If I were to ask you whether a seventeen-year-old and sixty-year-old woman requires the same amount of protein, what would you say? As a point of fact, if you went into the average person’s home and joined their family for dinner, you might sit down at the table with a mother, father, daughter, son, and possibly a grandparent. In all probability, all of them would receive the same amount of protein food. This would usually be a meat/flesh item. But clearly, the daughter and son, since they are growing, have a greater need for quality protein; the wife, who weighs fifty pounds less than her husband, has less need for protein than her husband; and the grandparent has still less need due to both age and the difficulty of digesting protein. Instead of offering each person the type and quantity of protein he or she needs for optimal health, we give protein in the same amount to every person irrespective of age or special circumstance.
When you are going in for surgery, when you are pregnant or lactating, or when you are under stress, exercising regularly, or growing, you require more protein than under normal conditions.
The average person’s lack of knowledge on protein is as great as their ignorance concerning carbohydrates and the distinction between the empty calories from white sugar and the much better-utilized calories from, for example, brown rice.
We must now take a careful look at protein to see what role it plays in our life.
To many Americans, good nutrition means protein. They know they need something called protein. As a result, they usually take too much. Most of our protein requirements could be met with about six ounces of complete protein a day. It’s been estimated that the average American consumes upward of 100 grams of protein a day. That may be almost double what we actually need.
Let’s sit down for dinner with that typical American family mentioned earlier. They associate meat with strength, well-developed musculature, and active, hearty life. They think of their heroes the athlete, the cowboy, the rugged outdoorsman as meat-eaters. And they believe the strength of these mythlike figures somehow derives from regular consumption of beefsteak.
The father, our host tonight, is proud that, as his income has increased, steak has appeared more and more frequently at his dinner table, replacing chicken, ground meat, veal, pork, and other cuts of meat that used to be less expensive. As part of the upper-middle class, he feels proud that he can provide his family with the fruits of his labor. He urges his young son to “eat heartily” and eating hearty means, to him, eating plenty of good, red meat. It doesn’t occur to him that the diet he is urging on his offspring might be at best too much of a good thing.
The Advantages of Meat
Now in one sense, the father does know best. Meat does have an advantage as a source of protein, not just father’s favored steak, but all meats cut directly from the animal: veal, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, etc. (This advantage does not necessarily hold for sausage, luncheon meats, hot dogs, chicken rolls, or other processed meats.) Meats are among the foods that supply complete protein: they contain all eight of the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. And they also supply other nutrients, such as iron and B vitamins, in which many vegetables are deficient. They contain fats we can use for energy, heat insulation, and a variety of metabolic functions. Many of our organs, including our nerves, can make good use of this fat (although unsaturated fats from vegetable or fish sources would be preferable).
However, the father is probably not aware that, along with those amino acids, B vitamins, and saturated fats, his family is also taking into the body some unwanted visitors.
Chemicals in Your Meat
For instance, along with the roast beef that they are eating tonight, they might be obtaining some type of growth-stimulating hormones, even the banned DES-diethylstilbestrol the artificial sex hormones that were given to women all over America in the 1950s and 1960s in order to prevent miscarriage. It was later found to be ineffective and to have carcinogenic consequences for the daughters and sons born to women who took it. DES was also fed to beef cattle because it slows down the animals’ metabolism, making them fatter quicker. Though it is now banned for such use, illegal residues still appear.
That juicy roast beef would also supply them with unwanted antibiotics. These are administered to the cattle primarily because a large percentage of feedlot animals are fed as much as thirty pounds of grain a day, but they can only transform the food into three or four pounds of muscle and fat. That enormous overfeeding causes painful liver abscesses which in turn affect profits. So the cattle are simply given antibiotics such as oxytetracycline.
When animals are kept crowded together in close confinement, standing knee-deep in excrement, fed twenty-four hours a day under bright lights on conveyor belts, they are prone to epidemic diseases such as respiratory ailments, foot rot, and diarrhea. For further protection, they are given additional medication such as streptomycin, another antibiotic.
Nor is that the only tampering. The cattle are also given tranquilizers so they will not mind their miserable, cramped existence, and will eat despite their lack of exercise.
The animals, of course, can pass on to the consumer, through their flesh, many of the chemicals that were given them to turn them into mechanized feeding machines. You can’t really insulate yourself from this chemical abuse because there is no listing on the steak or roast beef of all the chemicals used more than 2,700 chemicals are allowed in the processing of meats.
Eating these unwelcome additives along with your meat could have serious consequences for your health and that of your family. Imagine the mother of the family you are visiting sitting at the dining table eating that roast beef, as she has been eating it nearly every day for years. She believes that it provides her with strength. At the same time, suppose she has been suffering from localized infections and has been taking antibiotics on and off for twenty years. Between the antibiotics, she has been taking deliberately, and those used in animal production coming through her food supply, it is entirely possible that the bacteria in her body have developed an immunity to many if not all the antibiotics she has tried. If she were to come down with a severe infection, the antibiotics might not work as a result. She could die from bacterial death due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She would not know that her bacterial infection had developed this resistance in part because of her constant ingestion of highly potent antibiotics. It is conceivable that the chemicals in the meat she was eating for strength could ultimately cause her to succumb to pneumonia or some other infection.
If the animals were kept in clean, spacious surroundings, these antibiotics would rarely be necessary. However, because of the manure and encrusted filth present in cattle and pig pens, they are a necessary precaution against rampant disease. Unfortunately, the fact they are used routinely no doubt encourages the agribusiness dealers who handle the cattle and hogs to be less interested in animal sanitation than antibiotics.
Nor are antibiotics and tranquilizers the only chemicals your hosts may be eating tonight with the roast beef. The cow that provided the beef had to eat to get so fat and juicy. Unfortunately, she is not likely to have eaten grains or soybeans grown on an organic farm your hosts tonight don’t buy their beef in health food stores. As a result, that cow like most of us gobbled down quite a quantity of pesticide along with her feed. Her metabolism stored it up and concentrated it in her flesh especially the liver and fat tissues, but the rest of her body, too to pass along to you.
What’s Missing in Meat
Antibiotics and other chemicals are not the only obstacles to health our typical American family faces as a result of making meat the main element of each meal. Let’s look more closely at the father’s plate. Several slices of roast beef fill most of it. He may like his roast beef sliced thin, but he piles up the slices on his plate. There’s hardly any room left on the side for his baked potato. Beside his plate, in a bowl so small you could hold it in the palm of your hand, sits a salad of iceberg lettuce and bottled dressing.
What he’s getting in this meal are a high portion of fat and chemical residues. What he is missing is an adequate portion of vitamins and minerals.
True, the meat supplies complete protein but possibly more than he really needs. And by the time he finishes a pound or so of roast beef, he’s really not very interested in eating his vegetables, such as they are. He throws a few pats of butter onto his potato still more saturated fat eats the inside and discards the skin as waste. He doesn’t realize he’s throwing out a fine source of fiber and vitamin C neither of which is to be found in his roast beef. And by eating so little salad, he’s shortchanging himself of magnesium a mineral found in leafy greens and needed for the proper functioning of nerve tissue and of the muscles he thinks his meat is taking care of. Still more pertinent to a particular problem of his, he is losing another source of fiber
Father’s overreliance on meat at the expense of other foods particularly whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables has led to a lack of fiber in his diet. Fiber is necessary for maintaining healthy bowel movements. It stimulates peristalsis, the rhythmic wavelike movements that move food through the intestine. Fiber also allows more moisture in the fecal matter so it does not stagnate.
Father has thought it to be completely natural for the past twenty years to be taking a laxative virtually every day. He does not realize he is addicted to them or that they actually contribute to his constipation.
As a result of lack of fiber, the transit time of food through his digestive system, instead of being twenty-four to thirty-six hours normal for optimal health is incredibly slow, often taking upward of ninety hours from the time it is ingested until it is passed through the body. During these ninety hours, disease-producing microorganisms can multiply, putrifying the protein in his intestines. Picture what happens to meat dropped by mistake behind the stove for four days and left there to rot. And don’t forget that the body temperature is 98.6° Fahrenheit. The slowness and pressure of the progress of food through his intestines could contribute to him developing diverticulitis, small pouchlike bumps in the intestine where bacteria and putrified matter collect in a sort of chronic infection. It also causes poor absorption of the nutrients in the food he eats. All this because the amount of protein that he eats has replaced the more nourishing fiber-rich foods in his diet.
If he is not careful, he or anyone in his family could end up with cancer of the colon. In fact, the National Cancer Institute has released a five-year study that implicates high consumption of beef in cancer of the colon.
In the mind of most Americans, protein has almost a glamorous image, as the essence of nutrition.
We pay very little attention to how much we actually need to be based on our biological individuality. This amount varies with our weight, age, and the amount of stress we are under. Pregnant and lactating women also have increased protein needs.
While meat is an excellent source of complete protein and B vitamins, the typical American diet, with its emphasis on beef, pork, and processed meats, has serious drawbacks. Marbled beef, long considered the prestige meat, is high in saturated fats, as are pork and processed meats. Beef cattle are fed a wide range of growth-stimulating hormones, antibiotics, and tranquilizers. DES, now banned because of its carcinogenic effects, was one of these hormones. But there remain nearly 3,000 chemicals with which it is still legal to douse cattle, and any of these can affect your health. Antibiotics, for example, can alter your intestinal flora and can become ineffectual when taken repeatedly. In addition, pesticides and other chemicals from cattle feed concentrate in the animals* flesh (particularly in the liver).
Finally, overreliance on protein at the expense of high-fiber foods (grams, beans, fibers, fruit) can cause constipation, diverticulitis, cancer of the colon, and other diseases of the intestines.