I Can Has Salmon Burger?

Despite vegetarianism becoming more and more popular, a press release today seems to champion eating animal protein—at least for older people. “Diets High in Animal Protein May Help Prevent Functional Decline in Elderly Individuals,” it says.

I wonder if this could this be the Holy Grail that meat lovers like my husband have been waiting for: a blessing to indulge because animal protein is good for you.

I also think of the famous meme showing a hopeful cat and the caption, “I can has cheezburger?”

Although it was originally embargoed until March 13, an email this afternoon now says the embargo has been lifted “effective immediately.” The full paper has been published online by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, explains the email. But the import seems to say that this is news that should be broadcast now. And yup, I was curious.

The study looked at diet and health factors for more than 1,000 elderly Japanese people living in the community. After seven years, the men in the highest quartile for eating animal protein had a 39-percent lower chance of experiencing high-level functional decline than the quartile that ate the least animal protein.

“Along with other modifiable health behaviors, keeping high protein intake could contribute to maintain elderly functional capacity,” study co-author Megumi Tsubota Utsugi said in the press release. She’s at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan. Other study co-authors are at Japan’s Tohoku University and Teikyo University.

Sounds good for cheeseburger lovers, right? Not quite.

Apparently, being in the top quartile for eating fish was linked to the lower health risks for decline. “[W]hereas meat intake was not associated,” says the study.

On the other hand, the study didn’t say not to eat cheeseburgers at all. I know a lot of folks who will take comfort in that.

In any case, it seems salmon burgers are good for you. And a grilled tuna sandwich could hit the spot too.

Then again, there’s a whole range of concerns about sustainable fishing practices, environmental pollution, and other factors. When I interviewed Steve Teo at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year, he said he often refers people to different “fish watch” lists, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations. “That’s a reasonably good source,” he told me.

It’s also important to note that the new study from the Japanese researchers found a statistical association. And an association is not necessarily the same as causation. In this case, the researchers note, men who ate less animal protein also tended to have a less healthy diet overall.

Also, the association was not seen in women. The different results between men and women weren’t entirely explained. However, the study notes, one factor there might be the relative degrees of muscle mass preservation.

From my perspective, I guess the bottom line is to eat a generally healthy diet. And, I suppose, I should keep up the regular exercise regimen too.

At least I got a walk in today, along with a weight workout at the gym. But maybe I’ll order something other than a cheeseburger when I go out tonight.

When the weather finally gets warmer and we’re barbecuing outside, though, that’s a whole other story.

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