Taubes - Chapter 17 - Meat or Plants?

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011



 Taubes addresses the history of meat eating,
and discusses the argument of eating
what we evolved to eat.

“The idea is that the longer a particular type of food
has been part of the human diet,
the more beneficial and less harmful it probably is
- the better adapted we become to that food.

And if some food is new to human diets,
or new in large quantities,
it’s likely that we haven’t yet had time to adapt,
and so it’s doing us harm.”

 Taubes says the diets of the hunter-gatherers
were very high in protein, high in fat,
and low in carbohydrates “by normal standards”.
All the most fattening:

 “carbohydrate-rich foods
…are very new additions to human diets.
Many of these foods have been available
for only the past few hundred years.

Corn and potatoes originated as New World
vegetables, and spread to Europe and Asia
only after Columbus.

the machine refining of flour and sugar
dates only back to the late nineteenth century.
Just two hundred years ago, we ate less
than a fifth of the sugar we eat today.”

Taubes goes on 

Even the fruits we eat today are vastly different,
and now they’re available year-round,
rather than for only a few months of the year.

the kinds of fruit we eat today –
Fuji apples, Bartlett pears, navel oranges –
have been bred to be far juicier
and sweeter than the wild varieties,
and so, in effect to be far more fattening.”

He continues

“the modern foods that today constitute more than 60%
of all the calories in the typical Western diet
– including cereal grains, dairy products, beverages,
vegetable oils and dressings, and sugar and candy –
would have contributed none of the energy
in the typical hunter-gatherer diet.

If we believe that our genetic makeup
has a say in what constitutes a healthy diet,

then the likely reason that easily digestible
starches, refined carbohydrates (flour and white rice),
and sugars are fattening
is that we didn’t evolve to eat them,

and certainly not in the quantities
in which we eat them today.”

Next Taubes talks about the association
of chronic diseases with modern diets and lifestyle
and specifically with eating sugar and flour.
He says this concept was rejected because 

“it clashed with the idea that dietary fat
causes heart disease, which had become the
preferred hypothesis of nutritionists in the United States.

And those nutritionists were simply unaware
of the historical and geographical depth
of the evidence implicating sugar and flour.”

 Evolution has always been a difficult concept for me,
because I came from a family of strict “Creationists”,
and as a result, I never formed a personal interest
in Paleo Theories.

I confess that my mind is totally messed up in that area,
and therefore, truthfully, Hunter/gatherer statements
are fairly meaningless to me, and do little to convince
me that meat is more common to humans than plants.

However, I do understand and agree
that fruit is now bred to be sweeter,
and its year round availability
became the case only in recent history.

Also I don’t see how anyone can disagree
with the fact that the ready availability of
refined flour and sugar is also relatively recent.

I am impressed by the fact that
so many societies free of the “diseases of civilization”
began suffering from them,
only after incorporating sugar and flour into their diets.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
Taubes says…………."Doesn't it seem a good idea to consider sugar and flour likely causes of these diseases?" (Western diseases). (p 173)…………………………..My answer to his rhetorical question is a resounding "No". I don't think he's proved his point at all. ……………..Restoring the Paleolithic diet is not necessary when agriculture began 10,000 years ago, the Industrial Revolution was 10 generations ago, and I can remember when one kid in my class was fat. One. ………………………………I had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk every day at school. We had cereal for breakfast. We had bread at dinner. ……………………………………………. No, I think he doesn't prove his point at all. What interests me is what has changed since I was my kids' age, not since before man started writing. I think one big thing that has changed is the identification as high fat as a problem, which is why I switched to 2% milk. Another thing that has changed is we had real food. We didn't have these concotions of ingredients loaded up with chemicals. ……………………………………………………………. The discussion in carbohydrates and insulin was much more compelling an argument than what was in this chapter. Men have lived for thousands of years in many different climates which means they ate a lot of different things. The human being is very resilient. You cannot generalize the diet of humans in a pre-agricultural society. One thing that may be generally true of a pre-agricultural society is that food was intermittently available which means that people learned to accept intermittent fasting as a way of life.

On Feb 19, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
I am impressed by the fact that so many societies free of the “diseases of civilization” began suffering from them, only after incorporating sugar and flour into their diets. *** I am too, especially autoimmune disease of which Crohn's is one.

On Feb 20, 2011 Graham wrote:
Just as I'm getting comfy with the idea of low-carbing my government (UK)issues a guideline suggesting we eat no more than 500grams (1.1 lb) of red and or processed meat a week to avoid increasing risk of cancer (bowel cancer mainly)(see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8335986/Eat-less-red-meat-Government-scientists-warn.html). Of course I'm wondering about what else the heavy red-meat eaters eat and don't eat - do they tend to eat meat and carbs, ignoring vegetables and fruit? Why lump processed meat and red meat together in this way? But it is worrying - if low-carbing means more protein in the diet, then one would have to choose the sources of that protein carefully. Confusingly, I also recall Weston Price noted the healthiest population he ever encountered were people who were eating meat, blood and milk from their cattle, along with animals from the Nile river. How does that fit with these cancer warnings?

On Feb 20, 2011 Graham wrote:
I don't know whether Taubes cites evidence of his view of the paleo diet. I'm sure hunter/gatherers hunted. I'm as sure they gathered, too. what they gathered would have been rough-country carbohydrate. I truly hope that low-carbohydrate provides the weight loss answer that so many are seeking. I've never had to face that particular injustice. For myself, it seems like eating as close to natural as possible (no bakery products, only whole grains in small quantities, legumes in moderate quantities, lots of vegetables, small quantities of fruit, small quantities of meat) might be the most paleo-like diet.

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