Nutrition science is a young science. Over the course of the last hundred years, every major nutrient has been vilified both by scientists and public opinion.
In my own short life, I’ve seen fat and carbohydrates take significant hits. You won’t be surprised to learn that before the anti-fat craze of the ’70s and ’80s, popular nutrition science was anti-protein.
What’s so wrong with protein?
Nothing. But that didn’t stop popular nutrition science from demonizing it.
It all began with John Harvey Kellogg, the man behind Kellogg’s breakfast cereals. He was a surgeon and chief medical officer of Battle Creek Sanitarium.
Through his efforts, the rich and famous flocked to the sanitarium, and in the course of a few decades it grew to need more than 800 people on staff. Kellogg’s sanitarium propelled vegetarianism into the national lime light.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating his notoriety, consider that he personally treated such distinguished figures as President Taft, the Nobel prize-winning playwright George Bernard Shaw, the pilot Amelia Earhart, the illustrious founder of Ford Motor Company Henry Ford, and even the inventor Thomas Edison.
Kellogg argued against consuming animal protein and for promoting healthy gut bacteria through the use of extensive water and yogurt enemas. He also believed that the bad or unhealthy bacteria in our guts produce toxins during the digestion of protein that poison the blood – hence his anti-protein stance.
Kellogg believed that protein in the diet led to an increased libido and objected to the nutrient on moral grounds, creating a corn flake breakfast cereal in order to help curtail the popularity of the sexually stimulating breakfast choice of eggs, sausage, and bacon.
As it turns out, eating animal foods does help increase libido.
But it’s not just the protein at fault; it’s the entire combination of nutrients that accompany it. Multiple studies have linked increased libido and fertility to increased vitamin D, B-12, and saturated fat intake, among others. It’s not a coincident that these are found in the highest, most easily assimilated quantities in animal foods.
Personally, I think an increased libido is a good thing as it’s a sign of increased fertility and virility.
So first protein, then fat, then carbs are bad for you?
See a pattern?
My point here is simple:
Scientists of every generation do research and write articles about their studies – often with contradictory conclusions.
I’ve seen papers that argue against red meat because it will increase your risk of heart attacks while other studies argue for consuming meat high in conjugated linoleic acid (which can only be found in the meat of grass-fed ruminants like cows) because it will reduce heart attacks.
I’ve seen studies done that show that eating butter reduces risk of coronary heart disease, while contradicting studies argue that people who eat more butter risk dying prematurely from strokes.
According to food journalist Michael Pollan in his book Food Rules, current nutrition science is “sort of like where surgery was in 1690.”
Let that sink in.
Current nutrition science is where surgery was in 1690.
In other words, it’s still in its infancy.
We’re still discovering new nutrients, still learning how these nutrients work together, still unwrapping how the source of a food can affect its nutrient profile (i.e. grass-fed meats vs. meats finished in a CAFO, biodynamically grown vegetables in high-BRIX soils vs. veggies grown in sand treated with synthetic fertilizer).
What does this mean?
Nutrition science can be a helpful tool to help us understand why good food is good for us, but it can not be the final arbiter of what is and is not healthy simply because it’s so new.
It’s my belief that we ought to nourish ourselves and our children according to the wisdom we can glean from observing how successful traditional cultures fed their families, regardless of what so-called nutrition science may claim about what’s healthy.