My main interest in preventive health has always been diet. As we all know, a diet that includes five or more serving of fruits and vegetables a day is essential. In addition, all or most calories from carbohydrates should come from whole grains. One should limit the intake of saturated fats and completely avoid sugar and hydrogenated fat. Simple enough to grasp. However, the questions of what fat and protein to consume are a little less well understood by most. Everybody has heard that fish contains quality protein and good, health fat. However, much fish is farmed and the diets fed to such fish typically do not produce healthy fat profiles. Wild fish would then seem the way to go. However, most wild fish with healthy fat profiles have amounts of mercury in them that preclude eating enough to get adequate amounts of the good fats, which are known as omega-3. In fact, wild salmon is just about the only fish with a excellent fat profile that can be eaten freely. Most others must be eaten no more than four times a week. Others such as tilapia are safe, but have little or no omega-3. So what to do?
It still seems little known that mammals that are 100% grass-fed have omega ratios almost as good as salmon. They also contain no mercury. Many animals are thought to be grass-fed or have labels claiming they are. For example, many people believe lamb is always 100% grass-fed. This does not appear to be the case. The same is often mentioned about buffalo. However, most buffalo live the last 3 – 4 months of their lives eating grain. Even though they are grass fed for much of their lives, their fat profile is still not ideal. A healthy fat profile has a 4:1 (or lower) ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Commercial beef is over 20:1. So-called grass-fed buffalo that is grain-finished is about 11:1. 100% grass-fed beef hovers around 4:1. Same with 100% grass-fed lamb.
What’s the fuss about this ratio? Well, an abundance of scientific evidence shows that a ratio much higher than 4:1 promotes inflammatory processes in the body. This physiological response appears to play a much larger role in most major health problems (cancer and heart disease being the most prominent) than other factors often implicated by natural health enthusiasts (including things like the use of pesticides or antibiotics in animal husbandry). Grain-feeding is what causes this skewing in all farm animals. Grain-feeding has been growing all throughout the 20th century and became predominant around World War II. This is the same period in which heart disease and cancer exploded in the population. Unlike other factors like pesticide use, the damage done by eating animals with skewed omega ratios is extremely well-documented epidemiologically, and the biochemical mechanisms as to why this is so are now well-understood. So what should we eat?
Organic food is safer in that it reduces exposure to toxins like pesticides, but it is only less bad, not really more healthy unless the animals are grass-fed. Eating organic corn still leads to a skewed fat ratio in the animals that consume it. Eating vegetarian (or only eating skinless chicken as one’s main source of protein) avoids the bad fats, but does not provide the good fats. This is probably the reason that vegetarians are healthier than the typical meat-eater. However, as Weston Price showed in his landmark studies in the early 20th century, the healthiest people worldwide were those ate a varied whole-foods, yet omnivorous, diet that contained animals products that were derived from naturally-raised animals.
Vegetarian advocates like to believe that one can eat nuts and seeds high in monounsaturates and omega-3 to get the ideal nutrition. However, while monounsaturates in nuts and seeds and olive oil are indeed healthy, vegetable sources of omega-3 do not contain the key fatty acids necessary for human health. There is really no way to get enough from sources like flaxseed oil. From Wikipedia:
There are several vital omega-3 fatty acids. Most vegetable sources contain only alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). But the human body also requires eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The human body can convert ALA to EPA, and EPA to DHA, but the efficiency, and sufficiency for optimal health, of this conversion is controversial. Studies have found EPA and DHA levels in vegans to be about two thirds lower than in omnivorous people.
Humans clearly evolved to be omnivorous. In fact, homo sapiens inherited the control of fire for cooking from a predecessor species, homo erectus, over 500,000 years ago! Thus, modern humans probably have never been vegetarians, nor are (as is now well-known) any of our closest primate courses. Vegetarians, even those on a whole-foods diet, will invariably end up with a skewed fat profile in their diet, at best.
The evidence is literally overwhelming that humans should eat at least small amounts of animal products for optimal health. And, one of the best sources appears to be grass-fed mammals. True pastured chicken is good, but not as easy to find￼￼ as pastured￼￼beef or lamb. A great resource for accessing the current research and finding a supplier who can guarantee you a grain-free product is the Eat Wild Web site. Happy hunting. 🙂