It's only recently in human history that we've been able to afford to fatten up the animals that everyone eats. I've already mentioned the two differences between flank steak and filet mignon—price and fat. Filet mignon is much more expensive because more grain has to be fed to the animal to put that fat in the meat. It takes fifteen pounds of grain to make one pound of edible beef (and fourteen pounds of cow manure?)—and I use quotes with the word “edible”.
The first problem with fat—and particularly with animal fat—is that it tends to promote a higher cholesterol level in the blood. And high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke, as you saw when you calculated your Coronary Artery Disease Risk Profile.
In addition fat has more than twice as many calories as carbohydrate or protein, so it's the principal factor in the widespread development of obesity or overweight.
A high-fat, high-protein diet isn't a good diet to mix with high blood pressure. It can increase the systolic pressure in the arteries by lining and hardening them with cholesterol; it can weaken the kidneys and give you the kidney lesion; and it adds more risk to your Coronary Artery Disease Risk Profile, which is already high because of the blood pressure factor.
Dr. J. M, Iacono of the U. S. Department of Agriculture has done some interesting studies that suggest that fat can raise the blood pressure in another way as well. His work shows that reducing animal fat in the diet reduces blood pressure. It's as simple as that.
He doesn't know yet which is most important here: reducing the total fat or lowering the ratio of saturated (animal) fats to polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils). But his method works. He and his colleagues have presented their results in a special supplement to the medical journal Hypertension (1982), in the Lancet (1983), and in Preventive Medicine (1983). His theory is that reducing saturated fat in the diet increases a natural blood-pressure-lowering hormone in the body. The hormone is called prostaglandin.
Animal fat as a cause of hypertension has become an established fact, and many scientists have confirmed the relationship. In my own view, sodium is the most important factor. But, by all means, check with your body and be open about this. I think you’ll find that fatty meats and dairy products leave you feeling fatigued and sluggish—and that your body is trying to tell you something: stop eating so much of them!
This mad-cow disease scare has been so overblown, when you think about it for a minute it’s ludicrous. To practically close down a multi- billion dollar industry for maybe a one in 467 million chance of getting Creutzfeldt - Jakob disease is indeed ludicrous. Every year millions of Americans die of coronary heart disease and other forms of artery hardening in large part due to the heavy emphasis on meat in our diets. Do you know what’s in a Big Mac or a Whopper? More grams of fat (and salt) than you should probably be eating in a week. It is fat not prions that we all should be worrying about.
Vegetable and grain fats, too, are things we've only recently learned how to make. Safflower oil, corn oil, palm oil, and all the other oils we eat are very recent inventions, compared to the length of time the human body has been around.
It takes seven ears of corn, pressed at very high pressure and temperature, to make one tablespoon of corn oil. So you can imagine how many ears of corn go to make up a whole bottle.
Do you know that vegetable fats tend to linger in the bloodstream even longer than animal fats? It's as though we don't have a good system for processing them. Perhaps we can't metabolize them easily because we were never intended to eat them in this quantity. That makes sense to me.
One other thing, while we're on the subject of fats and meats. The amount of grain it takes to feed the cattle that feed ten meat eaters would have enough protein in it to feed a hundred people on a grains and vegetable diet. It's as though the diet that is healthiest for us is also healthiest for the planet. And that makes a lot of sense too.
I’ve read that hamburgers at fast food chains are really very wholesome and good for you--that they give you a balanced meal, with meat, vegetables, grains, and dairy.
Let me tell you one of my favorite stories about food. A friend of mine in the insurance business told it to me, so it's sort of an "in house" story, and we won't name any names.
A colleague of his was lamenting the loss of one of those huge, oceangoing freighters, on which a substantial claim was to be paid. My friend asked him what the cargo was. "Fat," he replied. "Fat?" my friend asked, a little surprised. "That's right. Beef fat from Australia, a whole shipload, if you can imagine that:” My friend asked what anyone would want with beef fat that would make them buy it by the shipload and bring it all the way over from Australia.
"Oh, they are it for hamburger filler in one of those fast food hamburger chains;" his friend told him. "It's cheaper than bread crumbs or anything else they've come up with, and it allows them to advertise their hamburgers as a hundred percent pure beef."
What you don't know about food can hurt you—if you eat it. A fast food mega-hamburger is really a gastronomic nightmare. High fat meat and cheese, loads of salt, more fat and sugar in the dressing, and a white flour bun with yet more salt and sugar!
We've pretty much solved the problem of acute food poisoning in America—the kind that results in vomiting and diarrhea within hours or minutes of eating the food. But we haven't solved the problem of chronic poisoning—the sort that builds over time and leads to heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, not to mention obesity and diabetes. It's ridiculous to point the finger at any one restaurant and say, "You did it, and you’re to blame. I'm going to sue you, because I got sick eating your food. Look at me, I've been crippled by a stroke, I'm disabled and can't work anymore—and it's your entire fault." The jury just wouldn't believe it.
These diseases start when we're kids, when we learn to eat like our parents, and as the TV ads tell us to eat. And years of meals at home, with friends, at school, at work, and in all those restaurants slowly take their toll, and you can't sue anybody, you can't blame anyone. I don't even want you to blame yourself. I just want you to learn what food does to you and to be a lot more particular about what you put into your mouth.
And I don't want to blame the fast food chains, either. We who eat the food have a choice. So let's keep informed, stay committed to our own well-being, and make our choices wisely. Let people know what you want. It works. Fast food stands can serve healthy food, and movie theaters can and so can football stadiums, and fancy restaurants, and your friends. As long as you know what you want… And let them know too.
Cholesterol is a substance that's essential to your bodily well-being. But your body can make all the cholesterol you need, so you don't really have to eat any—it's not at all like a vitamin.
The cholesterol in our diet comes from animal foods—especially red meats, organ meats, butter, shrimp and lobster, and egg yolks. When we eat these foods our bodies make less cholesterol; but they can't decrease production enough to make up for the amount that most of us eat. So our blood cholesterol levels rise with age, and we deposit the cholesterol in our tissues—notably in the walls of the arteries, causing hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. (Late in life you can often see cholesterol deposits forming a white ring around the cornea or clear part of the eyes.)
When we are born, our blood cholesterol level is about 80, and if we ate only small amounts of fish and no other animal foods (like primitive humans and most of the peoples of the Third World), our total cholesterol levels would end up about 120-150.
Now Americans typically have a blood cholesterol level of about 220-250; so we are adding about 100 points to our levels by our rich diet. And we are also adding about 1.5 million heart attacks. People with lifetime cholesterol levels under 150 just don't get heart attacks.
I know, I know. I used to love scampi too, swimming in garlic butter, and rare roast beef and cheese omelets. Fried chicken and gravy, leg of lamb, I did it all. But is it worth it? I don't think so. There's one ray of sunshine, though—the liver I never did like turns out not to be good for me either! In fact it's one of the highest sources of cholesterol. And I for one don't miss it at all..
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
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