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Month: September 2017

Processed Food

Posted in Food for Thought

Processed foods are everywhere. Supermarkets are full of them. It’s true that humans have always processed food through cooking, fermenting, drying, etc. However, that processing is minimal when compared to industrial processing.

In the grand scheme of things, industrially processed foods are new. They’ve only been around for little over 100 hundred years. Most of the chemical additives, preservatives, and flavors are less than 50 years old. Mankind is participating in a mass experiment. An experiment to see whether eating chemical food is really safe. Not whether it is safe short term, but whether it’s safe long term.

Humans have been eating minimally processed foods for thousands of years. You may believe that we were designed this way or evolved to this, but either way, the message is the same. Humans are not meant to eat highly processed foods. Our ancestors never ate MSG, refined vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, or large amounts of refined carbohydrates. Nowadays, up to 5,000 additives find their way into our food.[3]

What do Common Diets Have in Common?

There are many popular diets floating around. Most of them are fad diets that don’t live up to their claims. However, there are three popular diets that have stuck around. Because they do get results. The strange thing is, they couldn’t be more different.

The Paleo Diet, also called the caveman diet. It recommends only foods that would have been available during the paleolithic era: all animal foods, including fat and dairy, eggs, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and low-glycemic fruits.

The Mediterranean Diet calls for less meat and emphasizes everything plant based: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lots of olive oil. Dairy, fish and poultry are limited to moderate amounts while red meat is only allowed sparingly.  

Whole Food, Plant Based, also known as vegan. On this diet you’re allowed lots of unprocessed starches from potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and some vegetables and fruit. Very little fat is allowed, even from plants.

So how could all three of these diets possibly claim similar success? One is high in animal fat, one is high in plant based fat, while the last is low in all fat. These diets are as different as apples, oranges, and hot dogs. But they do have one thing in common. They all shun heavily processed food. Refined flour, refined sugar, industrially processed vegetable oils, lab-produced additives and preservatives. Pretty much anything you buy at a fast food restaurant or prepackaged supermarket junk food.

So it seems to me that the removal of animal products isn’t the answer. It’s removing highly processed ingredients from your diets. You won’t find that in a box on the supermarket shelf. These foods are full of additives and components that maximize shelf life. The longer the expiration date, the more profitable. Real food goes bad. Milk sours, meat spoils, vegetables wilt. Processed food is designed to not perish. Consider this, if a food has a shelf life longer than you, maybe you shouldn’t eat it.

What do Highly Processed Foods do to Us?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is comprised of around 78% processed glutamic acid and 22% sodium with moisture. While natural glutamic acid is used in the biosynthesis of proteins, the processed free glutamic acid causes people to suffer adverse reactions. MSG is associated with cancer, obesity, and irritable bowel syndrome.[4]

MSG is a money maker for the food industry. Eating it forces the release of insulin even with no carbohydrates present. This flood of insulin causes the person’s blood sugar to drop, making them feel hungry as quickly as an hour later.[9] Chinese food anyone? This insulin flood is also responsible for weight gain. Insulin is a fat producing hormone. The primary way it removes sugar from the blood is by storing it as fat.

Avoiding MSG can be tricky. Even foods marketed as having “no added MSG” can contain high amounts of free glutamate. MSG is camouflaged under many different names. Ingredients such as: flavors, natural flavors, maltodextrin, citric acid, gelatin, enzymes, and more, may contain MSG.[9]

In his book, A Life Unburdened: Getting Over Weight and Getting on with My Life, Richard Morris describes how eliminating all processed foods containing MSG allowed him to finally lose the weight he had been fighting to lose.

Vegetable oil as a product is a bit misleading. Vegetable oil is not made from vegetables. It’s made from seeds. Mostly soybeans or corn, but also rapeseed(canola), cottonseed, peanut, sunflower, grapeseed, etc. Crude vegetable oil is dark, sticky and smelly. It has to go through a heavy refining process to produce a clean-looking and smelling oil. Degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, filtering, and removing saturates. Many processors add hexane to squeeze every last drop of oil from the seeds. In the process, antioxidants and nutrients disappear, but much of the pesticides remain.[1]

The rise in vegetable oil consumption occurred as americans decreased our consumption of saturated fats. In 1909, 82% of the fat we ate came from animals. 100 years later, only 44% of our total fat intake came from animals, while 66% came from processed vegetable oils.[3] Much of this oil has been partially hydrogenated, creating trans fat.

We’ve been eating saturated fats from animals and tropical oils for thousands of years. Our bodies know what to do with them. When presented with trans fat, our bodies can’t tell the difference. These trans fats get used to build cell membranes.[2]  The more trans fats we eat, the more synthetic our bodies become. Because of the chemical substitution, reactions that should happen can’t happen. Enzymes and receptors no longer work properly..

The dangers don’t stop there. Even non-hydrogenated oils can be dangerous, especially in fast food. Restaurants typically cook at high temperatures, these temperatures cause polyunsaturated oils to oxidize. Turning linoleic acid into a toxic aldehyde called 4-hydroxynonenal that seeps into the food being fried.[3, 10] This toxic aldehyde interferes with DNA. Another aldehyde byproduct is formaldehyde. You know, the stuff morticians use to embalm dead people.[2, 3]

You’ll find vegetable oils in many products in the supermarket: Salad dressings, crackers, bread, cereals, peanut butter, etc. Luckily, vegetable oil is much easier to spot than MSG. It may be listed under its plant name: soybean, canola/rapeseed, cottonseed, corn, etc.

White Sugar is pure sucrose, derived from sugarcane or sugar beets. It’s a combination of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup is similar to sugar except that instead of being half glucose and half fructose, it’s mostly fructose. The processing of sugar eliminates the vitamins or minerals.[7] Sugar is a heavily refined product, much like cocaine. In fact, brain scans show that our brains light up the same way for sugar as they do for cocaine.[3] This makes sugar addictive. It isn’t your sweet tooth making you want sugar, it’s your brain.

Our sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the last three hundred years. In 1700, average sugar consumption was 4 pounds a year per person. In 1800 it went up to 18 pounds a year. Then the industrial revolution made sugar cheaper and consumption quintupled to 90 pounds per year. Now with the advent of modern farming and subsidies, sugar consumption is up to 180 pounds per year. That’s one cup of sugar a day. Of course, this is just an average. Some people consume more than one cup of sugar a day.[7]

While sugar consumption was on the rise in the last two hundred years, so has obesity rates. In 1890, the US obesity rate for white males was 3.4%. In 1975, the rate for the entire population was 15%. By 2010, it was 32% and climbing.[7] Now this does not mean that sugar alone is making us fat, but it is an interesting correlation. Sugar may not be the only factor in our obesity epidemic, but i would argue such high consumption is not doing anyone any good.

Everyone knows that sugar is a risk factor for diabetes and hypoglycemia. But it’s also been associated with many other diseases: ADHD, cancer, depression, candida overgrowth, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, malnutrition, obesity, poor sleep, and more.[7]

Avoiding sugar isn’t easy. It’s easily one of the most popular food additives. Whether it’s in the form of regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup, it’s everywhere. A half cup serving of Prego Traditional contains more than two teaspoons of sugar.[3] Even healthy sounding items can be sugar laden. A typical bottle of chocolate milk contains more sugar than a similar bottle of soda.[2] A medium fruit-and-yogurt smoothie at dunkin donuts contains four times as much sugar as a chocolate-frosted cake doughnut.[6] It’ll be okay, right? After all, yogurt is good for you, isn’t it?

Artificial Sweeteners are not a suitable substitute for sugar. Aspartame, the one in the blue packages, is the most popular sugar substitute. When digested, it will break down into methanol and formaldehyde. Aspartame can also lead to headaches, brain cancer, seizures, and damaged vision.[7] Sucralose(splenda) has not had very good results in test animals. Reduced immunity, decreased red blood cells, problems with liver and kidneys were found.[7]

Agave Nectar is not a health food. It is made the same way as high fructose corn syrup. A process where starch(glucose) is converted into fructose. The body cannot use fructose very well. While glucose can be metabolized by any cell in the body, fructose must be metabolized in the liver. Heavy consumption of agave or high fructose corn syrup can lead to liver damage. In fact, rats fed high fructose diets end up with livers like those of alcoholics.[7]

White Flour is what’s left after processing strips virtually all the nutrients and fiber out of whole grain wheat. Whole wheat is rich in nutrients. During processing, the bran and wheat germ are removed. At the same time, the B and E vitamins as well as many minerals are removed.[11] Wheat germ oil contains 136 mg of vitamin E per 100 grams.[8] White flour contains practically nil. To make up for this deficiency, synthetic vitamins are added to ‘fortify’. Some synthetic B vitamins are derived from coal tar.[11] Yummy.

Synthetic vitamins can lead to imbalances. As the body works to fix the imbalance deficiency in certain B vitamins can develop. Symptoms can include: depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, poor memory, trouble sleeping, and more.[11]

You already know that eating too much sugar will lead to blood sugar spikes. What you may not know is that white flour breaks down into sugar when digested. This leads to the same blood sugar spike as sugar. When blood sugar spikes in a healthy person, the pancreas pumps out insulin to bring the level back down to normal. This can lead to a crash in blood sugar levels as the glucose is stored as fat, burned, or eliminated. You may have experienced a crash like this after eating heavy carbohydrate snacks like doughnuts.

 

As you can see, the answer isn’t in eliminating any one type of food. Low-carb, low-fat, low-protein, none of these are the answer. The only consistently effective way to live healthy or lose weight seems to be eliminating highly processed foods, while eating moderate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. And of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables.

While most of the food at your local supermarket falls into the highly processed category, not everything does. One good strategy is to shop the edges. This is where the minimally processed whole foods are kept. Meat, dairy, produce, eggs, cheese. Look at the labels, can you pronounce all the ingredients? That’s a good start.  

Edge foods from the supermarket are definitely healthier than their processed cohorts, but they’re still raised using industrial methods. Pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, herbicides; even the most basic products of a supermarket can contain these. Not to mention the inhumane ways industrial farms treat their animals.

By far, the best source of food for your family is local farms. Farms where you can visit and see how the animals are raised. You can verify that no hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, or herbicides are used. If you need help finding local farms visit, www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.com.

 

References

  1. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-foods/dirty-secrets-of-the-food-processing-industry/
  2. The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz, 2014
  3. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-foods/our-broken-food-system/
  4. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/msg-update-summer-2007/
  5. Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit, Fred A. Kummerow, PhD with Jean M. Kummerow, PhD
  6. articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/01/08/16-secrets-the-restaurant-industry-doesn-t-want-you-to-know.aspx
  7. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-foods/sugar-alert-references/
  8. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatty_acid#Fatty_acids_in_dietary_fats
  9. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/msg-three-little-letters-spell-big-fat-trouble/
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-Hydroxynonenal
  11. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/making-it-practical/replacing-white-flour-with-whole-grains-in-four-simple-steps/

Why Grass Fed Beef is Better

Posted in Food for Thought

Beef is one of the most vilified foods on the market. It’s blamed for global warming, contributing to heart disease, and using up to a million gallons of water per cow. Some of these accusations may contain grains of truth, but only when regarding industrial beef. Also known as feedlot beef. 100% grass fed beef is not guilty of any of these problems.

“Grass-Fed” Beef is not the same as 100% grass fed.

The meat industry has been calling beef “grass-fed” despite being fed in a feedlot for the last several months before slaughter. You can read more about this scam in my article Grass-Fed Feedlot Beef. For simplicity, I’m going to use the term grass-fed to refer to 100% grass-fed and finished beef in this article.

100% Grass Fed Beef is Healthier

Meat from grass-fed animals have up to four times as much omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. As soon as cattle are taken off grass and fed grain, the omega-3s begin to diminish. This is because grain tends to be low in omega-3s and high in omega-6s. Grass is the opposite. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s.[1]

Grass fed beef also contains up to four times as much vitamin E as feedlot beef.[1] Even feedlot beef fed high doses of synthetic vitamin E only contained half as much vitamin E as grass fed beef given no supplements. Interestingly, most Americans are deficient in vitamin E. I wonder why.

Grass fed beef also contains less fat than feedlot beef. Grain makes cattle gain weight fast, that includes gaining much more fat. This fat is different from the fat of grass-fed cows. As i mentioned earlier, there is more omega-3s. There is also three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid or CLA in grass fed beef.[1]

Many of the nutrients in grass fed beef have been proven to protect us from disease. Omega-3s, vitamin E, and CLA have been shown to reduce our risk of cancer.[1] Grass fed beef has also been shown to be higher in beta-carotene, the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium.[3]

100% Grass Fed Beef is Safer

In a study done by Consumer Reports, they tested beef from various sources. They found that conventionally raised beef was more likely to have bacteria overall. Three times as many samples of conventional beef tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria as did the grass fed pasture-raised samples.[2]

When cattle are fed grains, their rumen goes from alkaline to acid. This allows bacteria to become acid resistant. Once they are acid resistant, they can survive in our digestive tracts. E-Coli O157, the most notorious, is acid resistant. It flourishes in the acid rumens of feedlot cattle.  

According to a study published in the April 2011 edition of Clinical Infectious Disease, nearly half of us meat and poultry is likely contaminated with Staph. This despite the widespread use of antibiotics in the raising of livestock.

Ammonia in Your Beef?

In 2001 Beef Products Inc. (BPI) began taking low-quality trimmings usually relegated to pet foods and began injecting this beef with ammonia. The ammonia effectively killed e-coli and salmonella, but it had side effects. Namely the odor and taste. The USDA accepted BPI’s own study as evidence that the treatment was effective, no testing required. This created tension inside the USDA, leading a USDA microbiologist to call it “pink slime”. Interestingly, beef prepared using ammonia is banned for human consumption in the European Union and Canada.[5, 6]

In an effort to make their product appear more palatable, BPI requested the ammonia be listed as a processing agent, this means that they no not have to list it as an ingredient. It’s known as lean finely textured beef, ammonia is not mentioned. Chances are, you’ve eaten finely textured beef recently. In 2012, up to 70% of ground beef  sold in the US contained finely textured beef. That number dropped off for awhile after the “Pink slime” scare, but has recovered. Meat containing 15% or less finely textured beef is called simply, ground beef.

School lunch officials used finely textured beef in order to save money, approx. 3% over regular ground beef. However, school lunch officials reported that BPI products began failing tests for salmonella. Up to three times as often as suppliers which didn’t ammoniate their meat. The contamination was not a failure in the ammonia treatment. Pathogens die when treated with enough ammonia. The problems showed up when BPI began lowering the ammonia content. This came in response to complaints by customers about the taste and smell of the beef.

Regardless of whether beef treated with ammonia is safer than beef not treated, I would rather not eat ammoniated meat. You can be reasonably sure that local 100% grass fed beef is free of ammonia. I don’t mind cooking my beef, and i’ll take my chances. After all, I know my farmer. I don’t know BPI.

100% Grass Fed Beef is More Sustainable

From an energy standpoint, grass-fed animals are cheaper to raise. Properly managed pasture requires only 1 calorie of fossil fuel to produce 2 calories of food.[7] Herbivores can eat these plants, humans cannot eat them. Raising grass fed beef does not require a lot of energy, the cows are harvesting their own food. The cost is in management, not fossil fuels.

Grass will grow in drier climates where crops and even trees do not grow well. Grass can survive on less water than crops and trees. This is because healthy grassland absorbs much more water. Instead of running off to the nearest stream, this water is used by plants or seeps down to refill aquifers. Soil with more organic matter has the ability to hold water from rainfall and slowly release it, reducing the severity of floods.[7]

Grazing land soils in the Great Plains contain over 40 tons of carbon per acre, while cultivated soils contain only about 26, on average.[7] I would not consider most of those grazing lands to be well managed. Yet they still contain nearly twice the soil carbon. This carbon is captured by grasses, legumes, and shrubs then stored in the soil when the roots are shed after grazing.

Once an herbivore eats grass down the process begins again. The grass goes into fast growth, breathing in carbon dioxide(CO2), breaking the carbon atom off and exhaling oxygen(O2). It does this until it’s either eaten again, or reaches full potential and goes dormant. Grasses going dormant is why undergrazing is just as bad for grasslands as over grazing.

Corn-Fed Beef is not Sustainable

While grass requires only 1 calorie to produce 2 calories of food, many crops, such as corn, require from 5 to 10 calories of fossil fuel for every 1 calorie of food produced.[7] The only reason this is even remotely feasible is because fossil fuel is cheap.

Corn is amongst the greediest of plants. It uses more fertilizer than any other crop grown on earth.[8] One reason is over-fertilization. Farmers apply up to twice the needed amount as a form of crop insurance. Sometimes this is necessary because the volatile nitrogen can be washed away by rain, evaporate into the air, or seep into the groundwater.

Cows are among the most inefficient at turning corn into meat. It takes on average 8 pounds of grain to put on 1 pound of weight.[8, 9] Pigs need only 3-4 pounds and chickens only need 2-2.5 pounds.[9] This is one reason for the rise in consumption of chicken.

Corn is not a natural food for cows. A cow digests food using fermentation. This is fine when the food is grass, but when a cow ingests corn, that fermentation becomes acidic. This can lead to acidosis, like heartburn. Feedlots have to give their animals special antibiotics to buffer the acidity. They also have to routinely use antibiotics to treat sick animals that probably wouldn’t be sick if they were still out on pasture.

Bloat is serious condition where the fermentation process is hindered by too much grain and not enough roughage. A layer of foamy slime forms in the rumen, which stops cows from burping. This gas continues to build up until pressure on the lungs suffocates the animal. Treatment requires shoving a tube down the animal’s throat to expel the gas. Does this sound humane to you?

100% Grass Fed Beef is More Humane

A calf born on a sustainable farm had a pretty good life. Farmers raising 100% grass-fed cows are focused on keeping their animals calm. Calm animals grow better, and taste better. This focus guides every part of the operation.

Most farmers aim to have their calves in spring. This is when the grass is at its best quality. If it’s a nice day, the cows can have their calve out on pasture. Out there the warm sun dries the calf gently and sanitizes the pasture.

Spring calving is also better for the mother. Spring grass is the most nutrient dense. That’s exactly what a newly lactating cow needs. Once she gives birth, her nutritional needs accelerate. But that’s why spring calving is so appropriate, her need accelerate at the same time that the grass is most ready to meet those needs.

When it comes time to wean, the farmer reduces stress by keeping as many things the same as they can. Once separated, they put the calves and mothers back in the same field as before, separated only by an electric fence. This allows them to see each other, but the calves can’t nurse. After a few days, the calves can be moved to another field and will hardly notice that their mothers are gone.

These cows stay on pasture right up until the day they’re shipped to the butcher. This is probably the only time they’re transported by truck, unless they were bought at a sale barn. They’re driven to the local processor, usually up to an hour or two away.

Many processors will take animals the day before butcher, to be kept overnight in tiny concrete stalls. This makes it easier on the farmer, but not the animals. Sustainable farmers like to bring their animals the same morning as they will be butchered. This is less stressful for the animal and more sanitary. Infact, one of the processors I used years ago insisted that we bring animal on the day of butcher instead of the night before. This was to prevent them from laying down in their own poop.

  This part might be a little stressful, but not nearly as stressful as conventional cows going to a massive slaughterhouse. Remember, grass-fed cows are used to people. They’ve been moved everyday. All of their experiences with humans have been positive. Unlike conventional cows. Cattle prods were made to move cows.

Feedlot Beef is Not Humane

A cow destined for a feedlot has a much rougher life. Conventional calves are born all year round. Feedlots need a steady supply of feeder calves all year. Some lucky calves are born during spring, others are born in the hot summer or during the cold of winter. Maybe the barn is heated, or maybe not. During winter, there is no fresh grass to be had for a couple months. Only dry hay. Not the most palatable thing to start off on.

Once the calves are born, life is pretty good, for about six months. Then it’s time for weaning. Most cattle ranchers accomplish this by separating the calves and locking them in a weaning barn. This sudden separation and change in location causes much stress for the calves and their mothers. You can always tell it’s weaning time by all the mooing and racket. Imagine if someone kidnapped your child. This is how the mother cows feel. One minute their calf is with them, the next minute it’s gone. That’s stressful.

Weaning is perhaps even more stressful for the calves. Weaning is a series of new and scary experiences, all at the same time. For the first time in their lives they are separated from their mothers, locked in a barn stall, taught to eat from a trough, and fed a new diet of corn. The stress of weaning and the change in diet make the calves prone to getting sick. This is when the medications begin.

Shipping fever, a viral infection common in feedlots, is the biggest killer of beef cattle. It’s caused by the stress of shipping calves long distances, which weakens their immune systems. Immune systems that were already weakened from weaning and their new diet. Then they are crowded together in large pens with cattle from other ranches. This exposes them to a host of new viruses.[10] Considering their living conditions, can anyone be surprised that feedlot cattle get sick?

Life in the feedlot is the real tragedy. Cows are herded into pens with around 90 others. When i say herded, i don’t mean gently prodded along. The aforementioned cattle prods are used on any cows who don’t cooperate. Ranchers are not asking permission. They’re not interested in what the cow wants to do, only what they need to do to grow the cows as fast as possible.

Once the cows are securely in their pens, they stay there for the next several months. These pens are about the size of a hockey rink. That may sound big, but when you have 90 cows, each dropping up to 50 pounds of excrement every day, that pen gets filthy in no time. You may have seen pictures of cows in feedlots standing on small hills, those hills aren’t made of dirt. While some feedlots try to clean their pens as often as every week, that still can’t keep up with 90 cows dropping manure every day.

Choose Local Beef

When you buy from a small local farm, you can be sure what you’re getting. Ask the farmer how they raise their beef. Do they feed any grain? Do they move their cows every day? Do they give them antibiotics or hormones? Can you come visit any time?

Go visit the farm. See the animals out on pasture. Get to know your farmer. Only by knowing them personally will you be able to trust them. You don’t need a fancy label or expensive certification to know your meat is good. Certifications aren’t guarantees. They may send an inspector out once a year, but who knows what the farmer does the other 364 days of the year. Not someone relying on that certification. Customer inspection is the best inspection.

 

References

  1. eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
  2. www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/how-safe-is-your-ground-beef
  3. www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/87/9/2961
  4. www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html
  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_slime
  6. agrifoodscience.com/index.php/TURJAF/article/view/148
  7. www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/nra/rca/?cid=nrcs143_014209
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, 2016
  9. alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=29892
  10. eatwild.com/animals.html