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The Beef Angle

Bad Nutritional Advice Still Society's Gold Standard

Advice to eat much carbs, not enough protein remains the problem.

My fiancée Miranda and I have a great Sunday morning tradition. We go to church, then grab a cup of coffee and a pastry and head over to Williams-Sonoma for a weekly "Technique Class" to learn something new or fun we might incorporate into our kitchen and cooking. We really enjoy these free cooking classes because we both love food and cooking. Occasionally, however, my otherwise well-meaning friends at W-S get under my skin.

Case in point: last week's class on "superfoods." Under this month's theme "healthy in a hurry," the first class focused on stocking a healthy pantry and showcased a few recipes that can be prepared relatively quickly.

From the onset, I knew I was in basic disagreement with the overall dietary balance they recommended to attendees. For example, their advice included such gems as, "we need surprisingly little [protein] - only 10% to 20% of our daily calories."

I patently disagree with this position, particularly when coupled with its corollary: "Roughly half of our calories should come from carbohydrates, to supply the energy our bodies and brains need to thrive."

My research and personal experience have convinced me that quite to the contrary, our culture's addiction to carbs has led to the collective expansion of our waistline and increased incidence of weight-related diseases like diabetes.

Think about this a little further: Given the notion of the average man eating somewhere between 2,200 and 2,600 calories per day, that means a "recommended" protein consumption of only 220 to 550 calories per day. While USDA's "My Plate" website suggests that men need 5.5 to 6.5 ounces of "protein foods" per day, if you are like me and attempting to seriously alter your body composition by burning fat and increasing lean mass, these protein recommendations are fairly low.

Further, research has consistently shown foods rich in carbohydrates are more easily converted to sugar in the body, which in turn is converted to fat if not burned through adequate physical activity. The basic energy balance equation – calories in, calories out – does not adequately address the nature of the calories ingested. There really is a difference between protein, carbohydrates and fat.

The "war on fat" of the past half-century has significantly altered the way Americans think about their diet, spawning the "low-fat/no-fat" food marketing craze and convincing a significant proportion of Americans that meat, milk and eggs will kill them.

Much of the "science" behind that movement has been refuted in recent years, or is in serious question by nutritionists and academics at universities across the country.

I am not a strict advocate of the Atkins-style no-carb diets but I do ascribe to a philosophy of a reduced-carbohydrate diet rich in lean proteins and healthy fats. And in so doing, my body has changed significantly in the past two years. I've dropped four pants sizes and 79 pounds, and my body composition improves a little more every week.

Aside from the boilerplate about limiting protein intake, the other thing that really ground my grits with the Williams-Sonoma "superfoods" primer was the section on grass-fed beef. One of only two meats on the list of 14 superfoods spotlighted (the other being salmon), the article offered this insight: "Typically, grass-fed cattle get more exercise than corn-fed ones as they roam and graze for their natural food, which is one reason the meat of grass-fed cattle is leaner."

I'll dispense arguing the claims about grass-fed beef containing "lower residues of hormones and antibiotics" for a moment and focus on the inanity of the comment on why grass-fed beef is allegedly leaner. Grass-fed cattle get more exercise? Seriously, that's what the marketing geniuses at Williams-Sonoma came up with in promoting grass-fed beef to their customers?

It should be noted that I am in no way shape or form opposed to grass-fed beef. If you want to pasture-finish fat cattle, so be it; that is a potentially profitable niche market. My problem with this assertion is that it is so much bull! Pasture-raised animals may traverse a broader geography than their feedlot-finished brethren, but the average attendee at a W-S cooking class hearing this statement is surely picturing some bovine drill instructor leading cattle calisthenics or pasture Pilates.

Or, as my fiancée observed when reading my first draft of this post: "I simply pictured the cattle racing around like horses. That's what came to my mind, in fact - cows jogging around eating - followed by the thought that cows DON'T move that fast. Have you watched a cow grazing? They amble. Slowly. So they can't possibly get more exercise in any meaningful way.

Having been a cow-calf man all my life, I can tell you definitely why grass-fed cattle are leaner than corn-fed animals: corn-based rations, or other concentrated feedstuffs, are part of a high-energy diet designed to produce a well-marbled carcass in the most efficient manner. Grass and other forage-based rations are not designed with that end goal in mind, traditionally. The basic nutritional composition of the animal's diet is what influences the quality grade of the finished animal, not the amount of "exercise" the steer undertakes in search of food.

I am an ardent supporter of a wide variety of food choices for consumers, and a wide variety of potential markets and niches for food producers. I have a real problem, however, with food marketing this blatantly fabricated or misleading.

We should produce a quality product, market it proudly, but market it accurately and honestly. And those in industries and businesses related to food production should likewise avoid passing off their own opinions and observations as nutritional fact and education.

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