Last summer I got a bit of a wake-up call when a health screening pointed out that my blood sugar level was far too high. In my experience, the medical profession allows no room for error on this one. I was dubbed diabetic, immediately, and got to learn more than I wanted to know about glucose, insulin, my pancreas, diabetic diet principals and intentionally poking holes in my fingers.
I know none of you read this column to keep up with Steve Meyer’s health status. Until recently, it would not have been a very pretty story. But I offer this as the prelude to a proposition: The U.S. animal protein sector has before it a great opportunity if we are bold enough to grasp it. Allow me to explain.
As is true for many men, and probably a good number of women of my age, the scales have been telling a sad tale for many years. In my case, it was nothing new. I think I was born overweight. I do not remember a time when I would have been light enough to score a “normal” body mass index (BMI). Of course, I’m pretty confident that the only people who can score a normal BMI are those semi-anorexic marathon runners whose lanky bodies are moved by some unseen propulsion system. But I’m not trying to bash the BMI system, flawed as it may be.
Last summer’s diagnosis, though, certainly got my attention and I knew that the number one thing I could do was lose some weight. I went through the education programs and listened to a nurse and then a dietician rail against carbohydrates and fat. The former was quite understandable. But the latter was not when the challenge was purely blood glucose level. The reason for the fat-phobia, of course, was the correctly-placed emphasis on weight loss. Lower fat almost always means lower calories. But I also knew it may not mean fewer pounds.
So I went on the “Meyer” diet. I faithfully paid attention to carbohydrate exchange units per the normal diabetes diet recommendations. But I decided to apply what I had learned in studying the Atkins diet a few years back and not worry much at all about fat intake as long as it was good fats and came with protein. I have basically eaten meat as desired, cut carbs dramatically, eaten high-protein snacks like nuts and cheese and made sure I ate less at meals, but snacked whenever hungry. I also have made it a point to eat more vegetables (I know some great new ways to fix kale, collards, asparagus and squash) and, unlike the Atkins diet, have eaten fruit often as both a snack and part of my meals.
The results have been great! I went from an ashamed-to-admit-it 295 lb. in July to 272 lb. in January and 267 lb. last week. My A1C (a hemoglobin test that is the gold standard for long-term blood sugar levels) went from 8.9 in July to 7.5 in October and 5.8 in January. That number should be less than 7. My cholesterol is down from 185 in July to 166, the lowest it has ever been. Total triglycerides, which have always been my bugaboo and the number that indicated I was “pre-diabetic” a few years ago, dropped from 201 to 117. The critical value is 200. The only blood lipid number that I still have on the wrong side of things is high-density lipids or good cholesterol which, at 36, is up from 34 in July, but still below the critical level of 40.
I am not sharing all of this medical history to brag, but to point out my success using animal proteins as part of a weight- and diabetes-fighting diet. And every time I tell the story, I run into others who have done the same thing, including the dramatic improvement in blood lipid levels. And there are 30 million of us diabetics – and that’s no small “market segment.”
This approach to diet works and the meat industry needs to capitalize on it.
Why might this play better this time around? It is my observation that the medical profession is far more supportive of the concept now than it was in 2002 or so when the Atkins diet became popular. I was surprised when my doctor listened to what I was doing and heartily endorsed it, saying, “The problem for diabetes, obesity and even heart disease has never been meat, it is carbohydrates and the huge quantities of them that we consume.” He indicated that he is far from alone in that belief and the press contains frequent reports supporting his statement.
Will it overcome the animal rights movement and their campaign to eliminate animal agriculture? Probably not, but it will help. Wouldn’t it be better to enter the discussion from the point of having a product that improves health rather than one that does not? There would still be opposition, but it eliminates the “and-it’s-not-even-good-for-you” argument that usually follows the animal rights or environmental opposition.
How can it be done? First and foremost, the entire sector needs to be “ALL IN!” I know we weren’t united in support of high-protein regimens promoted in the early 2000s. Part of that reticence was due to opposition from the medical community, but as I mentioned, that is waning. I don’t think the same is true of the dietician and “food police” communities, so we must stand strong and together in those environs.
It’s a big challenge, but the time may be right. I know it has worked for me. I’m wearing clothes that had enjoyed an eight-year vacation in the back of my closet. I’m climbing stairs much more easily. My back feels better than it has in years. And I’ve done it all while still enjoying many of the foods that I really like. Now if I can just figure out a better way to enjoy cheesecake, biscuits and gravy and German chocolate cake. There is a cost to anything, I suppose.