies of the ANF. From its name, one would assume the ANF is an independent community service promoting nutritional health. Yet the ad clearly constitutes "forward defence" for a beleaguered beef trade rather than priorities of bona fide nutritionists.

By Jane Salmon

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