These two foods get a boatload of press these days. But consumer beware:
Many times reporters and “nutrition experts” repeat the same
old mantra over and over. For years you heard eggs were bad, then the
experts changed their mind. For years they said a high carbohydrate diet
was good, then it was bad. And so on. Doesn’t anyone really know?
Yes, but it is hard to cut through all the marketing hype.
Machete in hand, lets get down to what you need to know about red meat
Salmon is supposedly chock-full of healthy omega-3s, and you can’t
eat enough of it. Right?
Most of the salmon you get in restaurants is farmed because it is cheaper
than wild caught. Since September 2004, U.S. supermarkets have been required
to label salmon as farmed or wild. Many supermarkets carry just farmed
salmon because the wild caught can cost $20 a pound or more.
What are you getting when eat farmed salmon?
Where does the chemical contamination come from? Some, like the PBDEs,
have become ubiquitous in the environment. Others tend to be concentrated
in the food fed to farmed fish.
Farmed fish are typically fed a diet of fish flakes made from corn, cereal
grains, oil, ground up fish - and sometimes ground up cow parts - plus
additives like red dye to give them a stronger orange color.
Farmed fish are raised in the watery equivalent of a feedlot; they call
them aquafarms and there is much discussion about how aquafarming may
be polluting the oceans and therefore the wild fish as well. What we do
know is that the crowded conditions require farmed fish to be dosed with
antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild
kin. Sulfa drugs and tetracycline used to prevent infectious disease epidemics
are added to food pellet mixes.
In the wild, salmon absorb carotenoids from eating pink krill. In the aquafarm,
their color comes from canthaxanthin, a synthetic pigment manufactured
by Hoffman-La Roche.5
It is an unnatural diet which causes the farmed salmon’s omega-3
levels to drop way off. And here is a very important piece of information
to take away from this discussion: farm-raised fish contain much higher
amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats than wild fish.
Inflammation plays a big role in many of today’s chronic illnesses including
arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, stroke, lupus and cancer.
When you have an injury or when germs get to you, the body responds with
inflammation to sanitize and heal. Nature designed inflammation to be
a valuable coping mechanism for those few occasions you would need it
in life. Mankind was originally a hunter-gatherer society and he routinely
ate lots of omega-3s which kept inflammation in check.
But today, we eat far too many omega-6s. How many salads did you eat in
the last 20 years thinking you were doing a good thing? Chances are, the
salad dressing was made with a vegetable oil and these oils are naturally
high in omega-6s. So, too, are many fried foods and convenience foods.
So our omega-6/omega-3 balance is way off. Most researchers agree that
if you have been eating the Standard American Diet, you have an omega-6/omeg-3
ration of 20:1. The hunter-gatherers of long ago had something much closer
to 2:1 or 1:1.
When your body is constantly irritated, there is a proliferation of white
blood cells that eventually starts to attack organs and tissues. Inflammation
takes on a life of its own and becomes a permanent condition. This type
of chronic inflammation often has no outward symptoms that conventional
medicine will detect for you. You may never know you have problem until
one day you are diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or suffer a heart
attack. But in the meantime your body looks around for something to help
you - and it chooses
Inflammation at work inside your blood vessels is a bit like hitting a
golf ball in a tile bathroom. Lots of nicks. The body says, “Quick,
we need Band-Aids here, send out the nurse!” And the nurse arrives
in the form of cholesterol to lay a soothing layer over those nicks. Now
you have a situation where all those omega-6s you ate in your salmon and
salad dressing are raising your cholesterol level. Too often, conventional
medicine prescribes a statin drug to merely stifle the body’s ability
to produce cholesterol. Better to look at why the body needs so much cholesterol
and lessen the need.
Red meat is supposedly bad for you because it is full of saturated fat
and “gives you cholesterol.” There are two very fundamental
facts to keep in mind:
Those who blamed beef for health problems overlooked the implications of
feeding of grain to the animals we eat - red meat, fowl, and fish. Grain
causes a dramatic reduction of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet.
You could say saturated fat is a modern man-made creation. The much-reviled
but naturally-occurring saturated fat found in red meat and eggs is what
mankind has eaten for centuries. It has no strong links with disease,
while industrially produced trans fats do.
Cholesterol levels are also wrongly blamed on naturally occurring saturated fats.
Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids or arachidonic acid, like farm-raised
salmon or commercially raised beef, irritate the lining of blood vessels.
This triggers an inflammation response and the body sends white blood
cells and other immune fighters to the scene.
As early as 1906, Upton Sinclair’s classic book
The Jungle made many people realize the shameful way in which animals raised for
human consumption meet the end of their lives. Some would say it hasn’t
gotten much better.
In 2006, Michael Pollen gave us a first-hand account of a modern day feedlot
and its impact on human health in his wonderful book,
The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
“Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight
than cows raised on a richer diet, and the modern meat industry has devoted
itself to shortening a beef calf’s allotted time on earth. What
gets a steer from 80 to 1,100 pounds in 14 months is enormous quantities
of corn, protein and fat supplements, and an arsenal of new drugs. …
The feedlot is a city built upon America’s mountain of surplus corn
- or rather, corn plus the various pharmaceuticals a ruminant must have
if it is to tolerate corn. … Cows fed corn get fat quickly. Yet
this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains
more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals
fed grass. A growing body of research suggests that many of the health
problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn fed
beef. Modern day hunter-gathers who subsist on wild meat don’t have
our rates of heart disease. In the same way ruminants are ill adapted
to eating corn, humans in turn may be poorly adapted to eating ruminants
that eat corn. … The economic logic behind corn is unassailable,
and on a factory farm there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and
corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market.
Of course it was the same industrial logic - protein is protein - that
made feeding rendered cow parts back to cows seem like a sensible thing
to do, until scientists figured out that this practice was spreading mad
cow disease. … Compared to all the other things we feed cattle
these days, corn seems positively wholesome. And yet it too violates the
biological or evolutionary logic of bovine digestions. … Virtually
all of the cows are sick. Between 15 and 30 percent of feedlot cows are
found at slaughter to have abscessed livers; Dr. Mel told me that in some
pens the figure runs as high as 70 percent. … Most of the antibiotics
today end up in animals feed. … In this new man-made environment,
new acid-resistant strains of E. coli have evolved. … The problem
with these bugs is that they can shake off the acid bath in our stomachs
- and then go on to kill us.”6
Pollen does a very artful job of connecting the dots that reveal how the
health of these animals is inextricably linked to human health. A growing
body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated
with eating beef are really problems with corn fed beef. As Pollen says,
“In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans
may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals.”
“Nutrition experts” blame the rise in heart disease on red
meat because of saturated fat. But other cultures who ate meat from grass-fed
cattle didn’t know what heart disease was. Red meat is not bad,
grain-fed, commercial cattle with 20:1 ratios of omega-6s to omega-3s that are the problem.
A landmark study reported by Harvard researchers in 2010 [i] found that
eating processed meat such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats,
is associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher
risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any
higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed
red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.
Processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more
nitrate preservatives. "This suggests that differences in salt and
preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart
disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed
red meats," the study's authors wrote. Dietary sodium (salt)
is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease.
In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote atherosclerosis
and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase risk of heart
disease and diabetes
For the first time, the research establishment is clearly being told they
need to study natural meats and adulterated meats as two different entities.
You can't paint 'em all with the same brush of blame.
Additionally, conditions in big feedlots are also breeding grounds for
E.coli and superbugs, especially in the resulting
hamburger where a single animal infected with E. coli can contaminate tens of thousands
of pounds of ground beef.
The hormones fed cattle for growth are also very suspect. It is thought
children are entering puberty earlier than ever before because of all
the hormones they consume from commercial cattle and chicken.
Corn fed, commercial beef also has lower levels of conjugated linoleic
acid (CLA). You might notice when you go into the health food store, CLA
is something they sell you for weight loss. The meat of grass fed cattle
contains CLA; the meat of grain-fed cattle does not. It is thought this
is one of the many links in the obesity epidemic.
So…. Before the days of modern industry, meat and fish had abundant
supplies of omega-3s. But these days, most of the available salmon and
the grain fed beef have but a tiny amount of this important nutrient.
The Essential Fatty Acids like omega 3 are sort of like Vitamin C - your
body can’t make it so you must get it from what you eat. And without
it, your risk of disease skyrockets.
If your health is important to you, think twice before you say that grass
fed meat or wild salmon is too expensive. What is good health worth to you?
4 Jeffery A. Foran, Carpenter, Hamilton, et all,
Risk-Based Consumption Advice for Farmed Atlantic and Wild Pacific Salmon
Contaminated with Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds,
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 113, May 2005
4a Robert P. Friedland, Robert B. Petersen, Richard Rubenstein; Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy and Aquaculture, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,
Volume 17, Number 2, June 2009, pages 277-279
5 George Mateljan Foundation,
Is there any nutritional difference between wild-caught and farm-raised
fish? Is one type better for me than the other?,
6 Michael Pollan,
The Omnivore's Dilemma-A Natural History of Four Meals, Penguin Press, 2006, pages 72-82