There’s a lot of evidence accumulating regarding which meats are good, or bad, for your health. We seem to understand the basics but it’s nice to start getting data to back up what common sense tells us.
A recent study did indeed suggest what many have thought — that a diet high in red & processed meat worsens heart conditions and causes early death, including from cancer. Published in March 2009, this huge study followed 500,000 people (!) and found that those who ate the red meat equivalent of one hamburger a day had a 30% increase in death over 10 years, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Sausage, cold cuts, and other processed meats also increased the risk. Eating white meats fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death by a slight amount.
By the way, red meat includes not just cows but also pork and lamb. But the American diet is mostly blamed on cows.
The issue seems to be the ratio of good fat and bad fat: I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent debate over the bad trans-fats versus the healthier cis-fats. Well, there’s a similar concept with the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which are components of cholesterol that you can only get from foods. Omega 3 is the good fatty acid; this is anti-inflammatory and can improve heart disease and cholesterol. It is found in flax oils; nuts such as walnut; and fruits like kiwi, as well as healthier animals and oily cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. There are two sub-components of omega 3, EPA and DHA, which are considered more anti-inflammatory — and therefore, healthier — than the ALA component. In general, fish oils have more of the good EPA & DHA than the plant-based sources such as flax.
The second fatty acid, omega 6, is also an essential nutrient which you need in small amounts, but it is considered the pro-inflammatory fatty acid.
It’s All About the Ratio
Up until the 19th-20th centuries, a human diet had a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 that was probably 1:1 or 4:1, and heart disease was very uncommon. Things got severely out of whack in the 20th century with the immense uptake in industrialized cow factories in Western countries. The omega 6 is at least twice as high in these corn-fed cows, and many researchers feel this is a major reason for the rise of heart disease in the Western world. (China’s not too far behind!). Cows that are raised on the gigantic industrial farms and fed unnatural grains and corn have a higher omega 6:3 ratio than cows raised on traditional fields with grasses (4:1 versus 2:1). The Western diet has a omega 6:3 ratio estimated at 10:1 to 30:1!
So, What To Eat?
So, the key issue is to eat foods with more omega 3 than omega 6. As I said in the beginning, there’s good meat and bad meat. We’ve discussed the pros and cons, now it’s time for you to look at your diet and your health and see if you need to make changes. I think those people who already have heart issues and love their daily burgers or steaks, they really need to rethink this — it’s now clear that your diet may send you to an early grave. Some eating basics:
- White meat is better than red meat
- Lean red meat is healthier than fattier red meat
- If you love fatty red meat every day, try to cut back to 2-3 times a week
- Grass-fed meat usually is healthier than grain/corn fed
- Free range probably is healthier than mega-farm
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