Monday, February 7, 2011

On the beef over taco meat

One of the surprises in the aftermath of a lawsuit alleging that Taco Bell has been using a meat filling made with only 35 percent beef and advertising it as “ground beef” to customers was how many out in the cyber universe heralded the news, saying the less beef in the beef the better. (By definition, ground beef must contain 70 percent ground-up lean to still be considered beef.) When and why did natural nutrient-dense beef take on such a tarnished reputation? What makes consumers think, even for a minute, that soy-based products and other fillers and binding agents are more natural and healthy for the body than actual meat?

While conventional wisdom continues to demonize the saturated fat in animal products and insinuate meat as a morally dubious choice, a few courageous souls have been willing to question that rhetoric. Robert Adkins and Sally Fallin come to mind. More recently, science writer Gary Taubes spent five years researching and writing Good Calories, Bad Calories before coming to the conclusion that climbing rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes is caused by the “quality and quantity of carbohydrates” in American diets AND the skyrocketing intake of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which wreaks havoc on insulin, metabolism and fat deposition, thereby changing the whole ecology of the human body. Those are the two biggest changes that have occurred during the last half-century while the obesity epidemic was taking off. He assumes a correlation but also says more studies are needed… critical studies that aren’t getting funded, probably because the theories are unpopular with the powerful processed food industry.

Taubes is scheduled to appear Wednesday evening at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver on Colfax to sign and talk about his latest book, Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It. He describes it as a shorter, less science dense instruction manual that builds on the research laid out in his previous book. In my opinion, Good Calories, Bad Calories is totally absorbing, a refreshing contrast to all the glib over-simplistic diet advice that’s out there. For one thing, he disputes the calories-in, calories-out theory that insists if we just ate less and worked out harder and more often we could keep our weight down. Instead of resorting to starvation and wearing out our joints, he argues we need to look more critically at WHAT we eat. Reducing carbohydrates allows us to increase meat, with its high quality protein and healthy fats, and still enjoy a sensation of satiation. Yes, meat tends to be more expensive, more difficult to prepare and some would argue less addictive, all reasons carbs make up an increasingly higher percentage of our diets.

A journalist, Taubes claims he started his research with no preconceived ideas or agenda, and his conclusions make for extremely important food for thought. His willingness to dig deeper is a reminder to beware the dangers of oversimplification or of looking for a one-size-fits-all magic bullet when it comes to improving our health.