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Saturday, Feb 18, 2017

Lots of meats are 'glued' together

Q: I saw a video on the Internet about people using glue to stick meat together to make it look like it was real steak. Is that for real? What will the glue do to us if we eat it? A: Someone sent me that video, too. Actually, we've been eating meats like that for years with no problem. Chicken nuggets are a common example. Sausage and hot dogs are made with a similar process except that the meat is completely ground to make them, instead of using chunks. The pieces made with chunks are called "formed" or "reformed" meat. They must be labeled on the package as "formed steak" or "reformed chicken breast," etc. The "glue" used is either meat juices or an enzyme that links meat proteins. Neither is the least bit harmful. When the meat is cooked, the enzyme or juices are cooked, too. Once they're cooked, they are just more protein to digest. If the enzyme is used, that has to be on the label. For example, it could read "formed beef roast with water and TG enzyme." The TG stands for transglutaminase, a natural enzyme. It's a useful process, because it allows us to have "steaks" or chicken-breast tenders or ham slices that are the same size and shape. That means restaurants know exactly how long to cook the pieces so that they are completely cooked. And it means that every customer gets the same serving. It's also good in that small pieces of meat that are trimmed off larger pieces can be used. Otherwise, we'd have a huge problem disposing of a lot of perfectly edible meat.
Usually, there is not a lot of fat or gristle in these pieces, because fat and gristle don't form good pieces of meat. You can tell if you have a piece of formed meat because there won't be a grain to it the way a steak or roast has a grain running the length of the fibers. Q: How much good does this coconut oil really do for our hearts? I've been told it's even better than olive oil. A: It's probably more hype than help. Even though coconut oil is a vegetable oil, it is mostly saturated fat — even more than butter or beef tallow. Saturated fats are what our livers turn into cholesterol, and that raises our LDL or "bad" cholesterol. Getting a lot of saturated fat is not a good thing. The reason coconut oil is getting all the good hype is that certain sub-types of the saturated fat it has also can raise our HDL or "good" cholesterol. So this fat raises the good and the bad. There have been a few short studies using coconut oil, and the results are so-so: not all good, not all bad. Coconut oil might not be as bad as butter or beef tallow, that's true. But compared with olive or canola or soy oil, it's still not that hot. These vegetable oils not only can raise the good cholesterol but also help bring the bad kind down. That's a bigger benefit than raising good and bad. If you like the taste of coconut oil, a little isn't going to hurt. But there's no reason to use coconut oil exclusively, or to add more of it to your diet for any supposed health benefits.

Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at mkeith@ufl.edu.