Optimistic Futurist: Serious food fight needed

  • Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2014 12:37 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, April 20, 2014 12:52 a.m.

As I scan the trends that will shape our future, several pose unique moral issues which create a tension between some definitions of “progress.” In some ways, these issues seem designed to challenge us to examine basic assumptions about the society we have created and what kind we want in the future.

In the health-care arena, doctors are pointing us toward some statistics which show several unusual epidemics are underway. Our current path is not sustainable.

When one hears the word “epidemic,” one often thinks of a communicable disease, like measles, polio, HIV or cholera. People get sick because they connect to a germ that takes root in their bodies. When re sick, they pass the disease germs along to others. We eliminate these diseases by quarantining the patient, widespread vaccination, etc.

There is another definition of epidemic — when a disease is spreading rapidly through the society, but not by spreading germs to one another. Examples include obesity (up 200 percent since 1990), autism (up 600 percent over the last 20 years), diabetes (up 400 percent since 1980, expected to double again by 2025). These are all very expensive epidemics. These diseases are growing not because of contact with germs, but because some underlying circumstance has changed.

Part of the cause of these explosions in illness can be traced to changes in our food supply — which we can fix if we have the political will.

It used to be that cattle grazed on pastures eating grass, which has a lot of good nutrients in it. The meat fed our families incorporated that good stuff and increased human health.

Over the years, farmers realized that cattle would grow faster, and more profitably, if they ate grass for nine or ten months, and then were penned up for the last three or four months of their life. During this time the cows were fed (pay attention — this is important) 95 percent of their diet in grains like corn and soy instead of grass. They gained even more weight, faster, and more profitably.

Some very important nutrients are lost when cows are fed grain instead of grass. The bottom line is that our meat production system is contributing to the epidemics.

This can be illustrated by looking at changes in nutrients in meat since the 1960s, called the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Think of it like the amount of salt and pepper you put on a steak. Too much of one or the other is not a good thing — you want the right proportions.

Omega-3s are special kinds of fats that are helpful to you. The list of good things they do is astonishing: lower cholesterol, reduce rheumatoid arthritis, reduce depression, reduce ADHD in some people and protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. In addition, they are thought to reduce inflammation, increase brain activity, and protect against stroke.

Omega 6, on the other hand, is good for you only up to some point, after which it is harmful. The key to a healthy diet is for you to eat one “6” for every one “3.” Our modern America diet contains around 16 “6’s” for every “3”!

Corn and soy help the cow create a lot of omega-6 and very little omega-3. Grain-fed beef has a ratio of 14 omega-6 for every one omega-3. Grass-fed beef has a ratio of 2:1 — much better for you.

So here is the dilemma: If we use “modern” methods to raise beef, we contribute to a decline in public health.

This plays out in public policy. Under current law, farmers who raise corn and soy will get federal subsidies of around $45 billion over the next 10 years. Farmers who raise grass-fed beef get nothing. So taxpayers are subsidizing a food system that increases illness.

You can help your own family by reducing the amount of omega-6 they eat. The main culprit is soybean and corn oil, often used in salad dressing and baked goods, as well as most “junk food.” Cut back on those, and you will make your family healthier.

Solving this problem will not be easy, because it lives in the zone were profit and “common good” collide. Perhaps those favoring lowering health care costs can share a cup of coffee with those trying to lower taxes and find common ground. It is a place to start.

To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money- and life-saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.

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