Are we meat eaters or vegetarians? Part I

One of the problems – if it could be called a problem – in writing this blog and moderating the comments is most readers are pretty intelligent. Occasionally I have the angry vegetarian wander in, take me to task for my errant ways, and, after a comeback or two on my part, drift away to never be heard from again.  Thanks to the confirmation bias, this blog pretty much selects against the non-meat eater.  So, I tend to forget how many people there are out there who are pretty much clueless about basic nutrition, and how many people there are who bobble through life spouting cliches they’ve heard along the way as great nutritional truths.  Based on the comments I get on this blog, it seems to me that most people are pretty nutritionally sophisticated and reasonable.

But I have just recently been disabused of that notion.

My friend Tim Ferriss put up an excerpt of our new book The 6-Week Cure on his site a few days ago and asked me if I would mind answering a few of the commenters.  I told him I wouldn’t mind at all, but I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.

Tim’s blog isn’t really a nutritional blog – it’s a lifestyle design blog (said term invented by Tim himself).  There is a little nutrition thrown in here and there, but mainly the blog is focused in other directions.  As a consequence, it attracts mainly youngish readers who enjoy following Tim’s adventures and want to learn how to model their lifestyles after his.  My blog is specifically directed to folks more interested in nutrition who are willing to put up with my digressions into other areas from time to time, so I expect them to be more nutritionally aware.

I wasn’t prepared for what I got in the comments on Tim’s post.  Surprisingly, there were a fair number of commenters – maybe even a majority – who would feel right at home on my blog.  But there were also a fair number who made me realize that nutritional sophistication is far from a universal phenomenon.  You can take a trip over to the comments section of his blog to see what I mean.  I pretty much answered only those who I thought were totally off track, so you’ll be able to read my comments, then track back to the comment I was responding to and see what I mean.

The experience made me realize just how much of a void there is in good info out there explaining why humans really are meat eaters at heart, so I’ve decided to do a couple of posts on the subject to be able to refer to in the future when this issue arises.  While I was mulling this idea over, I received a link to a piece of sheer idiocy that really pushed me over the edge.  It made me realize that if this kind of stuff is out there circulating, it’s no wonder these people have such bizarre notions of what constitutes a rational diet.

I’m going to start off this first part by examining some of this nonsense, and I’ll finish off in the second part by going through one of the classic papers of all time showing why we humans aren’t just meat eaters, but we are humans because we eat meat.

The link I had sent by a friend of mine is one I’ve seen referred to on a couple of other low-carb or Paleo sites.  I didn’t give it much thought until the Tim Ferriss blog experience (which, BTW, is still going on.  I just got binged on my email that Tim approved another 15 or so comments that I need to take a look at, so keep checking his blog) made me realize that there were really people out their buying into this nonsense.

The piece from AlterNet starts out with a big, bold headline:

Eating Meat Is Not Natural

No equivocating there.  A categorical statement if I’ve ever seen one.  Let’s see how the author of the piece – Kathy Freston – backs it up.  She starts out with a short introductory paragraph that ends with another categorical statement.  I’ve noticed that these folks love to write these things with such authority.  Same with the people on Tim’s blog.  There is no doubt in their minds that they’re correct.  But they are operating in an informational void.

Which brings to mind a great quote from Lierre Kieth’s book:

I was on the side of righteousness, and like any fundamentalist, I could only stay there by avoiding information.

Here is the intro paragraph to the AlterNet piece:

Going through the reader feedback on some of my recent articles, I noticed the frequently stated notion that eating meat was an essential step in human evolution. While this notion may comfort the meat industry, it’s simply not true, scientifically. [My italics]

No hesitance there.  “It’s simply not true, scientifically.”  Not even a smidgen of doubt.

How does our author prove it’s not true?  By referring to the writings of people who present themselves as scientists but who are ideological vegetarians.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus at Cornell University and author of The China Study (please check out the link), explains that in fact, we only recently (historically speaking) began eating meat, and that the inclusion of meat in our diet came well after we became who we are today. He explains that “the birth of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago at a time when it became considerably more convenient to herd animals. This is not nearly as long as the time [that] fashioned our basic biochemical functionality (at least tens of millions of years) and which functionality depends on the nutrient composition of plant-based foods.”

Ah, our old friend Dr. T. Colin Campbell and the China study.  Many commenters on Tim’s blog referenced this study as if were gospel.  Before we get into The China Study, I’ve got a disclosure to make.  I’ve never read the thing.  So how can I talk about it intelligently?  Because I have appeared on the podium with Dr. Campbell.  A few years ago we both spoke at a symposium somewhere (I can’t even remember where now), and his talk preceded mine.  As I sat on the stage, I listened intently and made notes as I watched his slides.  What I realized right off the bat is that his whole shtick is nothing but an epidemiologic or observational study, which, as I’ve written about in these pages  before, proves no causality and serves only to derive hypotheses.  He spent his entire presentation trying to prove his thesis with studies that can’t he used to prove diddly.  Since I spent an hour listening, watching and then rebutting, I figure I’ve earned a pass from reading the book.

If you want to read more on The China Study, I suggest you take a look at two sources.  First, read Chris Masterjohn’s review, then you can read Dr. Campbell’s rebuttal, then Chris’s response to that.  And you can read my good friend Anthony Colpo’s review of the book.  The China Study is a pretty sorry piece of work and, since it is an observational study (the results of which are misrepresented in the pop science book available), it doesn’t prove squat.  I certainly wouldn’t rush out and become a vegetarian because of it.  Yet if you read some of the comments on Amazon, you would think this book is the Second Coming.  These poor people who have been so gulled simply don’t realize how worthless such studies are.

In the quote above, Dr. Campbell is obviously unaware that the birth of agriculture involved primarily the turn from a hunting/gathering subsistence to the growing of grain.  The agricultural revolution wasn’t a change from a herbivore existence to the herding of animals for food.  This kind of clap trap shows just how misguided these kind of folks are and how they twist the historical facts to suit their purposes.

[Note: I have since read The China Study and have posted about it here.]

The next ‘authority’ trotted out by our author is none other than Dr. Neal Barnard, the president of the inappropriately named Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and himself a vegetarian.

That jibes with what Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine President Dr. Neal Barnard says in his book, The Power of Your Plate, in which he explains that “early humans had diets very much like other great apes, which is to say a largely plant-based diet, drawing on foods we can pick with our hands. Research suggests that meat-eating probably began by scavenging — eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it. To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.”

This is the Dr. Barnhard of the much-ballyhooed (by him, at least) ‘study’ of the ill effects of low-carb diets that I rebutted a few years back.

He is correct in saying that the earliest of men probably begin to eat meat by scavenging.  The paleontological record seems to bear that out.  But the line about our bodies never adapting to it and the statement that meat-eaters have higher incidences of all the diseases mentioned is pure malarky.  If Dr. Barnhard were asked to come up with references for these statements, all he could possible produce would be a few observational studies, which, as we all know, don’t prove anything.  And for each one he could come up with, I could come up with just as many showing the opposite.

Now we get to the big gun: Richard Leakey.

There is no more authoritative source on anthropological issues than paleontologist Dr. Richard Leakey, who explains what anyone who has taken an introductory physiology course might have discerned intuitively — that humans are herbivores. Leakey notes that “[y]ou can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand … We wouldn’t have been able to deal with food source that required those large canines” (although we have teeth that are called “canines,” they bear little resemblance to the canines of carnivores).

Hmmm.  I wonder if Leakey has ever seen the canines of a gorilla?  They certainly have the appearance of the canines of a carnivore yet gorillas are pure vegetarians.  But let’s go on.

In fact, our hands are perfect for grabbing and picking fruits and vegetables. Similarly, like the intestines of other herbivores, ours are very long (carnivores have short intestines so they can quickly get rid of all that rotting flesh they eat).  We don’t have sharp claws to seize and hold down prey.  And most of us (hopefully) lack the instinct that would drive us to chase and then kill animals and devour their raw carcasses. Dr. Milton Mills builds on these points and offers dozens more in his essay, “A Comparative Anatomy of Eating.”

All this anatomical stuff is pure gibberish, yet many people not skilled in the art of critical thinking buy into it.  In part II of this post, I’ll address many of these anatomical issues, so we’ll leave it until then.  If you’re bored, you might want to take a look at the Comparative Anatomy of Eating, which is a not-very-successful attempt to push a square peg into a round hole.  Dr. Milton really has to stretch to get the anatomy to fit with his notions of what it is designed for.  I’ve seen so many variations on this theme – people showing minor anatomical differences to prove that humans are really herbivores – that I’ve lost count.

The author now turns to her last expert, a big time, mainstream doctor.

The point is this: Thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers, we may have needed a bit of meat in our diets in times of scarcity, but we don’t need it now.  Says Dr. William C. Roberts, editor of the American Journal of Cardiology, “Although we think we are, and we act as if we are, human beings are not natural carnivores.  When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us, because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.”

This guy really goes off the rails.  He tells us that “when we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us,…”  A strong statement that he has absolutely nothing but his own opinion to back it up with.  Then he really takes a leap.  These animals we kill to eat do us in “because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.”  Oh, really.  That cholesterol will do us in, eh?  Why is it that we have cholesterol ourselves and plants don’t?  Why is every cell in our bodies capable of making cholesterol?  Because we don’t need it?  The depth of his dumbth is unfathomable.  Realizing that this guy is the editor of a major cardiology journal lets you know really quickly why such journals publish such biased articles.

Our author goes on.

Sure, most of us are “behavioral omnivores” — that is, we eat meat, so that defines us as omnivorous. But our evolution and physiology are herbivorous, and ample science proves that when we choose to eat meat, that causes problems, from decreased energy and a need for more sleep up to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Here again with the meat causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Instead of the “ample science” she claims, there is no proof whatsoever.  She uses an interesting expression: she describes us humans as “behavioral omnivores,” which I think is a good definition, but she’s using it incorrectly.  She means that we are really herbivores, but we’ve learned to become omnivores, therefore we are behavioral omnivores, not real omnivores.  I agree with her, but with a twist.  I think we are designed as carnivores and have adapted to an omnivore existence, so we are behavioral omnivores, just not the way she thinks we are.  Gorillas are behavioral vegetarians.  They have the GI tracts from teeth to the other end of carnivores – and they do fine being fed meat in zoos – but they culturally are vegetarians or behavioral vegetarians.

Old habits die hard, and it’s convenient for people who like to eat meat to think that there is evidence to support their belief that eating meat is “natural” or the cause of our evolution. For many years, I too, clung to the idea that meat and dairy were good for me; I realize now that I was probably comforted to have justification for my continued attachment to the traditions I grew up with.

But in fact top nutritional and anthropological scientists from the most reputable institutions imaginable say categorically that humans are natural herbivores, and that we will be healthier today if we stick with our herbivorous roots. It may be inconvenient, but it alas, it is the truth.

She ends by summarizing all the twaddle she presented earlier.  And she relies on what others say to ‘prove’ her points – all the top scientists at all the most reputable institutions – which is a dead give away that she hasn’t gone to any original sources herself and is simply relying on hearsay.  But, hey, she’s a journalist, not a scientist, so she’s got to rely on the scientists to tell her what’s going on, right?  To a point, but she should also check with some other “top scientists” from other “reputable institutions” to perhaps provide counter opinions.

It almost defies belief that people can be so gullible as to put any credence whatsoever in an article such as this one, yet, after dealing with Tim’s blog, it’s apparent that many do.

One journalist who doesn’t, however, is my friend Amy Alkon, better known as The Advice Goddess who writes a syndicated column that I never miss.  In her latest, published in the Orange County Register, she gives advice to a vegan who has come a cropper in a burgeoning email romance with a non-vegetarian.  As you read the request for advice from the vegan, you can see her innate sense of moral authority start to bleed through.  Amy’s advice is priceless. (It was Amy, in fact, who emailed me the link (after some zealot had sent it to her) to the article above that I’ve just spent three pages dissecting.)

While you’re at it, read her advice to the next seeker after the vegan.  My favorite line:

People say the best things in life – love, friendship, moonlight – are free, but so are the worst things: lymphoma, a really big overbite, and road kill.

How true, how true.

The next post is going to be free, and I hope it will fall into the good kind of free category.  We’ll go over a famous paper from the anthropological literature making a virtually watertight case that it was eating meat that made us human.

The Vegetarian Myth

Before I get into a discussion of the absolutely phenomenal book you see pictured at the right, I’ve got a few disclosures to make.  First, I’m not much of a believer in the notion of man-made global warming or climate change (as they now call it since temperatures have been constantly falling instead of rising).  I’m a denier, in the pejorative term used by those who are believers.

Second, I’m not particularly pro-feminist.  And I certainly don’t hang around with any self-proclaimed radical feminists.  I have a wife who is smarter than I am, who is more talented than I am, and who, pound for pound, is probably a better athlete than I am, and I’m not bad. (In my defense, I can read much, much faster than she, but, she has better comprehension.) I long ago gave up the idea (if I ever really considered it seriously) that men are superior to women in any ways other than brute strength.  Having said that, however, I do believe that men are better suited to certain endeavors than woman and vice verse, but that doesn’t mean either men or women should be denied the opportunity to give whatever it is they want to do a whirl just because of their sex.  I guess I consider myself an egalitarian.  But from what I’ve seen of radical feminists, I’m not sure that I would count myself a big fan.

Given the above, you wouldn’t think I would enjoy and recommend a book written by a self-proclaimed radical feminist who is obviously a believer in global warming and the impending end of the earth as we know it.  I wouldn’t think so, either. Not my cup of tea even when it is sort of preaching to the choir.

But I can tell you that Lierre Keith’s book is beyond fantastic.  It is easily the best book I’ve read since Mistakes Were Made, maybe even better.  Everyone should read this book, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.  If you’re a radical feminist, you should read this book; if you’re a male chauvinist, you should read this book; if you have children, especially female children, you should read this book; if you are a young woman (or man) you should read this book; if you love animals, you should read this book; if you hate vegetarians, you should read this book; if you are contemplating the vegetarian way of life, you should definitely read this book; if you have a vegetarian friend or family member, you should this book and so should your friend.  As MD said after she read it, “everyone who eats should read this book.”

Anyone who has ever read a book on writing has come across the hackneyed piece of advice to cut open a vein and bleed on the page.  Lierre Keith, the author of this book, has come closer to literally doing that than almost any writer I’ve ever read.  Not only does her passion for her subject bleed through in almost every sentence, she is a superb lyrical prose stylist.  My book is dog eared, underlined and annotated from front to back – I can’t remember anything I’ve read that has contained so many terrific lines.

In fact The Vegetarian Myth is filled with so many good quotes (most by the author but some from other authors) that I was reminded of the old joke about the redneck who went to see a performance of Hamlet.  When the show let out, someone asked him what he thought of it.  Replied he:  It wasn’t nothin’ but a whole bunch of quotes all strung together.  As you’ll see when I ‘quote’ them below, The Vegetarian Myth contains quotable lines and paragraphs at about the same rate Hamlet does.

Ms. Keith was a practicing vegetarian (vegan) for twenty years, driven by her passion for kindness and justice for all creatures.  She couldn’t bear the thought of even killing a garden slug, or, for that matter, even removing a garden slug from her garden to a place where something or someone else might kill it.  Her years of compassionate avoidance of any foods of animal origin cost her her health.  Her story of coming to grips with the realization that whatever she ate came as a consequence of some living being’s having to die form the matrix onto which her narrative hangs.

You can read the first 14 manuscript pages of the book on the author’s website.  I have quoted from these 14 pages liberally below.

The introduction to The Vegetarian Myth explores Ms. Keith’s rationale for writing such a book, a book that, given her years of walking the vegetarian walk, must have been incredibly difficult to write.  She says as much with her first sentence.

She ponders the idea of factory farming, which she loathes, and the misbegotten idea that most people hold (not most readers of this blog, but most of the people in the world) that grains are good, not only for people, but for many animals as well.  And the common misconception that agriculture, the growing of annual grains and plants, is a wonderful, kind, sustainable activity.

This misunderstanding is born of ignorance, an ignorance that runs the length and breadth of the vegetarian myth, through the nature of agriculture and ending in the nature of life. We are urban industrialists, and we don’t know the origins of our food. This includes vegetarians, despite their claims to the truth. It included me, too, for twenty years. Anyone who ate meat was in denial; only I had faced the facts. Certainly, most people who consume factory-farmed meat have never asked what died and how it died. But frankly, neither have most vegetarians.

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems. The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.

I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate. I’m asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That’s the more radical question, and it’s the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained, how many prairies plowed and forests pulled down, how much topsoil turned to dust and blown into ghosts? I want to know about all the species—not just the individuals, but the entire species—the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows, the grey wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.

After she had seen the error of her ways as a vegan and had been eating meat for two years, for reasons unknown to her, the author continued to surf the same vegan websites and message boards she had for years.  Until she read one post that was so bizarre that she finally realized the large intellectual gap that had widened between her rationale thinking and the cult like thinking of, well, a cult.  It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

But one post marked a turning point. A vegan flushed out his idea to keep animals from being killed—not by humans, but by other animals. Someone should build a fence down the middle of the Serengeti, and divide the predators from the prey. Killing is wrong and no animals should ever have to die, so the big cats and wild canines would go on one side, while the wildebeests and zebras would live on the other. He knew the carnivores would be okay because they didn’t need to be carnivores. That was a lie the meat industry told. He’d seen his dog eat grass: therefore, dogs could live on grass.

No one objected. In fact, others chimed in. My cat eats grass, too, one woman added, all enthusiasm. So does mine! someone else posted. Everyone agreed that fencing was the solution to animal death.

Note well that the site for this liberatory project was Africa. No one mentioned the North American prairie, where carnivores and ruminants alike have been extirpated for the  annual grains that vegetarians embrace. But I’ll return to that in Chapter 3.

I knew enough to know that this was insane. But no one else on the message board could see anything wrong with the scheme. So, on the theory that many readers lack the knowledge to judge this plan, I’m going to walk you through this.

Carnivores cannot survive on cellulose. They may on occasion eat grass, but they use it medicinally, usually as a purgative to clear their digestive tracts of parasites. Ruminants, on the other hand, have evolved to eat grass. They have a rumen (hence, ruminant), the first in a series of multiple stomachs that acts as a fermentative vat. What’s actually happening inside a cow or a zebra is that bacteria eat the grass, and the animals eat the bacteria.

Lions and hyenas and humans don’t have a ruminant’s digestive system. Literally from our teeth to our rectums we are designed for meat. We have no mechanism to digest cellulose.

So on the carnivore side of the fence, starvation will take every animal. Some will last longer than others, and those some will end their days as cannibals. The scavengers will have a Fat Tuesday party, but when the bones are picked clean, they’ll starve as well. The graveyard won’t end there. Without grazers to eat the grass, the land will eventually turn to desert.

Why? Because without grazers to literally level the playing field, the perennial plants mature, and shade out the basal growth point at the plant’s base. In a brittle environment like the Serengeti, decay is mostly physical (weathering) and chemical (oxidative), not bacterial and biological as in a moist environment. In fact, the ruminants take over most of the biological functions of soil by digesting the cellulose and returning the nutrients, once again available, in the form of urine and feces.

But without ruminants, the plant matter will pile up, reducing growth, and begin killing the plants. The bare earth is now exposed to wind, sun, and rain, the minerals leech away, and the soil structure is destroyed. In our attempt to save animals, we’ve killed everything.

On the ruminant side of the fence, the wildebeests and friends will reproduce as effectively as ever. But without the check of predators, there will quickly be more grazers than grass. The animals will outstrip their food source, eat the plants down to the ground, and then starve to death, leaving behind a seriously degraded landscape.

The lesson here is obvious, though it is profound enough to inspire a religion: we need to be eaten as much as we need to eat. The grazers need their daily cellulose, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals, and bacteria; it needs the mechanical check of grazing activity; and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders when animals die.

The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators and prey. These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren’t exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns.

That was my last visit to the vegan message boards. I realized then that people so deeply ignorant of the nature of life, with its mineral cycle and carbon trade, its balance points around an ancient circle of producers, consumers, and degraders, weren’t going to be able to guide me or, indeed, make any useful decisions about sustainable human culture. By turning from adult knowledge, the knowledge that death is embedded in every creature’s sustenance, from bacteria to grizzly bears, they would never be able to feed the emotional and spiritual hunger that ached in me from accepting that knowledge. Maybe in the end this book is an attempt to soothe that ache myself.

How anyone who can read these 14 pages and not purchase and read this book is beyond me.

After the introduction which deals with why the author wrote the book, The Vegetarian Myth is divided into four sections: Moral Vegetarians, Political Vegetarians, Nutritional Vegetarians, and To Save the World.

The first three of these sections are the author’s in-depth refutations of the moral, political and nutritional arguments that vegetarians are constantly putting forth.  She does a masterful job.

In the Moral Vegetarians chapter, the author addresses the moral issue of killing animals for our own food.  She beautifully makes her case by cutting to the heart of the matter:

What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment.  It’s information.

And while she was in her 20-year trek in the vegetarian wilderness, she shielded herself from information as most cultists do:

I was on the side of righteousness, and like any fundamentalist, I could only stay there by avoiding information.

She finally realized the truth about agriculture; she figured out that the amber waves of grain are as death dealing as any slaughterhouse.

And agriculture isn’t quite a war because the forests and wetlands and prairies, the rain, the soil, the air, can’t fight back.  Agriculture is really more like ethnic cleansing, wiping out the indigenous dwellers so the invaders can take the land.  It’s biotic cleansing, biocide. … It is not non-violent.  It is not sustainable.  And every bite of food is laden with death.

There is no place left for the buffalo to roam.  There’s only corn, wheat, and soy.  About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year.  Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal.  They count, and they died for your dinner…

Soil, species, rivers.  That’s the death in your food.  Agriculture is carnivorous: what it eats is ecosystems, and it swallows them whole.

In Political Vegetarians she refutes the politics (predominantly liberal) of the vegetarian movement and describes the dark side of political meddling in our ecosystem approved of in the main by PETA and other vegetarian groups.  She follows the money.

Rice, wheat, corn – the annual grains that vegetarians want the world to eat – are thirsty enough to drink whole rivers.

The result has been an unending river of corn, drowning our arteries and our insulin receptors, our rural communities, and poor subsistence economies the world over.  The corn comes at a huge environmental toll: there’s a half gallon of oil in every bushel.  And it’s essentially a massive transfer of money from the US taxpayer to the giant grain cartels, who are able to command the price of grain to be lower than the cost of production, with all of us making up the difference – five billion dollars in subsidies for corn alone, straight into the pockets of Cargill and Monsanto.

Nutritional Vegetarians is about the nutritional inadequacies of a vegetarian and especially a vegan diet.  And she does an absolute bang up job of laying out the rationale for following a no-grain, low-carb diet.

I have a disclosure to make here.  Much of the information in this chapter is based on Protein Power and The Protein Power LifePlan.  MD and I are listed in the acknowledgments, but I swear I didn’t know this until I bought the book.  We aren’t the only ones, but there are plenty of quotes from us in this chapter.  Gary Taubes, Malcolm Kendrick and (dare I say it) Anthony Colpo are quoted liberally as well.  I would have loved this book just as much if we had never been quoted.

Ms Keith has made a few minor innocuous errors in this chapter, but, all in all, she has done a tremendous job of synthesizing the scientific information into an easy to read, informative format.

The Nutritional Vegetarians section isn’t just about the science of why vegetarianism is bad and meat eating is good, it gets into the nutritional politics (as opposed to the vegetarian politics in the previous section) as well.  Ms Keith shows how we got to where we are by the nutritional strong arming by the McGovern committee back in the late 1970s.  George McGovern (a senator from a grain-producing state) and his cronies basically set the nutritional standards under which we are still oppressed.  They have been a disaster, as some scientists at the time predicted they would be.

And some scientists knew ahead of time that they would be.  Phil Handler, the president of hte National Academy of Scientists asked Congress, “What right has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?”  Dr. Pete Ahrens, an expert on cholesterol metabolism, told the McGovern committee that the effects of a low-fat diet weren’t a scientific matter but “a betting matter.”

It’s twenty-five years later and we aren’t winning this bet.  Each US American now eats sixty pounds more grain per annum and thirty pounds more cheap sugars, mostly from corn.  [Is it any wonder we’re all fat?]

The result, Dietary Goals for Americans, set in motion a cast sea change in the public’s beliefs and behaviors. … Dietary Goals was a predictable victory in a war that started ten thousand years ago.  What really won were those annual grasses that had long since turned humans into mercenaries against the rest of the planet.  We would now enshrine them like demi-gods, those whole grains and their sweet, opiate seductions, believing in their power to bestow health and long life, even while they slowly ate us alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book review that was positive from beginning to end, and this one is no exception.  Based on the many comments I’ve gotten on this blog and my response to them, I’m sure many of you will find my main objection surprising.  There is too much politics in the book.  Not nutritional politics, but feminist politics.

I know, I know, I let my libertarian leanings come through in all kinds of blog posts and comment answers, but there is a difference.  My blog is just that – a weblog of things I find interesting or informative.  And it’s free.  I don’t particularly like to pay for a book (and I paid full price for this one plus shipping) on a given subject then be beaten over the head with a political viewpoint.  I guarantee you that our new book has zero politics in it.  And if people bought our book expecting to learn about getting rid of their middle-aged middles and were fed a generous dose of my politics mixed in with the information, I would expect them to be flamed.

To give the author her due in this matter, the vegetarian ideology that had her in its grasp for 20 years was intertwined with her feminist politics, so a bit of said politics are necessary to describe how she was so taken in for so long.  But I think she went a little overboard with it.

And, I think the last section of the book – To Save the World – is the weakest part of the book.  The author makes several recommendations, all of which (save one) are, in my opinion totally unrealistic.  But I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions after you’ve read the book.

I’ve read that when people are asked to recall what they remember of something they read, they tend to remember the first thing in the piece and the last thing.  Most of the middle melds into a vague memory of what the article was about.  I certainly don’t want people to remember this last negative part I wrote and let it dissuade them from reading this book.  The good parts of the book so far outweigh the not-so-good parts that there is really no contest.

At a time when PETA and other vegetarian groups are mobilizing and ramping up their activity levels, a book such as this one bringing sanity to the debate is more important than ever.  And don’t think these groups aren’t becoming more active.  In the past, PETA and PETAphiles pretty much devoted their educational efforts toward the idea that eating animals was cruel.  Now they are starting to make the case that a vegetarian diet will solve the obesity epidemic.  Take a look at this billboard in Jacksonville, Florida.

whales

If you find this sign annoying, buy The Vegetarian Myth and do your part to fight back. And if you have or know anyone with a daughter who is contemplating going vegetarian (young females are the most common victims), please make this book available.  It could be the most important thing you ever do for the long-term mental and physical health of a young woman.

If you’ve made it this far in this long review, take a couple of minutes and watch this YouTube of Lierre Keith at a book event; she’s as fascinating to listen to as she is to read.

Rebuttal to the PCRM

eades-whisky

In my ongoing quest to become a little more technically adept, I started using Google Alerts for a number of things I’m interested in, including my own name.  (Believe me, there are a lot of people out there in the world with the last name Eades, including the Fire Chief of London.)  For those of you who don’t know, you can go to the Google main page and navigate around until you come to ‘Alerts.’  You can then sign up for these ‘Alerts’ to be delivered to you via email.  It’s a free service provided by Google, and it uses the Google system to crawl through cyberspace and find anything (blogs, articles, news reports, etc.) that has whatever word, words or phrases you submitted included and emails the link back to you.  I put a bunch of stuff in and get emails from Google throughout the day.  Most of it is stuff that is totally unrelated to anything I give a flip about, but every now and then it turns up something of interest.  Having my name listed has cost me money because one of the first things I that came back to me was an article about Eades Whisky, which I had no idea existed and which I had to try.  It is expensive, about $75 per bottle, but I ordered some.  It’s very good.  But it hasn’t replaced Jameson, however, by a long shot.

Yesterday I got back a hit about something that I had totally forgotten about:  our rebuttal to the idiotic ‘study’ presented by the PCRM (Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine – a name straight out of Orwell if there ever was one) a few years ago.  This group, composed mainly of militant vegetarians, came up with an insipid ‘study’ during the height of the low-carb frenzy back in 2003.  Neal Barnard, the head of the outfit, appeared on most of the morning talk shows telling how dangerous his study had found low-carb diets to be.  A couple of the national networks called MD and me asking us if we would provide a rebuttal.  We happened to be in Santa Barbara at the time, and we said sure.  Two different networks sent camera crews to interview us late in the afternoon.

As I’ve probably mentioned numerous times, we have an absolute knack for getting pre-empted whenever we get TV time.  This day was no exception.  The news teams were on their way to the little condo we had at the time to set up and shoot our rebuttal when the news came through that Michael Jackson was going to be flying in to the Santa Barbara airport to turn himself in on the child molestation charge that he later beat in court.  Of course, all the news vans and camera crews that were heading for our place were diverted to the Santa Barbara airport, and MD and I never got to rebut the PCRM idiocy on air.

A couple of days later, we flew back to our place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as I was walking through the door laden with suitcases the phone was ringing.  It was the guy who ran LowCarbiz.com, the now-defunct online low-carb magazine, calling me asking if we would write a rebuttal that he could publish.  I said sure, and he said he needed it fast.  I left all the unloading to MD and sat down at my computer and pounded the thing out in a couple of hours.  He published it online.  Then a year or so later the low-carb mania died off, and the magazine went down, and I figured all was lost to history.

But, thanks to Google Alerts, I got a ping that someone had dug this thing out and posted it on a forum.

The only link I could find to the original PCRM report was a May 2004 update that pretty much matches the original, which I have a hard copy of to compare.  You can see how scientifically valid this ‘study’ is and how worthy it is of a press release and multiple TV appearances by looking at the methods section of the ‘study’ to see how the subjects were found.

Methods

In the fall of 2002, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) began a pilot program to test the feasibility of an online registry to identify people who may have suffered health complications related to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. A modest Internet advertising campaign was used to notify consumers about the availability of this registry. In November of 2003, PCRM held a news conference to highlight the health problems suffered by some individuals using these diets and to draw attention to the registry.

To report problems with high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets, individuals voluntarily visited www.AtkinsDietAlert.org and filled out a form available on the site. The registry specifically inquires about the following problems: heart attack, other heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, gout, gallbladder, colorectal cancer, other cancers, osteoporosis, reduced kidney function, kidney stones, constipation, difficulty concentrating, bad breath, and loss of energy. In addition, many registrants indicated, in an “other problems” box on the registry, that they had experienced certain other problems while on low-carbohydrate diets. Many registrants reported more than one health concern. Through the online form, most registrants provided their contact information, age, sex, previous health concerns, length of time on the diet, reasons for choosing the diet, and other information.

The registration entries were self-reports and were not subject to verification through medical record reviews or other methods, nor was registration deemed to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship. To help clarify the possible biological mechanisms by which a high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diet might lead to these problems, PCRM dietitians conducted a nutrient analysis of the sample menus for the three stages of the Atkins Diet as described in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (M. Evans & Co., 1999; pp. 257–259), using Nutritionist V, Version 2.0, for Windows 98 (First DataBank Inc., Hearst Corporation, San Bruno, Calif.).

Tells you everything you need to know about the scientific standards of PCRM.  At the time CBS, one of the network stations that had Barnard on that morning, actually stated that the ‘study’ wasn’t scientifically valid:

The online survey is not a scientific study, so there are no hard facts to say definitively that the Atkins diet is harmful. But the PCRM says there is enough evidence for concern.

But the lack of scientific validity never stops the PCRM’s Barnard from jumping in front of the camera presenting it as such.  Make sure to watch the video to observe the holier-than-thou demeanor.

What follows is our rebuttal to this nonsense.

In The Name of ‘Responsible Medicine’ The Public is Ill-Served
A LowCarbiz Rebuttal to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Report on Health Concerns Pertaining To Low-Carbohydrate Diets
By Dr. Michael R. Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades
© 2003 LowCarbiz/Michael R. Eades, M.D. and Mary Dan Eades, M.D.

Ten Rebuttal Points:
• PCRM uses what is at best anecdotal information and presents it in the guise of a scientific investigation.
• At least a dozen studies have been conducted recently in major medical and scientific research institutions and published in top-notch journals that confirm the lowcarbohydrate diet is superior to the low-fat diet in multiple respects.
• The respondents to the PCRM poll would represent only 0.00001125% or one onethousandth of one percent of individuals following a low-carbohydrate diet.
• Researchers from Harvard recently reported that subjects could eat 300 calories more per day on a low-carbohydrate diet than those following a low-fat diet and still lose the same amount of weight over a 12-week period.
• Dieters would prefer to lose fat rather than lean tissue, which is precisely what happens with low-carbohydrate diets.
• Virtually every study done on low-carbohydrate diets shows that weight loss is accompanied by either an improvement or no change in heart disease risk factors.
• Low carb dieters who consume green leafy and colorful vegetables and low-glycemic fruits are not at risk of osteoporosis (long-term bone loss).
• The whole idea that protein in the amounts eaten in modified low-carbohydrate diets damages kidneys is a vampire myth that refuses to die no matter how many stakes have been driven through its heart by a multitude of medical studies.
• Overall there is no evidence that meat causes colon cancer, or any other cancer, for that matter. Actually many cancer-fighting nutrients are in meat and a reduction in meat intake might be more likely to increase cancer risk.
• As the data continues to accumulate and the studies increase in number, the efficacy of the modified low-carbohydrate diet will finally be established to the satisfaction of all.

On November 20th, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) released a report entitled Analysis of Health Problems Associated with High-Protein, High-Fat, Carbohydrate-Restricted Diets Reported via an Online Registry. The report, which dresses, speaks and behaves like something that might appear in a bona fide medical journal, examines a host of health problems consumers have suffered allegedly as a result of their following a high-protein diet.

We find this report interesting on a number of fronts, not the least of which is in the way PCRM uses what is at best anecdotal information and presents it in the guise of a scientific investigation.

Over the past twenty years when we and other physicians who use low-carbohydrate diets to help our patients lose weight, normalize blood lipids, stabilize blood sugars, reduce their high blood pressure and generally improve their health reported our clinical experience with thousands of such patients we have often been greeted by groups such as PCRM – which view science through a vegetarian or low-fat lens — with cries of “Anecdotal! It’s only anecdotal evidence. If your low-carbohydrate regimen is so good, where are the clinical studies?”

In the last couple of years, however, at least a dozen studies have been conducted in major medical and scientific research institutions throughout the world and published in top-notch medical and scientific journals that confirm what we and others have been saying for years—the low-carbohydrate diet is superior to the low-fat diet not only for weight-loss but for improvement of virtually all of the components of the metabolic syndrome as well.

It is a delicious twist of fate that the tables have turned on PCRM and the group’s fellow travelers who, now, faced with this ever-growing body of credible scientific literature must themselves resort to the worst kind of anecdotal reporting: using a group of respondents to the PCRM website—and an extremely small group, at that—to imply that low-carbohydrate diets are a hazard to the entire population of dieters who follow them.

PCRM reports that “in the fall of 2002, [PCRM] began a pilot program testing the feasibility of an online registry for identifying people who may have suffered health complications related to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.” After one year of a “modest internet advertising campaign” by PCRM to “notify consumers of the availability of this registry” a total of “188 individuals reported experiencing problems with high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets.”

At whom was this “modest internet advertising campaign” directed? How is the PCRM online registry found? The PCRM report doesn’t say, but one supposes the campaign was directed to and the registry found by people who have a predisposition to the PCRM philosophy. So it is reasonable to assume that people finding the PCRM online registry would have an axe to grind with the low-carbohydrate, non-vegetarian diet and lifestyle and would be more prone to report problems.

Even if we make the unlikely assumption that these respondents are all enthusiastic followers of low-carbohydrate lifestyles who have run afoul of their diets, the PCRM numbers are so tiny as to not even approach significance: 188 respondents in one year. The most recent and credible survey we’ve read estimates that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 32 million people following some version of a low-carbohydrate diet in the United States alone (the PCRM report doesn’t say whether the respondents to their registry were from America only or from throughout the world). Even if that 32 million number is halved, it would mean that the respondents to the PCRM poll would represent only .00001125% or one one-thousandth of one percent of these people following a low-carbohydrate diet, a number easy to not get too excited about. (One wonders what kind of numbers PCRM would have garnered had they put out the request for positive experiences on a low-carbohydrate diet.)

When we look at the problems that the majority of this one one-thousandth of a percent of people report we find that the majority of them suffer from constipation (44%), loss of energy (42%), and bad breath (40%). Not exactly the kind of serious medical problems calling for “the urgent need for monitoring” nor the proposal that our “public health authorities begin tracking the use of high-protein, high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diets used for weight loss or maintenance and record adverse events” as the PCRM report recommends.

PCRM applied its anecdotal analysis to “health problems associated with high-protein, high-fat, low-fiber, carbohydrate-restricted diets” without really specifically defining the macronutrient composition of these diets. One of the problems in the medical literature is that there is no definition of a “high-protein” diet or a “carbohydrate-restricted” diet. Many studies refer to a diet composed of 40% carbohydrate as a low-carbohydrate diet, which it is when compared to one containing 55-60% of its energy as carbohydrates, but this really isn’t a low-carbohydrate diet as used by the vast majority of followers of low-carbohydrate diet plans.

Other papers report data on diets containing 5-10% of calories as carbohydrate and call them low-carbohydrate diets, which they certainly are, but not the same low-carbohydrate diet as those containing 40% carbohydrate. Another complicating factor is that most researchers use percentages of macronutrient composition to define their study diets whereas we and others who prescribe low-carbohydrate diets along with virtually everyone who follows some form of a lowcarbohydrate diet use absolute grams of usable carbohydrate to set the parameters of the regimen. Anyone following a low-carbohydrate diet knows how precisely many grams of carbohydrate per day he or she is taking in but doesn’t have a clue as to what percentage of caloric energy that represents. Another problem is that these diets are referred to in a number of ways—high protein diets, low-carbohydrate diets, high-fat diets, carbohydrate-restricted diets, etc. Although these terms are used interchangeably they really aren’t. A low-carbohydrate diet doesn’t have to be a high-protein diet; a high-fat diet isn’t necessarily a low-carbohydrate diet; and, nor is a high-protein diet necessarily a high-fat diet. In order to bring clarity to this dietary debate, a definition of just what a low-carb diet is needs to be established.

PCRM and other groups and individuals who are anti-low-carbohydrate diet typically define the low-carbohydrate diet as the Atkins Diet, which in its original form was an extremely low, almost no carbohydrate, very high-fat diet that bears little resemblance to the low-carbohydrate diets recommended by us and others (including the current Atkins plan). Most people on lowcarbohydrate diets focus on limiting their intake of carbohydrates to 30-70 grams per day and let the fat and protein content of their diet fall wherever it may within this carbohydrate restriction.

Compared to the standard American diet, most people following a low-carb diet end up consuming significantly fewer carbohydrates, about the same or marginally higher amounts of protein and fat, and a smaller number of total calories.  (There is little question that the reduction in calories drives the weight-loss engine of the low-carbohydrate diet, a point seized on by PCRM and others as somehow being a slight to the lowcarbohydrate diet. More about this later.)

The vast majority of medical studies published within the past few years have used this modified low-carbohydrate diet as the basis for comparison. Unfortunately, although this modified diet is substantially different from the original Atkins Diet, PCRM and others along with help from the media persist in referring to it as the Atkins Diet. An example: a recent research paper in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the effectiveness of our specific version of the lowcarbohydrate diet, which is substantially different from the Atkins Diet, in reducing weight and improving health was hailed by the media as the “vindication of the Atkins Diet.” Before we move into what the research data shows about the effectiveness of the modified lowcarbohydrate diet, let’s take a look at just how surreal this entire debate has become.

The PCRM report states that “high-protein, high-fat, low-fiber, carbohydrate restricted diets, such as the Atkins Diet, when used for prolonged periods, are expected to increase the risk of multiple chronic diseases and other health problems.” One would assume that according to PCRM that the low-carbohydrate diet would be worse than the standard American diet, but if we look closely is their assumption valid?

A typical American lunch, one eaten by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this country every day is a hamburger, fries, and a soft drink. To modify this basic lunch to fit the low-carbohydrate regimen dieters would remove the bun from the burger, avoid the fries and have a salad instead, and drink water or some other non-caloric beverage. In the eyes of the PCRM these simple modifications have converted this typical American lunch into a “dangerous” high-protein diet destined to ruin the kidneys, destroy the bones, and permanently damage the hearts of anyone who follows it. In making these modifications, however, lowcarbohydrate dieters get rid of the trans fats and refined carbohydrates in the bun, miss out on the large amount of fat (including trans fat) and high-glycemic carbohydrates in the fries, pass up the quarter of a cup of high-fructose corn syrup in the soft drink, and get a fair amount of carotenoids, flavinoids, lycopenes, fiber, and other anti-oxidants and phytonutrients in the salad. And, significantly reduce the caloric content of the lunch. You will note that the protein content remained unchanged. One would think that the PCRM would applaud these modifications, but instead they decry them. Surreal indeed!

Weight Loss

The caloric restriction that is a by-product of carbohydrate restriction accounts for the majority of the weight loss found with low-carbohydrate diets. Most, but not all. A recent review of lowcarbohydrate diets in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that virtually all of the weight loss brought about by these diets came as a result of caloric restriction and when compared with low-fat diets there was no difference in efficacy as long as the two diets were equal in calories. A careful review of the individual studies comparing low-fat to low-carbohydrate diets almost always shows that over the course of the diets the people on the low-carbohydrate diets consume slightly more calories than those on the low-fat diet. A couple of recent studies showed a more pronounced and significant difference in the weight loss verses caloric intake between the two diets. One study done at the University of Cincinnati demonstrated greater weight loss in a group of women following a low-carbohydrate diet containing slightly more calories than a low-fat diet. Researchers from Harvard recently reported that subjects could eat 300 calories more per day on a low-carbohydrate diet than those following a low-fat diet and still lose the same amount of weight over a 12-week period. Where does this extra weight loss come from? It is known that dietary fat increases the production of mitochondrial uncoupling proteins, and there is some evidence that carbohydrate restriction might increase the proton leak across the mitochondrial membrane. Either or both of these actions would increase the loss of energy without reducing the caloric intake, but both these mechanisms as well as other theories need more study for clarification.

Clearly, low-carbohydrate diets give more weight loss bang for the calorie buck, but even if they didn’t, even if the weight loss were the same with low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets of equal caloric content, the low-carbohydrate diet would still be the diet of choice for other reasons. As everyone who has ever dieted knows, it’s not just the amount of weight that is lost that is important, but where this weight loss comes from. Everyone would agree that dieters would prefer to lose fat rather than lean tissue, which is precisely what happens with low-carbohydrate diets. Studies done at the University of Illinois, the University of Connecticut and other research institutions have shown that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lose more fat and less lean body tissue than those subjects following a calorically equivalent low-fat diet. In fact, in some cases, subjects on low-carbohydrate diets even gain lean body mass while losing fat on lowcarbohydrate diets, a finding virtually never observed in subjects following low-fat diets.

Cardiovascular Disease

It would seem a bad bargain to trade weight loss for a substantially increased risk for heart disease, which is the case that the PCRM makes in its report. While conceding that lowcarbohydrate diets are effective for bringing about weight loss, the PCRM cautions that these diets are “associated with increased risk of…heart disease.” A strange statement since the very studies the PCRM references as showing that the low-carbohydrate diets “facilitate modest short term weight loss” also demonstrate that low-carbohydrate diets improve lipid profiles and enhance insulin sensitivity in their followers, both changes that are known to substantially reduce the risk for heart disease. Virtually every study done on low-carbohydrate diets shows that weight loss is accompanied by either an improvement or no change in heart disease risk factors.

Few, if any, studies of low-carbohydrate diets show a worsening of heart disease risk factors. Most authorities agree that excess body fat is a risk factor for heart disease; so even the studies that show no improvement in other risk factors in subjects on low-carbohydrate diets actually do demonstrate a lowered cardiovascular disease risk implicit in the weight loss they bring about.

Osteoporosis

PCRM is on a little more solid footing when it claims that the Atkins Diet can cause bone loss, but PCRM misses the point entirely when considering the modified low-carbohydrate diet we and others recommend and that most people now follow. Studies going back almost a century describe the bone loss that can occur in people following a predominately meat diet. A diet high in meat alone creates a mild metabolic acidosis in the human body. This metabolic acidosis or excess acid created by the metabolism of meat has to be buffered or neutralized, which the body does by leaching calcium from the body’s storehouse of calcium, the bones. On a day-to-day basis the amount of calcium lost from the bones in this way is insignificant, but over a decades-long period of time can result in osteoporosis. Meat, however, is not the only food that produces such a response. Along with meat, the other two main offenders are grains and cheeses, especially hard cheeses. That’s correct: eating grains causes a metabolic acidosis just as meat does. When you consider the cheeseburger, a staple of the American diet, it’s easy to see why osteoporosis abounds. So, the PCRM correctly points out that the Atkins Diet, which in its original version recommended primarily meat and cheese, could cause osteoporosis if followed for the long term. But what about the modified low-carbohydrate diet? Does it do the same? Most plant foods, other than grains, bring about the opposite metabolic situation; whereas meat consumption causes a metabolic acidosis, green leafy and colorful vegetables and low-glycemic fruits bring about a metabolic alkalosis. The reduction in acid-producing grain consumption along with the alkaline response of the very plant foods recommended on the modified version of the low-carbohydrate diet offsets and neutralizes the acidity from the meat so that there is no net metabolic acidosis and no long term bone loss.

Impaired Renal Function

Fear of kidney damage has long been the bugaboo of people following low-carbohydrate diets. It’s doubtful that anyone pursuing a low-carbohydrate diet for any length of time hasn’t been told at least once that his or her kidneys are in danger. Here again the PCRM doesn’t disappoint; the group is right there leading the chorus. And PCRM doesn’t beat around the bush: “Highprotein diets are associated with reduced kidney function,” so says its report. No equivocation there. But once again PCRM has missed the boat. If we are to believe PCRM, we had better leave the buns on our burgers and eat every fry in the box to protect our kidneys. Studies from around the world have shown that the amount of protein contained in the modified version of the low-carbohydrate diet does not harm the kidneys. Even studies in patients with diabetic kidney disease show they will harm their kidneys more by increasing their carbohydrate intake and running up their blood sugars than they do by increasing their protein intake. In the late 1980s a group did an extensive study in Israel comparing the kidney function of people of all ages who ate a high meat diet with the kidney function of those on a vegetarian diet. The study showed that although both groups suffered a slight reduction in kidney function with age (it’s a sad fact of life—as we age function of just about everything including the kidneys decreases) the degree of loss of function was indistinguishable between the groups. Another recent study of kidney disease in diabetics performed at the University of California in San Francisco demonstrated that caloric reduction was a more potent force in protecting damaged kidneys than restriction of dietary protein. In fact, this study used a low-carbohydrate diet to restrict the calories. The whole idea that protein in the amounts eaten in modified low-carbohydrate diets damages kidneys is a vampire myth that refuses to die no matter how many stakes have been driven through its heart by a multitude of medical studies.

One last point on this subject, an admittedly anecdotal one, but illustrative. The one group of people who eat more protein than any other single group is serious body builders. These people eat anywhere from three times to eight times the amount of protein recommended in any lowcarb diet, and do so for long periods of time. What does this do to their kidneys? It must not do much because it’s never been reported in the medical literature. If the PCRM were correct about protein damaging kidneys there would be lines of body builders queuing up outside of dialysis centers all over the world.

Colorectal Cancer

The idea that meat intake definitively causes colon cancer is another vampire myth that refuses to die. Studies have indeed shown that increased intake of meat might cause colon cancer, but so have an equivalent number of studies shown that refined carbohydrates might cause colon cancer. The studies that the PCRM mustered for its report of course show an increased risk, otherwise PCRM wouldn’t have mustered them. When a situation exists where there are dueling studies it’s always prudent to look at a meta-analysis, which is a study of all the studies. Dr. Michael Hill, a British epidemiologist, performed and published such an analysis. He reported that overall there is no evidence that meat causes colon cancer, or any other cancer, for that matter, and stated that since many cancer-fighting nutrients are in meat, a reduction in meat intake might be more likely to increase cancer risk than reduce it.

By a curious coincidence the day the PCRM chose to release it’s report bashing low-carbohydrate diets was the same day pop star Michael Jackson surrendered to authorities in Santa Barbara County. Upon his release after posting bail the singer was reported by his attorney to have said: “Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons.” It remains to be seen how this aphorism applies to Mr. Jackson himself, but there is little doubt that the endurance of the modified lowcarbohydrate diet makes it the major contender for victory in the dietary marathon. As the data continues to accumulate and the studies increase in number, the efficacy of the modified lowcarbohydrate diet will finally be established to the satisfaction of all.

Until then, however, the PCRM and other such groups with a political agenda will continue their feeble attacks on a diet that has helped millions. The weakness of PCRM’s data even it admits publicly. Buried near the end of the PCRM report under the heading “Limitations,” PCRM writes: “The key limitation of this report is that adverse health effects were self-reported and are not likely to have the same prevalence in the general population. Data collection was Web-based and no attempt was made to assure a representative sample.” And yet the PCRM finds these data of a magnitude to require the “urgent need for monitoring” by our “public health authorities.” The PCRM report and the disproportionate amount media attention it garnered are merely a sprint.©2003 LowCarbiz/Michael R. Eades, M.D. and Mary Dan Eades, M.D.

What I find particularly enjoyable about this whole fiasco is that if you Google it, you find our rebuttal much more often than the PCRM idiocy that started it in the first place.  I guess it’s only fitting that it turned out to be a sprint indeed.

Hat tip to Google Alerts and to Cooking TLC