Posts Tagged ‘meat’

Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?

Over the past few days, I’ve been busy working on a paleo archiving project.  I’m really excited about it.  The one post I have posted below, I think, is just the beginning, and I have about a billion tabs open on my computer, trying to organize everything.  Because this has taken up so much time, I haven’t been thinking much about disordered eating.  But it’s kind of a nice break.  Food and negativity on the mind is food and negativity on the mind, no matter which way you’re looking at it.

In any case, in my archiving I came across this post by Paul over at Perfect Health Diet.  I’m amazed that I missed it before because I read his blog religiously.  In the post, Paul asks a question I had always wondered about: “Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?” and he provides an answer I had never thought of before.

What if, says Paul, our taste for sweetness was “hijacked” by fruit?  What if our original taste for sweetness was much more subtle?

Paul proposes here that we evolved a taste for sweetness because red meat is the sweetest of any animal.  Other hypotheses are that a) we need fruit for a variety of reasons, particularly vitamin C, b) that we need glucose and therefore evolved craving carbohydrate in general, or c) that benefit from a bit of fruit and a bit of starch in our diets, but fruits were so scarce and “tart” back then that their actual contribution to human health was negligible.  I believe that I’ve heard a refutation to this last point recently, but I can’t remember where.   Paul’s own refutation of them all is as follows:

“But what of the sweet taste? Is it really a sensor for carbohydrates? If so it does a rather poor job. The healthiest carbohydrate source – starch, which is fructose-free – hardly activates this taste, while fructose, a toxin, activates it in spades. If this taste evolved to be a carbohydrate sensor, it should have made us aversive to the carbohydrates it detects, as the bitter taste makes us avoid toxins. But sweet tastes are attractive!”

Right.  So he then discusses how red meat is the sweetest meat (read the post!  there is a lot more science going on than I am addressing), and proposes that we crave this sweetness more when we have nutrient deficiencies.  Fascinating, right?

The implication of this for binge eaters, which Paul points out in his post, is that a part of our craving for sweets may be nutritionally derived.  As such, binge eaters have a stronger than average inclination to binge because their bodies need something only available, or at least most abundantly available, in meat.  This idea relies on the theory that cravings are driven by nutrient needs.  Unfortunately, the jury is definitely out here.   Dr. Briffa thinks this occurrence is rare, and this organization and this review paper think is false. On the flip side, Pica, a condition marked by cravings for inanimate objects such as sand or dirt, is very often (but not always) hypothesized to be caused by nutrient deficiencies.  As such, it supports, in the extreme spectrum, Paul’s theory.

Since so much of the science lacks consensus in this issue, I don’t have a set opinion.  It makes sense to me, that we would crave meat if it’s the best source of nutrition.  Paul’s reasoning is solid, too. But I also know that many intelligent people, including Paul, think that we need a hundred grams or so of glucose each day.    Should that include fruit?  Who knows.

Finally,  I look to my experiences.  I know that I have rectified some nutrient deficiencies since going paleo.  My thyroid is working a bit better, my skin is nicer and my hair no longer comes out in strands as thick as a mongoose.  These changes are positively correlated with my cravings.  Those have decreased without question.  But how do I suss out the reasons?  Is it nutrient deficiencies?  A lack of blood sugar fluctuation?  The elimination from fructose in my diet, which helps stabilize leptin levels?  Or is it psychological?  Habitual?  Have I finally, after all this time, just kicked the bucket on sweets?

Yes, I think, and no.  The fact that I can binge on non-sweet foods says No.   I’ve put away entire chickens before without blinking an eye.   Many of my readers can do this, too.   As can rats.   Yet Paul again has a rebuttal lined up.  He asserts that people reach for sweets because they are denied their first, true, and most important craving: fat.  Interesting.  It’s an idea I wouldn’t  elbow people to get in the front of the line to sign up for, but I can also totally see it being the case.  If anyone was fucked by conventional nutrition, it was me.  Did you know I ate almost no fat for three years?

That said, I don’t think this fat-deprivation entirely drove my bingeing behavior.  There were a lot of factors as play, worst of which, I think, was my fructose consumption.  Yet weight loss, frustration, stress, body image, and lack of fat and protein leading to an inherently unsatisfying diet were also big components.  Meat-as-craving-for-sweetness is a fascinating theory.  It has definite potential as a component of disordered eating.  But there are millions of things going on in my body and in my brain at any given time, and I think many other disordered eaters would agree.  What comes first?  What follows?  What triggers the worst binges?  What is the most effective bingeing salve?   It’s all very complicated stuff.  In any case, we should address the physiological as soon as and as diligently as possible.  We should eat animals, stop eating fruit, and make sure we get as much fat and protein as we need.   We should consider supplementation if we’ve really been beating up our bodies.  And we should stop doing chronic cardio and do our best to sleep at night.  We can, then, at the same time, start chipping away at the psychological factors.  The hope is then that, as we move forward with both psychological and physiological healing, we can recover as smoothly and quickly as possible.


05 2011

Breaking news: vegetarianism is lame for many reasons

Hi friends.  What follows is not a well-researched, heavily linked article on the perils of vegetarianism.  I would like to write one of those, but it might take ages, and I also have limited access to academic journals, not currently enrolled in an American academic institution.  It is, instead, a bit of a personal statement against vegetarianism.  Most paleo dieters are aware of the arguments I make here, but others that I sometimes direct to my blog, such as my family and friends, are less familiar with typical vegetarian versus non vegetarian arguments. I am more than happy to get into grittier details with people if they want.  Please email me on the contact form, or prod at me in the comments section.

This is just the surface, and–if you can’t tell–an emotionally charged one as well.  However, I want to append that caveat with another caveat: I believe that my strong emotional response to vegetarianism follows the arguments– I see the logic and I get pissed– not the other way around, where I feel angry and then rationalize my anger.  I myself was a vegetarian for many years, and I understand how absolutely compelling it is.   I was emotionally attached to it.  However, once I took a look at the statistics about sustainability and at the information on human health, I was forced, logically, to change my stance and my actions.  As such, I believe that vegetarianism is extraordinarily well-intentioned but ultimately misguided.  What follows is why.


Gods.  Vegetarianism makes me sick.  I.. haha.  Is that true?  I think that’s true.  It wasn’t always.  The reason I feel that way is because saying “I’m a vegetarian” has all these moral implications, and I remember wearing that title as a student and using it as a means of identification and validation and moral superiority.  Who am I to say I’m better than you because I don’t eat animals?  That’s not okay, especially if others around me are making the best choices they can with the information provided, too.  Let’s not forget that vegetarianism has ascetic and religious roots, and that the idea of abstaining from something appeals to people for psychological and sociological reasons beyond ‘good for the planet.’

And YES, while as a vegetarian I was certainly acting on the best knowledge I had, and definitely trying my best to be moral, it was, essentially, wrong.  My vegetarianism wasn’t helping the environment as much as I thought.  Still eating eggs and dairy?  Fish?  I wasn’t, but many vegetarians do.  If you practice vegetarianism because of animal rights, consider that consuming milk is probably more abhorrent than consuming meat itself.  Milk cows are subject to an entire lifetime of soy products, digestive discomfort, extreme udder discomfort, hormone disregulation, and crowded, dirty, indoor (and, in fact, in-stall) living conditions.   On the other hand, if you practice vegetarianism because it is supposed to be more sustainable, consider that while your meat cost more energy than your grain or soy products, the transportation costs of the grains are still enormously high, and your grains are still destroying the incredibly tenuous soil resource.  Still eating plants from far away?  Bad news bears for transportation costs and pollution and the horrific environmental impact--especially soil depletion--of large scale monocultures.  While true that eating meat in excessive amounts is, well, excessive, eating meat to obtain sufficient protein from a local source is, I think, in fact a healthier course of action both for the environment and for our selves.  The books Meat: a benign extravagance and The vegetarian myth are excellent rebuttals (or, at least, alternative viewpoints) to contemporary environmentalism.   Also, check out this website on the book Against the Grain, which gives a concise summary of the most pertinent arguments against, well, grains.

I think vegetarianism is misguided (duh).  Sure, gorging ourselves on grains and not eating cows might help sustainability for another couple decades or so, but when it comes down to it, large scale agriculture is going to destroy the planet just as easily (if not quite as quickly) as raising livestock.  Vegetarianism is a band-aid, and a bit of a shitty one, at that.  The real answer to sustainability issues is local, cradle to grave husbandry.  Grow some plants, pick them, grow some grass to replenish the soil and keep it in place (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do), have cows eat the grass and poop on it to fertilize it (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do) and eat the cows then grow plants there again.  While impossible with America’s current subsidy and large-farm system, this type of ecosystem maximizes the health of the planet and our foods and our bodies, while minimizing negative impacts.

Something else to consider when we’re discussing environmental impact of foods is the level of processing.  If you’re a vegetarian and still eating foods out of boxes, you are consuming combinations of vegetable oils, different compounds, and all sorts of poisons (hyperbole? perhaps) that required transportation to the facility, manufacture, packaging, and later transportation.  Legitimately, very, really, legitimately, if you’re eating foods out of boxes your environmental impact may be much higher than someone eating a whole cow once every couple weeks.

What’s more, American culture tends to prize just a few cuts of meat.  This is ridiculous.  Organs and other less-celebrated cuts of meat are incredibly nutritious.  In fact, the lack of organ-eating in contemporary culture has been attributed to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, copper, folate, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10.  If people begin eating WHOLE animals, and stopped wasting so much of them, their environmental impact would go WAY, way down.  I eat a lot of meat, sure, but my favorite meals are chicken stomachs, chicken hearts, beef liver, and beef tongue.  I eat all the parts other people throw away.  Does this mean I have “zero” environmental impact?  Not really.  But it’s a hell of a lot better than eating just a part of an animal and throwing the rest of it away, or even eating, as I mentioned before, anything grown on a monoculture or produced in a factory.

A lot of the literature on vegetarianism comes out of universities and the like, and a culture of sustainability dogma (most of which I’m all for, so long as it’s free thinking).  A lot of this sentiment, however, and the cultural zeitgeist comes from industry.  We all hear vegetarians talking about the evil powers of the meat industry, but what about the evil powers of the wheat, soy, and corn industries, which are vastly larger than the meat industry, and on which the contemporary meat industry actually depends?   American culture with regards to food, sustainability, health, and funding is a giant clusterfuck, and there’s no way around it.  The best way, imho, to say ‘fuck you’ to that giant machine is to eat as locally as possible.  Or, instead of in my opinion, but in my practice, it’s to move to Taiwan and daily eat a duck Wang Peng butchered and deep fried this morning.

Finally, there are about eight million health reasons to eat animals.  Here are a few:

Complete protein, for one.  You won’t get it from plants or legumes no matter how much vegetarians tell you otherwise (fuck quinoa!).

Getting enough healthy fat in your diet is another problem with vegetarian diets.  Vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat in general, which is BAD for your metabolism, your brain, your blood sugar, and your hormonal function.  What’s more, the content of the fat in vegetarian diets itself is high in omega 6-rich vegetable oils, which raise systemic inflammation and leads to all sorts of inflammation related diseases including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and alzheimers.

Another big one is nutrients.  Contrary to popular opinion, which is nuts, by the way, meat is full of vitamins and minerals and is in fact far and away more nutrient dense than grains.  One important nutrient is iron. Others are zinc, selenium, folic acid and phosphorous. Red meat is rich in vitamins A, Bs (12, the biggie), D, E, and K.  B12 is particularly important since it is found in no plants.  If you’re a vegetarian and you’re not supplementing, you’re in big trouble.

Note also that all of the vitamins and minerals contained in plants are less readily absorbed by our guts than those found in protein and fats.  This is because they are tied up with fiber and must first be broken down by gut flora.  Vegetarian literature often espouses that you not only can but SHOULD get all your vitamins and minerals from plants.  This is ridiculous.  Common vegetarianism asserts, for example, that you get your vitamin A from carrots, but this just isn’t true. Carrots instead have beta carotene in them, which is converted to vitamin A by bacteria in your gut, but only at a rate of, at maximum, 30 percent. There is WAY more vitamin A in animal fat and in animal livers than in plants, and its readily available to use.

Any vitamin that you digest in plant form must first be handled by your gut flora, and then absorbed, but the thing is that plants–especially wheat–often have lectins in them, which inhibit nutrient absorption.  This is potentially responsible for all sorts of nutrient deficiencies in developed countries, particular Ca and Mg.  Think you have osteoporosis because you don’t eat enough dairy?  How come Americans, who consume more dairy than any other country in the world, have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, too?  How come cultures that have never come in contact with dairy have perfect bone health?  That’s because (I assert!) they eat a natural, high fat, relatively high animal, no grain, no sugars diet.  For serious.

What about antioxidants?  Forget it.  You “need” antioxidants to fight free radicals, which are produced primarily by carbohydrate metabolism. If you’re not putting shit like grains and excessive sugars in your body, then you don’t need antioxidants to fight them.  Why dig a hole in the ground for your ladder so you can paint your basement windows?

Oh, and as a final remark, if you want to be a vegetarian for religious reasons, be my guest.  That’s cool.

And that might be about it for right now, friends.  I’m sure there is plenty more.  Have more to add on my side?  Drop me a line.  Want to fight about how poorly cited my diatribe was?  Please respond with some links in kind.   I 800 percent acknowledge that you might beat me silly with a good argument, so go ahead.  I want to be smarter, and I want you to open up my mind.

That said, vegetarianism was so 2008.


03 2011

Laboratory meat

Though he certainly isn’t the first of his kind, Medical University of South Carolina researcher Vladimir Mironov is making strides towards a clean and efficient method for growing meat in the laboratory.   Moreover, this article in Reuters argues that the tissues he generates have moved beyond the questionable “shmeat” featured on the Colbert Report in 2009, and are now instead in the realm of the downright tasty.

Dr. Mironov argues that, “it will be functional, natural, designed food.”  (I’m not sure how a designed food is a natural food, precisely, but more on that later.)  “How do you want it to taste? You want a little bit of fat, you want pork, you want lamb? We design exactly what you want. We can design texture.”

At first I was excited.  Wooo, technology!   But then I drew back.  Thinking about farmed cow tissue gave me pause for more reasons than I originally thought possible.  One was that I worried about the nature of what I’d be eating:  Is this truly healthy?  Am I really nurturing myself when I eat this?  My guess at the answer, however, is: probably.  My initial concern was warranted but likely disproportionate to the true nature of the matter.   Tissue engineers know their stuff.  If they can make a new hip, attach old limbs, and even, today, seriously endeavor to grow a woolly mammoth from ancient DNA, they can probably make properly meaty meat.  On the other hand, the type of DNA they use to grow the meat, and the type of tissue they endeavor to make–for example, do they use a healthy or a grain fed cow for the model?–will certainly impact the product.  Moreover, would there be a “meat” standard throughout the world, or would products vary from lab to lab and market to market?  These are interesting questions, and actually have real world implications for our future health.

A second reason for my reservation was the subconscious association I made between meat tissue and human tissue.  When I think about tissue labs, I think about Michael Bay’s film The Island, and I flinch a bit.  If we can make meat in the laboratory, whose to say we can’t make organisms?  As a matter of fact, we can.  Clones are a reality, and it’s a reality that makes our skin itch.  Growing meat evokes heavy existential questions.  What does it mean to be alive?  To be human?  To have agency?  A soul?

Farmed tissue

Moreover, this is not just an issue of the future, but of the present.  I should be rocked by the power of technology every day, but as I float along in the blogosphere or fly from Detroit to Taipei as easily (or more easily) than I walk to the newsstand in the mornings, I forget how removed we are from a “natural state.”   I take keeping in touch with nature and my organic existence very seriously, but the truth is that I can sort of ignore it if I want to.  Would eating grown meat be another push in that direction?   Is the idea of an “organic existence” directly in conflict with eating animal tissue generated in a petri dish?

Cell biologist Nichols Genovese makes the relevant point that “there are a lot of products that we eat today that are considered natural that are produced in a similar manner…there’s yogurt, which is cultured yeast. You have wine production and beer production. These were not produced in laboratories. Society has accepted these products.”

But cultured yeast is still yeast.  Genovese’s point, while not ridiculous, doesn’t really hold.  Culturing yeast is more equivalent to a feed lot than a petri dish.  Each is a place where nutrients are available for organisms to grow.  Moreover, a yeast cell doesn’t have agency, doesn’t graze through green pastures, doesn’t raise young, and isn’t something I necessarily treat with sacred respect.  I’m not 100 percent sure of the statement I’m about to make, but I think my biggest problem with the lab meat is this: I feel a fair bit spiritual about what I eat.  I like to feel as though I am integrating the Earth into my body when I eat vegetables, and the fabric of the animal kingdom into my soul when I eat meat.  I live in profound gratefulness for the bounty of the Earth, and laboratories remove that glory.  This would explain why I feel okay about genetically modified foods.  They are the product of both the Earth and of man’s genius, and that’s pretty cool.  Laboratory meat, while hugely complicated and practical, offers no such transcendence.

I think that, in the end, I feel about laboratory meat the same way I do about lots of society: resigned acceptance.  This is something that could be really good for the environment and for global health (however, I have to wonder: how sustainable is the production process?), and it’s a sacrifice I am definitely willing to make.  A wee bit part of my soul cries at the loss, but it’s a small part, and this is so far away in the future anyway that I cannot predict with any degree of certainty how the whole deal with play out.  I have this faith in humanity… Remember in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when everyone was predicting we’d be living in silver jumpsuits on concrete high rises and perpetually hardwired into computers or some other crazy technology?  It’s never happened, and it’s never going to happen.  As much as we enjoy playing with the bounds of technology, we have an innate humanity that we will never relinquish.  No one makes silver jumpsuits because no one wants to wear them.  Similarly, if people are so horrified by the though of laboratory meat, we may in fact find a way to live sustainably and naturally after all.


02 2011