Animal protein is at last getting accolades for its real nutritional value, including its key role as brain food.
A recent report said meat, milk and eggs not only help alleviate hunger but also help meet nutritional needs so people and societies can develop and thrive.
This was in a paper called "Enriching People’s Lives," authored by William Weldon, vice president of research and development at Elanco, and by Susan Finn, registered dietician and president of the American Council on Fitness & Nutrition.
The authors said 40% of children in Africa are malnourished and 40% of the world is getting the wrong nutrition. Then they quoted a landmark observational study in Kenya, which showed when children's diets were supplemented with meat or milk, their learning and resulting test scores improved. Supplementation with animal protein was compared with no supplementation and with children whose diets were supplemented with increased energy from just vegetable oils.
The study found that through five school terms, increasing meat consumption improved children's test scores 45%, and increasing milk consumption improved their scores 28%. Meanwhile, scores dropped 10% for the control group and 7% for the children given equivalent calories from oils.
Adding animal-based foods to the children's' diet — and, in turn, increasing intake of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and riboflavin — was associated with better growth, cognitive performance, motor development and activity in first- and second-grade students.
Studies such as those done in Kenya prove that rice and beans aren't enough, Simmons said. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report says animal products provide a greater quantity and quality of protein than plant products.
The authors of the joint paper also mentioned another study which found that babies whose mothers received ample iron during pregnancy were born with iron stores that helped them mitigate the risks of poorer cognitive, motor, social-emotional and neurophysiologic development in the short and long term.
Meat, milk and eggs also provide bioavailable micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium and vitamins A, D and B12. These nutrients are often deficient in malnourished people, the report says.
The World Health Organization estimates that eradicating iron deficiencies could improve national productivity levels by as much as 20%.
Now another report, covered in our sister publication Feedstuffs, says eating a diet high in animal protein could prevent higher-level functional decline in aging people, particularly for men. It also showed that plant proteins did not offer any advantages.
This type research is long overdue and is still very much overshadowed by the US government's war on animal proteins, as I call it.
It all began when George McGovern convened and pushed forward the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1969. An overly kind look at the committee is given in the Wikipedia web address I offer here. The committee was originally conceived to look at hunter and malnutrition but like most bureaucratic machines it soon took on a life of its own, based on the pet peeves and projects
In a series of hearings going against good science and many hours of testimony by credible scientists, McGovern and the other Senators chose the junk science of Ancel Keyes. If you're unfamiliar with this man, he invented the K-rations eaten by GIs in World War II so he had money and connections inside the government.
In the 1950s he enacted and published his own study of the diet in populations of 22 countries and the tie he imagined those diets exhibited between animal fat and heart disease. The problem was, he studied diets in 22 countries but excluded the 15 which did not appear to give him the data he wanted. Therefore Keyes's study was completely invalidated as a work of science. A real scientist would have said the data was all over the place and would have overturned his hypothesis in favor of examining other things.
This knowledge about his "research" was known at the time of the Senate hearings in 1970s and it is my understanding it was testified about. But the Senators, in their infinite wisdom, decided we needed to nearly eliminate animal fats and proteins from our diets and replace them with "complex carbohydrates" and vegetable material. In 1977 they issued their first edict about what foods Americans should eat, despite the poor epidemiological evidence they used from Keyes and others. To this day our society and the animal industries are struggling under the weight of this anchor placed around our necks by the bureaucrats.
I'll concur the vegetable and fruit intake of Americans, then and now, is probably inadequate, but carbohydrates in the form of all grain products and refined sugars had nearly 100 years of checkered history and pseudoscience indicating the problems with weight gain and many diseases common in the developed world. And the evidence against animal proteins and fats was faulty.
If you've followed the nutritional news since then (and how could you miss it with every newspaper and television newsy show focused on every tidbit of government-sponsored "scientific evidence") you've probably seen a lot of that junk science fall partially away. I know I have. But we have a long way to go.
I want to encourage you again to read Gary Taubes's book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It is an arduous read but is the best overall treatise I've seen on the history, missteps and reality of human nutrition science.
There is some great writing about the importance of animal proteins and fats on the Westin A. Price Foundation website.
You might also like this blog by Drew Ramsey, M.D., on the vital importance of meats as brain food. Remember 25% of the cholesterol in our bodies is in our brains. Also, our brains are heavy users of saturated fats and if we do not get them from animal fats our bodies will manufacture them from carbohydrates, which leaves very low density lipoproteins (plaque) in our bloodstreams and clogs our arteries.
Also note that beef topped the list of healthy brain-boosting foods in this blog.
Here's a much longer treatise from the Beef Checkoff on the importance of the nutrients in beef (and other animal proteins) to our cognitive skills throughout life.
Sorting all this information into meaningful ideas and guidelines is not easy but you can do it. The more you read and think the better you will get at it.
Remember, too, that human nutritional science became perverted once the US government, which is a major source of scientific funding, decided it knew better than us what we should eat. This is why historical data like that gathered by dentist Westin A. Price and author Gary Taubes is so valuable. Correct observational evidence and logical analysis is the key first step to all good science.