It’s been well established that the North American diet is too carbohydrate-heavy.
Sugar overload and diet imbalance has wreaked health havoc leading to the increase of many preventable diseases: Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegenerative disease; diabetes; heart disease; obesity; and cancer.
How much is too much?
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American adult daily protein intake should be about six ounces; we are currently eating about twelve–double the recommended amount.
Let’s put this in perspective: the protein-rich diets stress that most of our daily calories (not volume) should come from protein and healthy fats but if we’re already eating too much protein, it seems this would be contradictory and not indicative of what people really eat–they are already eating a protein-heavy diet. Consider this, however: we all overeat.
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The adult obesity rate in the U.S. is thirty-five percent. It’s about the same for children. We’re not eating just too much carbohydrates or too much protein–we’re eating too much of everything!
The amount (nutritional content) of something we eat must be taken in context with its form. An avocado has more fat than a doughnut, however, there’s no question about which is (much more) nutritious.
We have to be mindful of the source of the proteins we eat. While lean, organic, appropriately-fed animal proteins are good, they shouldn’t be our only sources for protein, if only from a nutritional perspective.
There are many plant-based proteins that provide nutrients that animal proteins do not, in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (e.g., antioxidants).
The resources required to raise animals for food are astounding, as this infographic shows:
At the 1997 meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Sciences, Professor of Ecology at Cornell University David Pimentel remarked:
“7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population. If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million. More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans. Although grain production is increasing in total, the per capita supply has been decreasing for more than a decade. Clearly, there is reason for concern in the future.”
Other Meaty Considerations
So is the answer to cut meat out? It’s a personal choice, of course, but there are certainly very compelling reasons to at least cut down.
There is a place in our diets for small amounts of animal protein that have been sustainably and humanely raised–but certainly not twelve ounces a day of it. One six (or less)-ounce portion or two smaller portions are nutritious and will fill you.
You can vary the source of protein with plant-based alternatives: quinoa, legumes, nuts and nut butters, tempeh, and seeds are all protein-rich and don’t take years to grow or require as many natural resources as agricultural animals.
One thing is certain: the American diet is out of whack and we need to whip it back into shape for our health and our planet.