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History vs Science: The Debate on Health and American Eating Habits

Posted by SugarCreek

Jul 18, 2014 2:00:00 PM

red_meatDo discussions about American eating habits make you shake your head in disgust? Are you one of the millions of Americans who consciously make an effort to eat less red meat because you have been repeatedly told by health and nutrition experts that red meat causes heart disease?

Good news: things may not be as bad as you think!

For years, millions of Americans have been diligently keeping track of how many hamburgers and steaks they eat each month to ensure that they minimize their risk of heart disease. But careful, scientifically backed, research tells a different story.

According to a painstakingly researched piece by Nina Teicholz of the Atlantic, modern Americans don’t, when compared to our earlier ancestors, over indulge in red meat. In fact, we eat only about half as much. However, as both food and health experts know well, instances of heart disease have skyrocketed over the past 50 years.

But, strangely, our “meat eating went down just before coronary disease took off," says Teicholz.

George McGovern, The USDA and Homo Sapiens

In her article, Teicholz notes that it was not a health official or even a member of the food service industry who first linked the pervasiveness of heart disease in society to a diet heavy on red meat. It was, rather, 1972 Democratic presidential hopeful George McGovern who spearheaded the questionable science behind the "paleo-diet movement." McGovern suggested that Americans, as a people, would see improved health by eating more fruits and vegetables and choosing lighter meat options (like chicken or fish) over red meat.

Boosted by stern admonishments from theUSDAto reduce pork and beef consumption or suffer the ill affects of a fat-laden heart, McGovern's formidable, doctor-supported treatise on the benefits of a plant-based diet has firmly established the American belief that red meat (or pork) causes health problems ranging from high cholesterol and atherosclerosis to cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

Our ancestors show that there’s a very different story to be told about meat-eating.

According to anthropological research, the fat provided by animal meat two million years ago allowed our brains to forge the cortical connections we needed to evolve from fairly primitive and chimp-like into thinking, aware humans.

Did early Homo sapiens suffer heart disease because they loved to eat freshly killed meat? What about Paleolithic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Colonial societies, all of whom ate beef, pork and game venison at nearly every meal? The answer, in contrast to McGovern's and the USDA's insistence that meat consumption is associated with heart disease, is no.

The Industrial Revolution versus the Couch Potato Revolution

Anthropologist Dr. Sylvia Kirchengast pointed out that the “obligatory and natural linkage between food acquisition and physical activity ended during the19th century due to the Industrialized Revolution” in an article earlier this year.

Essentially, says Kirchengast, we stopped getting sufficient exercise when machines started doing our jobs for us. We no longer had to run after game, walk for miles on the trail of our next meal or expend calories building shelters from trees and crude tools.

Early in the 20th century, though still fairly active, we started moving less. We no longer needed to engage in vigorous physical activity to survive. But we still kept eating meat— with little harm to our health.

During the 1950s and 1960s, however, when meat consumption dropped, heart disease rates began to see a meteoric rise.

Nina Teicholz writes: “...fat intake did rise between 1909 to 1961, when heart attacks surged, but a 12 percent increase in fat consumption was not due to a rise in animal fat. It was instead owing to an increase in the supply of vegetable oils, which had recently been invented.”

American Eating Habits or American Culture?

Of course, eating any type of food to excess can be bad for your health. Even overdosing on bananas can give you nerve damage andhyperkalimia. But, it seems, eating red meat may not be as bad for us as we’ve been led to believe.

Now that is news you can share with your customers!

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Written by: SugarCreek

Sugar Creek prides itself on its authentic culinary expertise. With nearly 50 years in the food manufacturing business, we know what Americans want to eat.

Topics: American eating habits, Proteins