Nigel’s diet… why so much meat?

Thanks to Nigel there was an explosion of interest in my blog post last week – and with it, a lot of questions around including certain foods in my recommendations. One I’d specifically like to address is the inclusion of animal protein (or red meat) in (what some viewed as) large amounts. Now for those who have been reading my blog for a while, this will be covering old ground as I know I’ve talked about elements of this previously. However Nigel’s documentary series has sparked much more interest in what to eat and, as the questions I got suggest, a lot of this information is new ground for many – so I’m happy to delve further into some of these issues and explain why I encourage the inclusion of red meat in the diet.

The first point to make here is that a whole-food/paleo diet (as I recommended Nigel eat) is not a meat heavy diet – it’s good to dispel that myth immediately. Sure, some doing ‘paleo’, include large amounts of meat at every meal at the expense of vegetables; however that is not what most people I know do. In fact, I eat more vegetables than some vegetarians I know. The inclusion of small amounts of meat or animal protein at each meal helps stabilise blood sugars and prevents overeating due to energy crashes. In addition, these foods contain complete proteins that are essential for the repair and rebuild of musculoskeletal tissue, they provide (amongst others) iron, zinc, iodine (fish) which are important for over 200 metabolic processes in the body important in brain, gut, liver and thyroid health, and deliver important antioxidants such as co-enzyme q 10 for heart health (and great skin!) Alongside these are the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K) and essential fats (omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and saturated fats) and cholesterol that form the backbone of many hormones and messenger enzymes that are responsible for delivering instructions throughout the body.

I’ve taken a broad-brush approach to the many benefits of including animal protein in the diet, but one thing I want to point out is that it’s not the eye fillet steak and the boneless, skinless, (tasteless) chicken breast that I’m talking about – the meat that is closest to the bone is the most healthy meat. Yes it’s fattier – but that’s a good thing (see above re: essential fats). There is beginning to be a trend of nose-to-tail eating now, making many of the offcuts of meat that were often binned now available to be purchased and used at the fraction of the price of an eye fillet steak (if people are willing to try them!). In New Zealand we have predominantly grass fed meat, which means we are largely protected from meat that has been grain fed. Grain fed cattle produces meat with a higher fat content but its fatty acid profile is not ideal – higher in omega 6 fats and higher intramuscular triglycerides (pro-inflammatory). The grain affects the health of the cattle, with more risk of infection and harmful bacteria which have downstream consequences to the quality of the meat we find in our food supply. While in NZ cattle are ‘finished off’ with grain, after a Twitter conversation I had the other week I believe the health consequences of this for us are negligible – though am happy to stand corrected!

And then there’s the issue of meat and cancer. And meat and heart disease. And meat and [insert health condition here that suggests you are a medium-rare steak away from certain death]. The problem with the media snippets most people are exposed to is that the finer (read: important) details are overlooked in amongst the rush to print that meat is as bad for you as smoking. Well (gasp) it’s not. Firstly, any research that suggests meat is adversely linked to any of the aforementioned conditions is association, not causational. These research studies cannot determine cause and effect and are not designed to do so. Secondly, many of the large trials asked participants to report their retrospective meat intake over a 6-10 year period once, in a questionnaire format (many people I know struggle to tell me what they ate last week). Thirdly, the distinction between actual meat and that which is found in a hamburger (for example) or even a meat sandwich in some cases is not made. There is a vast difference in quality between a rump steak and a sizzler (not to mention the latter is only around 45 percent meat and isn’t legally allowed to be called a sausage). People seldom eat a hamburger without a bun (this was before the advent of an ‘oxygen’ burger from Burger Fuel) and lumping a person who eats burgers five times per week (and upsizing with the fries and Coke) in the same category as someone who dines on eye fillet at a Pete Evan’s paleo restaurant five nights a week is problematic. Of course, I’m speculating here as to the overall diet quality of participants – but that’s all I can do as these important details pertaining to other nutrients known to affect health (i.e. processed refined carbohydrates, industrial seed oils) aren’t known. Many other lifestyle factors that contribute to poor health (such as a low level of physical activity, smoking, higher alcohol intake) are also seen in those with the highest intake of red meat and in some instances there wasn’t a linear relationship between meat intake and health (or death….) with the death rate falling in between those with the lowest intake and those with the highest intake (when split into groups according to overall consumption patterns.) These details mean little however when it comes to health reporting in the media. Nothing sells like sensationalism, and if we can draw parallels between red meat consumption and smoking then you don’t even need consumers to read the article to guarantee you’d have made an impact. Again, this is my Women’s Weekly overview; for a far more eloquent and in-depth critique of this, go to Zoe Harcombe’s review or Jamie Scott’s blog post discussing this issue.

Another big pushback against the inclusion of meat is from an ethical and sustainability perspective. Now I’m not at all suggesting that people who choose not to consume animal products based on their moral standpoint should reconsider. This is a judgement call I have no business in commenting on. However for others, thankfully the availability of free range meat now accessible at relatively cheaper cost is increasing. Demand also affects supply, and the more we ask for free range meat and eggs, the more the price will be driven down (especially considering its not essential to be choosing eye fillet for every meal). Another argument against encouraging meat consumption is that it’s not sustainable for the environment, with more demand for meat increasing the fossil fuel used to produce it, the water usage required and an increase in the methane emissions (and the carbon footprint). If we put it into perspective, most of what we do has a carbon footprint. Grain-feeding cattle may (or may not) be more resource intensive (and have a larger footprint) given what is necessary to grow the grains to be fed to the cattle as opposed to raising cows on a grass field. And promoting a vegetarian diet based on this argument is flawed given the resources required to feed the world on vegetables.

emissions

Turn your heating off a put on a jersey instead.

So that’s my stance on including animal protein (and red meat) in the diet. There are many reasons why people choose not to include red meat in their diet – but if they are based on optimising nutrient intake, protection from later chronic illness, or from a sustainability perspective, then perhaps reconsidering it wouldn’t go amiss.

 

Ancestral Health Symposium 2014: Part 1

So I’m writing this from San Francisco. Berkley to be exact. It is 5.24pm and Caryn and I have made it back to our dorm rooms at the end of the Ancestral Health Symposium and taking some down time before heading out to dinner with the rest of the NZ contingent to have a debrief over dinner and a well deserved glass of wine. I had prepared two blog posts actually – to put up on line that were somewhat related to the AHS (as in, they are a summary of an excellent talk given by Peter Attia on cholesterol that he gave at the AHS in 2012). However, given I have half an hour in between now and dinner I thought I would quickly jot down some highlights of the trip so far. As you know, I’m neither systematic nor logical in how I collect my thoughts, and this blog post will reflect that. These are merely some of the many things that have piqued my interest.

Some key take home points from three of the first speakers on Day one of the conference:

Dan Pardi – creator of Dan’s Plan talked about the integration of technology to help people stay motivated in their health and wellbeing goals. Now, this concept is nothing new – anyone with a pedometer or fitbit (or anyone that tracks…anything) will be familiar with these tools – however, for some, the idea that we can use technology as a way to advance health through an evolutionary health model seems somewhat contrary to the goal of getting back to basics that many advocate. this talk was a good reminder that ancestral health is not about trying to emulate the environment of our ancestors and eschewing technology – it’s about finding ways of enabling us to meet these health goals.

Grace Liu, a researcher in the gut health area talked about how our changing environment has affected the diversity of the bacteria in our gut and how this has impacted on health.  Some challenges included:

  • the introduction of agriculture;
  • our decreased exposure to mud and manure;
  • electricity and the invention of refrigeration eliminating the need to ferment our food in order to preserve it;
  • using antibiotics to to fatten livestock; and for infants
  • being born by caesarean and the increasing use of formula all presenting challenges for the growth of that bacteria.

Grace’s recommendations for people who want to help preserve gut health by increasing the diversity of the bacteria were to:

  1. Include fermented foods
  2. Include resistant starch (a type of starch that is used as a fuel for the bacteria in our gut, and found either in strains of fibre or particular foods such as potatoes and unripe bananas)
  3. Exercise
  4. Lifestyle (manage stress, make time for meditation, minimise environmental toxins in all forms)

Denise Minger, known predominantly for her critique of the China Study and author of Death by Food Pyramid (a great read of the history of the dietary guidelines) gave a somewhat surprising talk regarding the plant based versus a carnivore diet for overall health outcomes. Most people would have expected the obvious outcome that anyone improving their diet will experience health benefits because the baseline diet was so bad. Not so. In fact, what Denise found was the the very antithesis of the paleo approach to diet was very successful at improving health outcomes for people that were long lasting and sustainable. She first investigated Walter Kempner’s work on the Rice Diet. A typical day’s intake looking something like this:
Breakfast: 1 c brown rice, 1 small glass of orange juice, 2 figs and unsweetened coffee
Lunch: 1c brown rice, 1 c stewed tomatoes, raw carrots and 1 glass skimmed milk
Dinner: 1.5 c Russian Pilaf, 1 bowl mixed carrots, cabbage, cucumber, ½ c fresh fruit cocktail

Based on 2400 Cal per day, 350g rice, unlimited juice and fruit and totaling between 100-400g/d of sugar, this diet was successful in reversing kidney disease and enabling people to regenerate insulin production. An analysis of the Pritikin diet illustrated that it was useful in reducing tissue attoxia (lack of oxygen in the tissue) and finally Esselstyn, famous for the diet that helped reverse heart disease in a small group of patients that had suffered a coronary event, has very recently published a trial that found heart disease symptoms reversed in 198 patients following the diet for three years. I’ve tried to find the corresponding research but have only found this white paper. Further, though one may argue that no one could stay on these diet plans for the rest of their life (and, indeed, Kempner – it was revealed – used to whip his clients if they fell off the diet bandwagon) both the Esselstyn and the Kempner diet’s appear to enable people to reverse their health issues for the long term – even when returning to a more sustainable diet. Denise points out that the health benefits seen on a very low fat diet (both of these were 10% of their calories coming from fat) are very much the same as those on a very high fat diet (80% fat) and that low fat studies (at around 30%) aren’t low fat enough to show the actual health benefits. While this is all very well and good – what is the point of following such an extreme diet approach if it isn’t something that can be followed in the long term? Or even in the short term? I don’t know if the corporal punishment approach would go down that well with my clients. But, then, I’ve not tried it. At any rate, this certainly provided food for thought – even if that food is rather bland and wholly unsatisfying.

And – dinner time. Short and sweet (well, shorter by about 200 words), you can see from the little I’ve provided you with, that there is undoubtedly more to follow to debrief you on the latest research going on in the ancestral health field. Not only that, but I will have to post a blog about the food experience to date on the trip also as Caryn and I make our way from San Fran to LA. That in itself is as interesting as the conference for the likes of Caryn and I.

A foodie's delight. Not necessarily that new. Or that different, but just... in a different location. Though have to say, the fruit is massive here.

A foodie’s delight. Not necessarily that new. Or that different, but just… in a different location. Though have to say, the fruit is massive here.