Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating meat, not low fat: looking back in history

Having grown up in the seventies, I have been surrounded by exhortations to eat "low fat" all my life, often substituting whole grains for meats.  In all likelihood, you have too. 

I also grew up in a culture of baking, even though our family tended to use less sugar and more wholewheat products than many of our friends.  

So I'm finding it quite uncomfortable to confront the idea that it's cumulative excessive consumption of refined starches and sugar that is not only the underlying cause of weight gain, but also the root cause of the diseases of modern civilization, such as:
Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, asthma, cancer, chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, Crohn's disease, nephritis or chronic renal failure, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and obesity.
What I'm finding fascinating to learn is that long before the low fat mantra became so ubiquitous, there were already numerous successful researchers and obesity experts advocating eating plans that were remarkably similar to what I am talking about in this blog.  There is some 100 years' worth of research that we need to be thinking about.   This is nothing new, though the media treats it as a novelty.

For example, here is a quote from 1950:
"A problem nobody had was learning to like meat! That's the one thing we have to thank, more than any other, for the fact that people stayed on the diet and liked it. Or maybe I'd do better to put that the other way round. Our dieters liked this all-the-meat-you-want pattern for losing weight so much that they stuck to the program in spite of the few other things about it they didn't like quite so well.
High-protein (and high-fat), then, was not the whole secret of the diet's success. High pleasure in the eating was, apparently, the top trump. People welcomed a reducing diet that allowed them all they wanted of the food they liked so well, meat."
Where I have additional difficulty is in reconciling my vegetarian tendencies with the reading that I'm doing that recommends the consumption of fairly large quantities of meat instead, and not to worry one bit about reducing the consumption of saturated fats.  

From an environmental point of view, I find the idea of feedlot cattle abhorrent and have a hard time imagining how sustainable it would be if everyone were to eat more meat.  In our family, we have chosen to approach this problem by buying local, naturally-raised meat only.  It's slightly more expensive than what you get in the grocery store, but it tastes fantastic and having visited the farms and spoken to the owners, I know that the cows we're consuming have not been anywhere near the appalling feedlots that exist in the periphery of our society's collective consciousness.  

But to get back to the history of high fat, high protein eating, there are plenty of resources available online that you can look up for yourself.  Some examples:

Dr. Blake Donaldson, author of "Strong Medicine" (1960)
Dr. Alfred Pennington, who helped overweight Du Pont executives lose weight in the 1940's and 1950's
Dr. George Thorpe, who presented the 1957 Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association with the following recommendation:
The simplest to prepare and most easily obtainable high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, and the one that will produce the most rapid loss of weight without hunger, weakness, lethargy, or constipation, is made up of meat, fat, and water. The total quantity eaten need not be noted, but the ratio of three parts of lean to one part of fat must be maintained. Usually within two or three days, the patient is found to be taking about 170 Gm. of lean meat and 57 Gm. of fat three times a day. Black coffee, clear tea, and water are unrestricted, and the salt intake is not reduced. When the patient complains of monotony, certain fruits and vegetables are added for variety. The overweight patient must be dealt with as an individual. He usually needs help in recognizing the factors at work in his particular case as well as considerable education in the matter of foods.
Does this tiny bit of historical perspective not make my grain- and sugar-free approach less unconventional to think about?

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