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How to Eat Meat

In 2003, a remarkable article appeared in the journal Lipids, titled “Fat, fishing patterns, and health among the Bardi people of north Western Australia.” According to the authors, the Bardi people hunted and fished selectively in order to obtain meat and fish containing as much fat as possible.

To the Bardi, foods lacking in fat were considered “rubbish.” If a kangaroo was too lean, they threw it away. They fished only for specific species of fish, and at the right time of year, to harvest only those with the most fat lining the intestines. Then they painstakingly removed the fat, melted it in a shell or tin can set over a fire, and drank the fat or used it as a dip for the fish.

Spring tides were the time for harvesting rock oysters—at other times of the year the oysters were “rubbish!” Researchers analyzing the oysters found that during spring tides, they were four times richer in fat. Moreover, they found that the fat from fish guts, fish livers, oysters, and turtle meat was predominantly saturated fat.

An aversion to lean meat seems to occur universally among non-industrialized people.

The Importance of Dietary Fat: A Historical View

In his book “The Fat of the Land,” explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson notes that the Eskimo and northern Indians hunted game such as buffalo, elk, and caribou selectively— preferring the older animals because, over the years, those animals built up a slab of fat along the back that could weigh forty to fifty pounds. Another twenty to thirty pounds of highly saturated fat surrounded the kidneys.

According to Stefansson, the natives saved the fat, sometimes by rendering, stored it in the bladder or large intestine, and ate it with dried or smoked lean meat, the most notable example being pemmican, which is made with lean meat pounded to a powder and rendered fat. Stefansson estimates that fat contributed up to 80 percent of total calories in the diets of the northern Indians.

When game was so scarce that the American Indians were forced to consume only small animals like rabbits, they suffered from “rabbit starvation.”

Stefansson wrote:

“The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate, in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger.”

“This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source—beaver, moose, fish—will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort.

“If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the North. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.”

Samuel Hearne traveled with the northern Canadian Indians for several years between 1769 and 1772. In his diaries, he noted that the natives always ate meat with fat, describing the practice of selective eating: When game was plentiful, they “frequently killed several merely for the tongues, marrow and fat.” At one point, they found plentiful musk ox and bison, “… many of which the Indians killed, but finding them lean, only took some of the bulls’ hides for shoe soals [sic].”

We find the same emphasis on getting enough fat in Africa. In “Fat of the Land,” Stefansson quotes his colleague Dr. Harley, writing in 1944, who noted that:

“Meat hunger is striking and constant among the tribes I have contacted. Although meat of any kind was in great demand the favorite cuts included brisket of beef with the fat and cartilages; hogs head, brains and fat; the liver of any animal; the hands and feet of monkeys, because of the fat content; and the skin and subcutaneous fat of a wart hog. Pig skin is never saved for rawhide and leather. It is too valuable as food and is eaten after singeing off the hair, and prolonged boiling. Plump cow skin is similarly eaten. A lean cow skin will be saved for rawhide and leather.”

“Wild meat in Liberia is seldom fat,” wrote Dr. Harley.

“Certain animals which normally store more fat than others are preferred for that reason. These included the giant rat, called ‘possum;’ the domestic dog, fattened by the Kpelle people especially for eating; the cow that has turned out to be sterile and so has never suckled a calf, but grown fat instead; porcupines; wart hogs; snakes; leopards in their prime, which are very plump and fat; and snakefish, prized because very fat.”

Why would peoples as far flung as Australia, North America, and Africa make a habit of seeking out animals with fat? They knew from experience that a diet of lean meat would make them sick. In modern times, we describe this as protein poisoning.

According to Healthline, “Protein poisoning is when the body takes in too much protein with not enough fat and carbohydrate for a long period of time. Other names for this are ‘rabbit starvation’ or ‘mal de caribou’ …  When excessive amounts are consumed, it can put the body at risk for increased levels of ammonia, urea, and amino acids in the blood.”

Modern science recognizes the symptoms of protein poisoning as nausea, diarrhea, malaise, headache, weakness, fatigue, and in extreme cases death—just as Stefansson described almost seventy years ago.

Does the USDA Have It Wrong?

And yet, what constitutes the centerpiece of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans? Lean meat (including skinless chicken breasts) and nonfat or low-fat milk.

The Guidelines admonish us to keep fat consumption (from vegetable oils) at 30 percent of calories or less and to get our remaining calories in the form of carbohydrates (carbs). Some extreme diets—such as the paleo diet—advocate eating lots of lean meat with no carbs!

While including carbs in the diet may forestall the danger of protein poisoning, this strategy does not address the other risk of eating lean meat exclusively—or of eating any kind of protein (skim milk, egg whites, protein powders) without fat—and by that I mean animal fat.

That risk is vitamin A depletion.

When we eat protein, the body releases vitamin A from the liver. Researchers posit “a very close relation between vitamin A and protein synthesis and between dietary protein intake and vitamin A.” When malnourished children, deficient in vitamin A and protein are fed protein in the form of skim milk, vitamin A levels in the blood initially rise as the liver releases vitamin A but then fall again as the liver becomes depleted.

A very efficient way to deplete your body of this essential nutrient is to eat protein without any fat—just what the USDA recommends. In several instances, feeding of skim milk powder to malnourished children caused them to become blind—the most severe consequence of vitamin A deficiency.

In the days before we let the government tell us how to eat, Americans consumed chicken with gravy made from the fat—and never thought to avoid the skin. We drank whole milk and enjoyed butter and cream; we ate plenty of eggs and added extra yolks to dressings and sauces; lean meat was dressed in cream sauces or simply garnished with a pat of butter. We ate lobster with drawn butter, and fish in cream sauces. Meat just tasted better that way, and our meals were satisfying. Now we know why: Animal fats like butter, cream, egg yolks, and poultry fat provide the vitamin A we need to utilize the protein in our food. And we were a healthier America.

It’s time to return to the eating habits of our grandparents, secure in the knowledge that the foods that are the most delicious are also the most nutritious.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.

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