Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sacred Cow Part 1: Protein

Diving into a new book this month titled “Sacred Cow” by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf. This book goes deep into the meat industry, specifically cows, agriculture, and notes both the human impact and the environmental impact meat has on the world. As a former vegetarian, this book was very interesting to read as I dove back into the meat eating world. I do read all books through unbiased eyes and take only the best, most relevant information to give to you. Here is “Sacred Cow”.

Part One: Agriculture and Protein, Plant based vs Meat based

Contrary to the popular narrative, red meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available; indeed, the extent of access to nutrient-dense animal products such as meat is one of the greatest distinguishers between the poor and wealthy in developed or developing countries. Perhaps more controversially, when raised properly, cattle and other grazers may be one of our most promising tools toward mitigating climate change. Although grass-fed meat may be superior from a sustainability perspective, current research indicates that it is only marginally different from conventionally raised meat when it comes to health and nutrients. All in all just make sure your meat is organic when you can and try your best to shop locally from your butcher or farmers market. As America was growing so was our agriculture. Farming meant we had more reliable food supplies to support bigger, denser populations—so small settlements of people gradually grew into cities. Human health declined during this time. The development of irrigation systems (around eight thousand years ago) and the plow (around five thousand years ago) allowed us to produce far more food, but it was at the price of soil fertility. We now live in a time of industrial agriculture. As we entered the industrial era and moved into cities, meat production and slaughter was pushed farther and farther out of sight. Jumping into modern history, the human lifespan, particularly in developed nations, is declining. Chronic degenerative diseases are rapidly increasing. And despite knowing more about nutrition than ever before, our obesity and diabetes rates continue to soar. Despite the nutritional benefits of meat, plant proteins are labeled as “pure” and “clean” while meat and animal products have been labeled as dirty, unhealthy, and sinful. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, animal products provide far more nutrition than any plant material, and raw, unprocessed plants required far more energy and resources to digest, so animal products were highly prized. Worldwide, traditional, healthy foods like meat and traditional fats are being abandoned in favor of ultra processed seed oils and highly refined wheat, corn, and soy. Highly processed and refined foods are becoming more common; on supermarket shelves and in our homes, at least in the West, food products have taken the place of whole fresh foods. For the first time in our history, humans in the West are overfed and at the same time undernourished. Today, in what can be considered a “postdomestic” society, many consider the act of eating meat barbaric. It’s labeled as unhealthy, unsustainable, and morally reprehensible. These attitudes stem from our lack of connection to food production and nature itself, but government guidelines that prop up industrial agriculture and further entrench biased research are also to blame. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) had been discovered in the 50s, but it was only in the 70s that a process had been found to harness it for mass production. HFCS was soon pumped into every conceivable food: pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided that “just baked” sheen on bread and cakes, made everything sweeter, and extended shelf life from days to years. Dietary fat was being vilified, particularly fats of animal origin. The main solution then was to consume more carbs and vegetable oils. Conveniently, the government also began the subsidization of corn and other commodities that are easily transformed into hyperpalatable, shelf-stable, high-profit-margin junk food. The depiction of red meat as our main dietary foe plays nicely into our current fears about a warming planet and the ethical and sustainability considerations of factory farming. Every animal has a biologically appropriate diet, including humans. Humans appear to thrive on a diet that is more nutrient dense than that of our great ape cousins. We evolved to have more real estate in the small intestine, which preferentially absorbs nutrient-dense, highly digestible foods. Relative to other primates, the fiber-fermenting portion of our digestive tract, the colon, is comparatively smaller. Varied food sources provide a more nutrient-rich diet, which is what we need. Our bodies naturally want variety, and we get bored of eating the same thing all the time. Also, with a larger small intestine, we’re adapted to eating nutrient-dense foods like meat and cooked starches because we are able to better absorb the nutrition from these foods. We need nutrients that are found in both plants and animals. Many people also feel that we already get too much protein and that too much protein is dangerous. In reality, we’re not eating anywhere close to 265 pounds of meat per person, per year. In 2016, when adjusted for loss, Americans ate an estimated 1.8 ounces of beef per day (40 pounds per year), 1.4 ounces of pork per day (31.6 pounds per year), and 2.6 ounces of poultry per day (59.8 pounds per year). Since 1970 our intake of beef has actually declined from 2.7 ounces per person per day to 1.8 ounces per day in 2016, while our poultry intake has more than doubled. We’ve increased our intake of caloric sweeteners, and our intake of grain products has gone up about 30 percent (and by grains, we’re not talking about pearl barley; this is largely ultraprocessed foods made from wheat and corn). We’ve tripled our intake of ultraprocessed seed oils. If you go to the internet and look up, “How much protein should I eat?” the numbers you’ll often find are 56 grams a day for men and 46 grams per day for women. This is also what most health professionals will tell you. Remember that this is a minimum requirement, not the optimal amount in order to thrive or in order to be functional. Humans don’t really need “protein”; we need amino acids, and meat has the perfect balance of amino acids plus micronutrients that plants don’t have. The Dietary Reference Intakes by the Institute of Medicine actually sets no upper level for protein on the basis of chronic disease risk because high protein intake has not been found to have a detrimental effect. Your body needs protein, and if you don’t get enough through diet, your body will start breaking down your muscles and other tissues in order to get it. This leads to muscle wasting and weakness. Immune function decreases because protein is required for antibodies. You also need protein to make enzymes and to carry oxygen to tissues, so low protein can cause lethargy. Low protein is also associated with hair loss, brittle nails, and cold hands and feet. Low protein can cause weight gain. B12 deficiency, which is common in vegetarians and vegans, has been shown as an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease and serious neurological disorders in infants of vegan mothers. Higher levels of protein are effective for weight loss. According to the protein-leverage hypothesis, people will continue to eat food in order to satisfy their protein needs. If the food you’re eating is ultraprocessed, low in protein but high in calories and carbohydrates, the brain will tell you to continue eating that food until you reach your protein minimum. Because protein is highly satiating, when we increase our protein intake, our overall caloric intake generally reduces. Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, and intake of 15–30 percent of total calories can be quite helpful in regulating appetite by increasing leptin sensitivity and inducing weight loss and increasing blood sugar control. Think 4 to 6 ounces of animal protein per meal. Hopefully you understand now that the idea of “too much” is not based on science, but more likely on a “feeling” that meat is, by nature, gluttonous and unhealthy.