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Mainely Tipping Points

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Mainely Tipping Points 13: The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

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(Oops!  Read TP 12 first; it’s part of a series in the essays) 

Tipping Points 13

The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

 

 When Luise Light and her team of experts attempted to scientifically formulate the 1980 USDA Food Guide, they accepted two current dietary ideas as truth:  fat should be no more than 30 percent of the diet, and since the end of World War II, and especially in the 1960s, Americans had been experiencing “rising rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes” (13, Luise Light, WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY).

Current historians show us that the low-fat premise that has governed the American diet for the past fifty years sprang from belief, not science, and became part of American cultural and economic practices when the stars aligned around a constellation that included the political power of a congressional committee, media acceptance of its recommendations, and the firmly-held beliefs of a handful of people.

Science writer Gary Taubes, in his myth-exploding article “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat,” published in “Science” magazine in March 2001, questioned the idea that there ever was an epidemic of heart disease after World War II (http://www.nasw.org/awards/2001/The%20soft%20science.pdf).  When Taubes interviewed Harry Rosenberg, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Rosenberg said a heart disease epidemic never existed.  First, in 1949 the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) added arteriosclerotic heart disease as a new category under the general category of heart diseases.  Between 1948-1949, the new category appeared to raise coronary disease death rates about 20 percent for males and 35 percent for females. 

Again, In 1965, the ICD added a category for coronary heart disease, which added more deaths to the statistical data as physicians began using the new categories.  Furthermore, Rosenberg explained, by the 1950s, Americans were healthier, so more were living to be 50-year-olds who would go on to die of chronic diseases like heart disease, which physicians were now listing on death certificates under the new categories.  Taubes reports that Rosenberg said that, in actuality, risk rates of dying from a heart attack remained unchanged.

Taubes also discussed the fact that between 1989 and 1992, three independent research groups (Harvard Medical School; The University of California, San Francisco, funded by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office; and McGill University, Montreal) used computer models to work out added life expectancy for a person eating a low-fat diet that controlled saturated fats.  All three models agreed, but their conclusions have been ignored by media. 

The Harvard study showed that if a person’s total fat consumption was less than 30 percent of their daily total calories and if their saturated fat consumption was 10 percent of that 30 percent, a healthy nonsmoker might add from 3 days to 3 months of life.  The latter two studies showed net increase of life expectancy would be from three to four months.  Taubes noted that the U.S. Surgeon General’s office tried to prevent the University of California study from being published in “The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but JAMA published it in June 1991.

The Lipid Hypothesis is the “scientific” paradigm calling for a low-fat diet.  The Lipid Hypothesis is the premise that ingested fat, especially saturated fat, raises blood cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol levels cause chronic heart disease (CHD).  Yet, many, many scientists now have argued that these cause-and-effect links have never been proven and, in fact, cannot be proven.  More recently than Taubes, Michael Pollan, in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD (2008), traces this history and current thinking on dietary fats in a section entitled “The Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis” (40-50). 

So how did the Lipid Hypothesis and the low-fat paradigm get installed with scant scientific data to support it?  Biochemist Ancel Keys is a key player.  In the mid 1950s, Keys (University of Minnesota) claimed that his epidemiological Seven Countries Study showed a correlation between the consumption of dietary fat and heart disease.  But, an epidemiological study cannot control or eliminate variables, and correlation is not proved causation.  Furthermore, many now, among them Taubes and Uffe Ravnskov, claim that Keys eliminated countries whose statistics did not fit his hypotheses, like France, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and West Germany, where national populations ate 30 to 40 percent of their calories as fat and whose death rates from CHD were half that of the United States.  Nevertheless, in 1961, the American Heart Association began advocating low-fat diets for men with high cholesterol levels.

Also in the 1950s, Nathan Pritkin, was diagnosed with heart disease.  Though he had no college degree and no scientific training, Pritkin created and published a low-fat, aerobic exercise regime that sold millions of copies.  Pritkin also suffered from leukemia, and it began causing complications and pain in the early 1980s.  Pritkin committed suicide in 1985.        

In 1977, the Congressional Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator George McGovern, promoted the low-fat hypothesis—despite objections by scientists expert in the field.  Taubes determines that “a handful of McGovern staffers…almost single-handedly changed nutritional policy in this country” by initiating “the process of turning the dietary fat hypothesis into dogma” (4).

In 1976, Taubes reports, after two days of testimony, this committee turned “the task of researching and writing the first `Dietary Goals for the United States’” over to Nick Mottern, a labor reporter with “no experience writing about science, nutrition, or health” (5).  Mottern relied on Harvard School of Public Health nutritionist Mark Hegsted’s low-fat beliefs.  Hegsted, unlike E. H. Ahrens, whose laboratory at the Rockefeller University in New York City was doing seminal research on fat and cholesterol metabolism, saw no risks associated with such a major change to the American diet.  Ahrens, as early as 1969, was concerned that eating less fat or changing the proportions of saturated to unsaturated fats could have profound and harmful effects on the body (3-6).  Nevertheless, the Select Committee published Mottern’s dietary guidelines. 

Next, Taube relates, Carol Tucker Foreman, a political appointee at USDA who later forms a public relations and lobbying firm whose clients have included Phillip Morris, Monsanto (bovine growth hormone), and Procter and Gamble (fake fat Olestra), hired Hegsted to produce “Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which supported the McGovern Committee Report.  Foreman hired Hegsted despite the fact that Philip Handler, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) President and an expert on metabolism, had told her that Mottern’s Dietary Goals were “`nonsense’ “ (6).

When NAS released its own dietary guidelines a few months later (watch your weight and everything else will be all right), the media criticized the NAS for having industry connections.  Hegsted later returned to Harvard where his research was funded by Frito-Lay.

So, a consensus was achieved, oneTaube says is “continuously reinforced by physicians, nutritionists, journalists, health organizations, and consumer advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest” (1).  And, science was “left to catch up” (7).

 Only, science never has.  And, what has emerged is that all calories are not equal and substituting carbohydrates for fat has caused weight gain and diabetes.  And, according to lipid biochemist Mary Enig, substituting highly-processed fats for time-honored, traditional fats is causing chronic heart disease.   

Pollan notes that in a 2001 review of the relevant research and report by “prominent nutrition scientists” at the Harvard School of Public Health, “just about every strut supporting the theory that dietary fat causes heart disease” was removed, except for consuming trans fats and consuming fats that alter ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (41-42).  Pollan notes the Harvard scientists stated the following in their report’s second paragraph:  “`It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences’ “ (43).    

Pollan assesses that the low-fat ideology of nutritionism has been nutrition’s “supreme test and, as now is coming clear, its most abject failure” (41).

Tipping Points 9: Chicken Feed

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Tipping Points 9

May 17, 2010

Chicken Feed

 We got six chickens in mid-March.  We had planned for four hens, but we bought five hens and a rooster!  We named them almost immediately as each one has a distinct personality.  A chicken can live as long as twelve years.  Hens are born with a finite number of eggs.  Once the eggs are gone, decisions must be made about the difference between pets and stew-pot candidates.

For me, getting chickens has been a long-held dream.  For John, raised in urban Boston, getting chickens has been a huge leap into an unknown terrain of increased responsibility, pressure on our limited yard space, and the Maine winter.  Nevertheless, John found our chicken coop at the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association’s Common Ground Fair last September.

Designed and made by Stephen Gingras of Augusta, Maine, our coop is made for four chickens.  Upon seeing it, we knew we could never make something so perfect.  Our coop has an internal roost; three egg boxes, one of which we use for food; an inside power switch so we can use a light bulb for heat on cold nights; a free-range opening under the egg boxes which our tall rooster finds undignified; a let-down door with a window for easy coop cleaning; a tin roof; a detachable cage; and wheels.

You can see more views of our coop at www.rootscoopsandmore.com.  Gingras coops are kits, but Stephen and Lori delivered ours assembled and helped us drag it up a steep incline.

I didn’t need to obtain chickens for good eggs.  In the Camden, Maine, area we are blessed with many small flocks of healthy, free-range chickens whose eggs can be found at local markets.  My personal favorites are the eggs Rose and Peter Thomas produce and sell at their Vegetable Shed, which is on 173 in Lincolnville.  I visit this farm frequently, so I know these chickens free range, eat organic food, and have yolks that are a deep gold to pumpkin orange.

We traveled to see our children in November, and winter, which is hard on chickens, was closing in when we got home.  Getting chickens would be a spring project.

I am reminded how egg-spoiled I have become when I travel.  Commercial eggs, organic or not, have yolks that are the same color nearly as the white.  They taste bitter, and when hard-boiled are rubbery and altogether disgusting.  It’s sad that most people these days do not realize how delicious a good egg is or that a good egg takes good chicken feed.  Indeed, I doubt eggs from commercial layers, even if fertilized, could make a chick.

So, the problem I researched all winter was what to feed the chickens.  All the commercial feeds, including the organic feeds, are 90 percent corn; 10 percent soy; and have about 20 chemicals, meal waste products from other industrial processes, and soybean oil that my research warns goes rancid and can be both highly processed and trans fat laden.  The corn/soy ratio does not contain enough protein, so organic rules allow the addition of a synthetic essential amino acid, methionine.  The organic brand our chickens were eating is all mashed up so it is predigestable, which means a chicken will eat more of it.  Industrial theory is a stuffed chicken lays more eggs.  This feed looks like bran cereal, and our chickens eat it last when it is mixed with our feed.

Organic rules stopped the addition of unspeakable animal by-products into chicken feeds, but rather than choosing a healthy protein source or a better grain/legume ratio, the organic industry chose cheapness.  Corn and soy are cheap.  Corn fattens, and while soy, which must be cooked, provides protein, it has a dangerous antinutrient package that American industry has never been able to fully detoxify.  If soy antinutrients slowly poison animals, what are they doing to humans eating chicken eggs and flesh?

Also, all commercial chicken feed is throwing off the omega 3 and 6 ratios in both eggs and meat.  Human diets should have a ratio of 1:1, or not more than 1:3 (omega 6).  The American diet today is giving most Americans an omega 3 to 6 ratio of 1:20-25.  This boosted omega 6 imbalance is not healthy and is likely part of why so many people have chronic illnesses.

Further, chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians.  They will eat grains and legumes, which are low in omega 3, only after choosing greens, insects, meat, fish, and milk products.  Grain/legume mixtures should be supplements only, offered for free choice, and should include at least five different whole grains.

Bolstered by reading G. F. Heuser’s FEEDING POULTRY, published in 1955 at the advent of the commercial chicken industry when people still had small flocks, and by my own research (see, for instance, www.lionsgrip.com/chickensidealfeed.html), I determined a feeding program.  The chickens would free range for greens and insects, and I would supplement with meat; fish; milk products like yogurt, milk, whey, and buttermilk from making butter; some leftovers from the kitchen; and a grain, legume (no soy), and seed mixture that I found from Greener Pastures Farm, www.greenerpasturesfarm.com.  I don’t always mix everything listed, but I do include the major grains and the two legumes.  I wish our Maine farmers would offer an organic, whole-grain, no-soy legume mixture.

Rose and I began hunting pullets, which are coming into laying, in early March.  Since I only wanted four hens, Rose offered to give me four of a larger order.  Most commercially raised pullets have been debeaked, which prevents chickens crowded close together from pecking each other.  When I see these maimed creatures, I feel like I’m going to burst into tears and vomit.   I wanted also to avoid shipping day-old baby chicks.  Surely, I believed, someone local has some pullets.

And, someone in Vassalboro, Maine, about 40 minutes away, did.  There were some year-old Copper Black Marans that were not breeding quality and some excess Wheaten Ameraucanas.  The Marans, a solid, docile, friendly breed, are common in France, but in America are rare.  Chefs highly prize the deep chocolate brown Maran egg.  The Wheatens, which streak about the yard like flashes of wily quicksilver, lay a blue egg.

I have the Maran rooster, Rose has the Ameraucana rooster, and we each have a selection of both breeds that is weighted toward our rooster.  We’ve gotten an incubator and plan to hatch eggs to replenish our flocks and to offer local baby chicks next spring.  Rose now has gorgeous egg colors ranging from deep chocolate brown, to light brown, to rose, to blue, to white.

In addition to being fascinated with chickens, I wanted to create a holistic garden circle where I could add composted animal manure to our vegetable beds which, in turn, would help feed the animals.  The chickens don’t produce as much fecal matter as I had expected.  It’s easy to collect droppings around the yard for the dedicated composter which will compost for a year.  I only need to change out coop bedding once a month as I remove fecal matter daily .

Our chickens are scratching only bare soil surface.  And, while they walk sometimes on emerging plants, they are light enough and not numerous enough to do damage.  Though they pruned some new leaves on the raspberries, so far they have not destroyed one single plant.  They do make dirt baths in bare soil, so we got some wood ash from friend Margaret Rauenhorst and made a dedicated space.  Dirt baths are important deterrents for chicken pests.

I also wanted to use the chickens for pest patrol.  Our chickens steadily work our beds, so I am expecting fewer pests this year.  For the moment, I may also have fewer worms since I am a sucker for the company and conversation that starts if I weed with a trowel.  Worms are generally at a deeper level, so if I weed, all six come to supervise and to eat whatever worms they can get.

When our asparagras started emerging  and it was time to plant peas, we got some flexible plastic fencing for the big vegetable garden.  Next, we enclosed temporarily the strawberry patch.  I know we will have to pen our chickens in early June when it’s time to plant potatoes, seedlings, and seeds in non-fenced beds.  But we hate to pen them as it limits their “chickeness.”

We’ll have to pen the rooster when the grandchildren are here in July.  Napolean is as tall as our two little girls, and he is unpredictably protective of the hens, as our irrepressible rat terrier, No No Penny, will testify.  She is scared to death of him.  He does not seem to think the calmer rat terrier, Reynolds, is a problem.  But, when I forget and wear my red rain clogs, he decides I am a threat.  Otherwise, he is a sweet boy and lets me pick him up and hold him, which I do frequently.

In April, our five hens laid 110 eggs, or an average of 3.6 eggs a day.  On many days now, we are blessed with five eggs.  The yolks are a deep, rich, golden orange, and all six chickens seem healthy and happy.   

Written by louisaenright

May 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm