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.
Very well said. There’s a long way to go in nutrition science but its really good that because of blogs people are asking questions, doing their own research, and taking their health and nutrition in their own hands. A lot of the younger lot do not believe everything they read in publications and research which was not the case a few years ago.
I’m happy to see this article. As a cooking instructor, I get asked daily about current food trends (whether I support using coconut oil exclusively, whether corn is the enemy, whether sashimi grade actually means anything) and I always respond that each student needs to do her own research before deciding what’s best for her body and her family. If I had been teaching when Atkins was a craze, I might have mistakenly told everybody to never eat another carb, but that consuming bacon morning, noon, and night was totally fine. I think its extremely smart to remind people that this information is new and ever-evolving. So thanks for this post.
Hear hear! The fads in vilification of foods are so frustrating and ultimately very unhelpful. I feel particularly strongly about coffee, which is constantly vilified, despite having both positive and negative effects. As with everything, doing you own research and exercising moderation is surely the answer.
Jim Macey says
John Harvey Kellogg kept experimenting with foods most of his life. His brother, WK Kellogg, is the one that made the WK Kellogg Co. a national name: they especially took off during the Depression when corn flakes were a lot cheaper than eggs and meat for breakfast, and thus for many Americans, the only affordable breakfast food. By mid-century, WK Kellogg Co. had stopped making cereal for its customers and started making ‘profit centers’= any thing that moves gets covered with processed sugar and profits double. Today, Kellogg Co. is not a cereal company – cereal is some small, backwater department – they are a huge purveyor of agglomerated chemicals which they call food. Dr. John went on to help the Adventist Church become one of the leading institutions for the study of nutrition and human growth – Loma Linda University and Hospital come to mind.
[email protected] Domestic Diva says
Too funny, I was finally watching Forks over Knives today and was thinking this very same thing! There are studies to support and contradict just about every school of thought out there! Regardless…people have to do what makes them feel good, and as complex as out bodies are and how much we are still learning…it is no surprise there is not a one size fits all approach. But I am pretty sure no one can argue to at least kick the processed crap to the curb!
I think one reason why there are so many contradictory messages about various items of food is that we are now discovering genotypes. One example is apo E. This comes in 6 different combinations of E2, E3 and E4 but are classified as 3 different genotypes. Apo E4 types don’t do well on saturated fat (or statins) so when they have CVD they respond well to a dietary intervention of lowering intake of the demonised saturated fat. These individuals are approx 25% of the population so the other 75% do differently on saturated fat.
In our hospital, the lipid specialists will test patients with familial hypercholesterolemia who are not responding well on statins for their apo E genotype. However you can buy this test on 23andme yourself.
This Woman Writes -- Carolyn Henderson says
I love the 1690 part. I have often joked with my husband Steve, the Norwegian Artist, that we are the only culture that looks at a fine chocolate and says, “Ah, antioxidants!” Drinking a glass of milk, we murmur, “Calcium intake.” A slice of imported cheese? “What lovely probiotics!” We don’t enjoy our food; we analyze it, and because we don’t cook, don’t garden, don’t celebrate — we don’t eat right and are at the mercy of the latest nutritional guru. A great article, well researched, and well written.
Marketing heavily influences the food and drug industries and the FDA. Dr. Kessler, a former FDA commissioner, wrote a book about the way the food industry engineers food to be addictive and how they influence the FDA and USDA. Registered dieticians by and large are trained to the FDA and USDA standards and to industry standards. Seminars set up for dieticians and the related nutrition fields feature foods the industry is pushing. My aunt was a dietician at a school and every year she received a box of new products. We were some of the first to test Pop Tarts and Apple Jacks way back when.
I learned you cannot listen to the FDA, USDA or the food industry. Clean eating is the answer, avoiding chemicals whenever possible, avoiding GMO/genetically engineered foods whenever possible and choosing organic foods when possible. I can make wise choices for myself and my husband when he is home. If he chooses to go out and eat junk, that is his decision. When we go to restaurants, we are at the mercy of their food so we eat at home as much as possible.
Most of these companies have nutritionists advising them. I happened to find a nutritionist connected to my doctor who promotes clean eating. She is very sensible about the whole thing and realizes the FDA is incorrect about a lot of things. I knew the FDA pyramids and other promotions of what we should eat are wrong. I am having to reverse over 50 years of bad advice. I grew up in the 1960s and we were the guinea pigs for the fast food industry, frozen food industry and the junk. No wonder so many people have cancer etc. today.
I have to agree with all the comments above and specially the last comment by lynda.
We grew up in a home where everything was made from scratch and if we ate out, it was usually oriental foosd made to order.
My hubby and I follow a low carb, high fat, gluten and sugar free lifestyle.
Neither of us are on any medications and try very hard to control what is in our food.
The FDA needs to make labeling on all food products more complete and always have whether GMO are present.
We buy food that we know is good for us and only eat real food. It does make a difference and I have never felt better, have more energy and enjoy life to the fullest.
Thank you for this post, I woke up and read it today. It’s perfect timing, I’ve been so overwhelmed with info, been worrying about eating dairy, pesticides, hormones, cancer, being vegan…I hit an overload and needed to be reminded. Like the previous comment I too believe in real food. I just want to be healthy and its hard there isn’t one defined path but that shouldn’t suck the enjoyment out of eating!
I appreciate your article.
Have you seen the documentary “Forks Over Knives”? If so, I’d like to know your thoughts on it. If not, it’s well worth watching.
Thanks for all that you do!
I find it most interesting that philosophical or religious beliefs tend to push a lot of these ideas as well. Low libido equates with a body that is too sick to make a baby and sustain life, why would that be our goal? It’s sad what religion can do to our thinking. How could ill health be the Divine plan?
The first thing that popped into my mind when you asked “why low libido” as a end point for a nutritional standard?!!…..was eugenics, i.e.keep the population down, keep the nutrition sub-par to create not exactly illness (in all cases) but for sure not a state of true health. So, you are unhealthy, then you get into “the system”, needing pills, doctors and the whole merry-go-round of western medicine.
And my 2nd thought was that Mr. Kellog was also throwing in some staid, Victorian beliefs about sex. Better to be prudish,safe, inwardly draw in, and definitely not in an ecstatic state.
Brent Bielema says
One point of agreement that we should rally behind is: we need to stop the taxpayer subsidies for processed foods. Call it the “Stop Subsidizing Sickness” initiative. Maybe we could get Michael Pollan to spearhead the effort. Then work on education so that enlightened consumers decide which foods are produced — and the incredible growth in organics proves that we DO want better comestibles. So let’s start the REAL green revolution to make America the healthiest nation — instead of the most expensively sick!!
You write of “What is wrong with protein?”: “It all began we with John Harvey Kellogg, the man behind Kellogg’s breakfast cereals. He was a surgeon and chief medical officer of Battle Creek Sanitarium….. ” and “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 unhealhy bacteria in our guts produce toxins during the digestion of protein that poison the blood – hence his anti-protein stance.”
I would point out these things:
By your own statement, Kellogg was not anti-protein, but Vegetarian, that is, non-animal protein. Too many writers confuse this issue by not separating the two. Vegetarians are not anti-Protein. They just eat a different form. … vegetable source only.
Also, he was not the originator of non-meat-eating nor the first to promote it. Yes, he to it’s*modern* popularity because of his position. But note that his Vegetarian belief came directly from his bring a Seventh Day Adventist. They and msny other groups were already well known as Vegetarians. In fact, if one believes wash the Bible states as fact, God created man as Vegetarian, so no-meat eating, In that course has been around a long time.
Also, although Dr. Kellogg formulated Corn Flakes, it was his brother who is if the Kellogg Co fame. They even posted ways for decades over his brother use of the formula among other during ideologies.
Although a Dr, a surgeon snd Chief Medicak Officer., he also never proclaimed himself a nutritional scientist, not a scientist in general. His belief and promotion if eating habits came from his background and medical knowledge and experience. The fact that his f ideas on sexuality were very strict does not really vilify animal protein today and, I am quite sure, has little to do with anyone being Vegetarian today. You’ll n o tice, too, that his *emphasis* on non-meat consumption was *based* in his belief that it caused an imbalance in gut flora, and that secondarily it caused “excesses,” as he put it. The first reason is well-documented, although not deadly in a balanced lifestyle! The second was not the bssis for his nutritional choices.
Please understand I’m not promoting one way of life over another In this forum. But just as we healthy-lifestyle-advocates, in all fronts, scrutinize the conclusions of others; Scientists of Nutrition, in this case, our words should likely be scrutinized by others. We ought to be careful in or facts and conclusions so as to truly convince with powerful reasonings and truthfulness.
You give much good to the health community. Keep it up! You’ve helped many to understand how to lead a quality life. I truly enjoy your newsletter and FB pages. I may not always agree, but mostly find it all good! ! 🙂
I don’t see what was so wrong about Kellogg’s theory. It’s TRUE that undigested animal proteins in the gut will produce harmful toxins which the body then reabsorbs into the bloodstream. Many people have digestive disorders or enzyme deficiencies and therefore benefit MORE from a vegetarian diet. I don’t think nutrition scientists throughout the years have been talking nonsense and are non-credible, but that nutrition science continues to advance thanks to many great scientists throughout history. Obviously no one should claim to have “the perfect diet plan for all people”. People just need to be considered individually for their specific needs. We should be thankful for Nutrition Scientists!!
Gilberto Galea says
We have differences between what is a kind of food market, and it can really benefit from a private or individual. That is, every food company argued that their product is healthier compared to other offers. But every individual is unique, and certain foods may be favorable or unfavorable to their diet.
In addition, the excellence of the personal opinions is that they are our is our way of perceiving one aspect. Nutritionists have been more important, and with the advent of modified foods, most understanding of our body and the growing pandemic of obesity become more necessary specialists in the field of nutrition.
>>He also believed that the bad or unhealthy bacteria in our guts produce toxins during the digestion of protein that poison the blood<<
Wel, actually, he was right. Clostridium species will thrive on protein and will leave rotting substances in the intestine and eventually in the blood.
The thing is, to stop eating proteine is not the solution – an appropriate intestinal cleanse and rebuilding of the gut flora, is.
I am not actually super conscious about what I eat and like others I believe in real food. I believe that we should not deprive outselves too much, let us enjoy our food. Avoiding fats/cholesterol and all and be a vegan isn’t a healthy idea at all. We all want to be healthy and that means we need to balance everything from the food we eat, to exercise and lifestyle. Thank you for this nice article.
Sarah @ Fit Family Together says
Great post. After years of studying, teaching and writing about nutrition I’ve come to a similar conclusion. While I love to look at research and delve into what we’re learning about food, I take much of it with a grain of salt.
My rules: Eat what we grew up with/ evolved with – whole foods and grass fed meats. Eat in moderation. Eat variety. Pretty simple.
Paleo Huntress says
I agree with you for the most part- but I don’t believe that what made for a successful culture is necessarily the best DIET for its people. Grains allowed people to stay in one place and created the first real caste systems with the first real “wealth and poverty”. It allowed people to trade with other nations for things they didn’t have and so it provided them a form of currency that helped the CULTURE grow. But this is completely separate from what is optimal for the human body.
David Salter says
Good article. But it should have mentioned the way that modern nutrition science is subverted and distorted by corporate agendas interested only in profit, as it is only the big corporations who have the resources to pay for many of the studies. Kellogg is nutorious for funding negative marketing studies into eggs for example, and manipulating the outcomes by using ie powdered eggs to show a negative health outcome. Then, because of their vast advertising influence on the media, these fake studies become headline news. Whereas, an honest study, without industry backing, will rarely get a mention.
It’s all about the money! And too many people fall
Our only defense is to keep talking about it on the internet, and to make sure the internet is NEVER censored, because as soon as governments manage to get a toe in the door of censorship, then it will be abused by the corporate sector to shut down honest criticism. For the first time in history, we really do have free speech; let’s keep it that way!
LaVonne R. says
“the sexually stimulating breakfast choice of eggs, sausage, and bacon”
Ooh, sounds like I need to be serving this as a romantic dinner instead!
Melanie Johnson via Facebook says
My food philosophy is that if I could grow it I can eat it. If I can’t grow it but must have it that’s okay…once in a while. Everything in moderation…some things just need more moderation than others.
Mary Light via Facebook says
Nutrition scientists are also the people who LAUNCHED the Weston Price movement, such as (well, Price himself) and Mary Enig. It’s corporations and their biased “science” that we need to look at. And there is certainly potential, and outright exploitation, happening right now within the touchy -feely world of health food products with their often ridiculous prices and misleading labels.
Pamela Knowlton via Facebook says
I am suspicious of any food or ingredient that my great-great grandmother had never heard of! I have her cook books, she made notes.
Kathryn Berger via Facebook says
DeeDee House via Facebook says
A lot of them are supplied with curriculum when they are trained from the very corporations that are making money at blocking healthy food and growing practices and putting poisons on the market. I feel a lot of them are ‘programmed’ by biased companies behind the scenes and they don’t even know it. Just like the FDA now can accept ‘private’ donations which is outrageous because they have become open to the highest bidders!! Also, scientists change their mind a lot so we can not relax with their findings and opinions.
Melissa White Marino via Facebook says
One answer: just eat real food! And eat real animals that eat real food. Our God-given food can be trusted! It was put here to nourish us.
Peggy Laney says
great article. I totally agree with your conclusion.