Monday, September 22, 2014

Eating Animals in the Modern World

Eating food in the modern world is very different than it was 100 years ago. As I'm sure we all know, our agricultural methods have changed significantly, and the food along with it. We've also been freaking out about fat for a good 20 years now, and it's time we made some connections.

Everyone these days is worried about inflammation, and for good reason. Inflammation is a major cause of heart disease and cancer- the current top two killers in our country. Long term inflammation can cause a large variety of chronic and/or life-threatening diseases. Yet, people either ignore it or take fish oil or turmeric, getting mild but generally disappointing results.

Chicken livers of various upbringings.
We all eat fat, because our evolution tells us its delicious (ie. full of energy). Hence, the popularity of bacon and butter. When I think about bacon and butter, I think about heart attacks... but is that association accurate? Well, it depends on your farmer.

Back in the day, animals ate grass and bugs, and some grain during the winter. However, grain was expensive and grassland was cheap in our large abundant country, so grazing was in. As a result, the butter was yellow, the milk was rich, and the meat was lean. They cooked with lard, spread their butter thick, ate steak, and were healthy as horses. Their animals were happy frolicking in the fields.

Then, we changed the diet and lifestyle of our food animals, and the fat composition and content of animals products changed. For example, there is much more cow mucous and cow antibodies present in cheap milk, because of the stress and antibiotics dairy cows are exposed to. Both types of molecules are triggering to human immune systems, causing more milk allergies, and inflammation... but that's another story. Basic message: the animals we raise in confinement and feed grain are unhealthy, and then we eat them (see above chicken liver comparison).

Grass fed on the left, grain-fed on the right. The yellow color is
from the anti-oxidant beta-carotene that comes from the grass.
Modern animal products contain a much higher ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 than they did back in the day. We also eat a lot of omega-6 rich oils like corn, soy, sunflower and peanut oils. Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, and omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. To balance inflammation, we need need to balance the amounts of these fats in our diet.

A 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is balanced, which means 4 times more omega-6 than omega-3. Most Americans are getting 20:1, which means more inflammation and more disease. And so, fish oil is flying off the shelves. Hemp, flax, rapeseed, and camellina oils are also high in omega-3, which decreases inflammation.

Supplementation of omega-3 alone may not be enough to balance "average" diets. Ruminate on this: There is about 4 to 6 grams of omega-6 in 13 potato chips (ratio of about 56:1). If a capsule of fish oil contains one gram of omega-3, then you have to eat one or two capsules of fish oil for every 13 chips to maintain your ratio of 4:1. If you add a grain-fed hamburger (ratio of about 7:1) to the meal, you have to take another capsule. That's only one meal. In other words, taking one capsule of fish oil every day (recommended dosage) is like trying to save a sinking ship with a teacup.

In addition to balancing your intake of omega 6 and omega 3, consuming pastured animal products like grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, and pastured chicken might help people see more fulfilling results.

Pastured animal products contain more anti-oxidants than conventionally raised ones. The darker color in the butter and eggs shows the difference in beta-carotene (vitamin A). Butter also contains a fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is also an antioxidant. Again, grass fed butter is 3-5 times higher in CLA than average butter. According to this guy, grass fed butter is in fact heart healthy. Though I haven't yet found a case for bacon, my connection between butter and heart attacks is shattered. I've started making pie again.

Which of these do you think is a pastured egg?
To sum it all up, eating grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products can balance inflammation. Balance is literally a key to healthy life.

The last thing that seems thoroughly overlooked so far by this run-down is money. Eating these products is expensive, and rightly so. Producing them takes care, land and time. For those of us who can't afford to eat grass fed steak every night, dedication to pastured animal products means eating less of them. This evening's dinner in our house was buckwheat noodle soup with sauteed pea greens... and no meat. We have 2-3 vegetarian nights a week, and sometimes more when funds are low. Not only does this allow us to afford higher quality stuff, but animal protein is a sometimes snack, not an every meal extravaganza.


Here are some things in my fridge that I recommend for yours:
Kerrygold grass-fed butter

Pastured eggs