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Beefs and Beliefs

Glacial change of human opinion still hears nutrition science

Glacial change of human opinion still hears nutrition science
We must never give up in our championship of the truth about nutrition and the exposition of falsehoods.


The human mind and the collective pool of human opinion are a lot like glaciers.

There is a constant influx of material from the top, it gets swept down into the mass, dragged along and ground up, and eventually parts gets ejected along the sides and toward the bottom.

It seems ideas and "facts" crash into the human mind like ice, snow and other wreckage into the top of a glacier and then slowly grind down without much change.

A fascinating glacial example of this is the case of the airliner called Star Dust, lost in the Andean mountains of Chile in August 1947. It was flying from Buenos Aires to Santiago at night and needed to cross the mountains at 24,000 feet elevation. The co-pilot radioed an expected time of arrival to the Santiago airport and then the plane just disappeared without a trace. Air searches of the entire mountainous region turned up nothing.

Then in 1998 some mountain hikers from Santiago found airplane wreckage at 15,000 feet where it had ejected from the Tupungato Glacier on Mount Tupungato. Two years later, more wreckage and parts of human bodies were found. It was determined by examination of the airplane parts and by DNA testing on the bodies that this was the wreckage of Star Dust.

Of course the cause of the crash is unknown, but she may have flown high enough to have entered the jet stream head-on, about which little was known at the time, and mis-navigated into a descent too early. Or strong winds could have driven her into the mountainside. Anyway, the airplane's impact into the mountain apparently caused an avalanche and covered the wreckage completely.

Prior to the discovery of wreckage pieces, all manner of speculation offered no real answers about the disappearance. Even the idea of UFO abduction was floated more than once.

Today, not everything from the wreck has been found and only five people from the eight on board have been identified. The rest is still claimed by the glacier, which moves along at its indiscernible pace, cold and indifferent, grinding, creeping.

I argue the Star Dust incident is similar to what's happened with the ideas about human nutrition.

When I was a young boy in the 1960s we knew eating bread and potatoes and sugars made you get fat. We knew bacon and beef and chicken did not. We also knew protein was desirable. This was old knowledge and knowledge that matched the limited amount of food science available at the time, much of which was evidentiary but unsound.

Then a man named Ancel Keyes floated his junk-science hypothesis that consumption of animal fat raised blood cholesterol and that raised the number of heart attacks. There was no basis for truth in his data and many scientists testified in Senate hearings against it. Nonetheless, Senator George McGovern's committee on human nutrition decided to throw out all existing science and knowledge and instead to teach Americans the new ways of thinking. Star Dust had hit the mountain! Even worse, a beacon was posted to draw in future flights.

An avalanche of government-funded research came down to cover up and lose the old knowledge and it became part of the grinding glacier, slowly entrenching itself in our collective psyche. At first, no one believed the junk science. Surely UFOs could not have taken away the good qualities of meats and animal fats, our minds told us. But the onslaught of the grinding glacier crept on and the new material, now the wreckage of the new "science" kept crashing into the glacier of public's data banks, feeding in more wreckage until we began to digest so much of it that we began to believe.

But strange things kept happening along the way. The diabetics researchers didn't fly into the mountain. They discovered the mechanisms for insulin resistance, and the fat-storing reaction of the body to a boost in the insulin level, and the fact carbohydrates of all types are the trigger input for that mechanism.

Other researchers have tied some of these things to heart disease and arterial plaque formation.

Wreckage also began to emerge from the human nutrition glacier. Dietary cholesterol was proven to be bad, then proven not to be bad. Animal fats were proven to be bad and to make you fat and vegetable fats, along with man-made transfats, were proven to be good and healthy. The wreckage outside the glacier is proving otherwise.

There is ample evidence now to indict all carbohydrates as seriously problematic and to embark upon serious research to show their real effects, but the glacier is moving slowly, grinding along. Human ideas and attitudes change slowly ... ever so slowly.

To match all this we've seen the government relax some of its attack upon animal industry products. Now this year it's stepping that back up with nutritional guidelines that push meats back toward the depths of that dark glacier. Those ever-wise crafters of the enduring crash of human nutrition have added to their arsenal the partial truth/partial lie that livestock production is bad for the environment, as if all methods are equal. This is a new glacier and a new wreck they are trying to adjoin with the other, begun several years ago and it is still spilling its own pieces of wreckage.

Many in the animal industries are complaining loudly about all this. Certainly we have a right to do so and clearly the use of our taxed dollars to pay for and promote biased and therefore junk science is wrong.

My co-worker Amanda Radke at BEEF magazine suggests maybe we should "devote more effort to promoting beef instead of whining about the guidelines." In part, I agree because this is not something the industry has been ignoring.

We have beef industry nutritionists working year-around with the folks who set those guidelines. We present them with sound science. We also use good scientists to refute their faulty studies. These are Beef Checkoff endeavors and I think they are worthy.

On the other hand this is more wreckage entering the glaciers of public opinion and of our individual minds and I think we need to redirect it with a steady flood of alternate opinions. Essentially we need to put up more beacons to draw air traffic away from those previous crash sites.

The reason I say this is we are all affected by them and they have changed our thinking, even if we don't quite believe what we're told.

For example, I eat mostly a paleo diet and when people ask me about it I try to share as simply as I can the reasons why. The point where nearly everyone's eyes glaze over is when I explain to them how dangerous carbohydrates appear and why I try to limit my intake of them so severely. They don't want to hear it. The glacier of their own minds is full up with wreckage, and they are unwilling to heat up their nerve endings enough to melt it and change its direction.

Meanwhile, I think we spend far too much time tearing down segments of our own industry instead of talking about how all our products are good. An example is bitterness and reciprocity of the grass-finished versus grain-finished argument. I think my answer is better that the one from either side: "I eat both kinds of beef. Both have great nutrition. You can usually boost your omega 3 intake a little with grass-finished beef and I like the flavor, but if you're not going to drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake then neither a steady diet of grass-finished beef nor one of wild salmon will have much effect on your health."

I suggest we need to save the good research and build upon it daily. I would like to write a science-based food blog for the masses but that doesn't fit my editorial mission of writing and producing editorial content to help you, the beef producer, do a better and more profitable job producing beef. However, some of you sharp producers could easily enter that realm and attack the topic critically and openly and honestly on a regular basis.

Just remember this: humanity changes slowly as a glacier moves, although knee-jerk reactions can rage like wildfire. It's a lesson I seem to need relearning almost daily.

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