What Does Grass Have To Do With Your Diet
One of the best ways to improve our health is to eat the healthiest food we can afford. But it’s really easy to get confused about which foods are healthiest because there are so many philosophies about food that try to tell us what to eat and what not to eat. There are theories about food combining, diets for certain blood types, and lots of controversy about whether or not we should eat meat, butter or eggs, or drink cow’s milk. With everything we hear from the media and everything we’ve heard in our past (from parents or other authority figures) along with any emotional attachments we may have with our food choices, it’s not surprising that many of us end up starving for real food. So, what’s the best way to decide what we should be eating?
For the answer, let’s look at our hunter/gatherer ancestors who spent the majority of their day foraging for food, finding healthy plants and animals to eat. Their survival depended on eating mineral rich foods – plants that were loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, and other life supporting vitamins and minerals, in addition to eating the animals that were eating these plants. Eating substandard food was not an option.
When you translate this into today’s world -whether your meal is cooked at home or is picked from the menu of a gourmet restaurant -you need to start with foods derived from healthy sources. Vegetables should be grown on rich, organic soil without the use of dangerous chemicals or pesticides. Meat should come from animals that are allowed free range on a pasture. Eggs are healthiest when the chickens, ducks, or geese eat natural foods and run around and scratch in the dirt just like their ancestors.
The best way to get healthy food (besides growing your own) is to find good, local sources to buy organic vegetables and meats. These sources include local farmers, farmer’s markets, organic food co-ops, or reputable stores that will tell you where they get their meat and produce. You could also join a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture). You will get the most nutrition for your money when you buy food this way. Your eggs should come from free range hens and your meats should come from grass-fed, pasture raised animals. (FYI: After being in the organic food industry for years, Garry Kuneman recently opened a storefront operation in Plymouth called Meat Local where he promotes both organic and made in Michigan products.)
A study published online in June 2009 (Journal of Animal Science) showed that grass-fed beef is lower in total fat, higher in beta-carotene, higher in vitamin E, higher in the B vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, higher in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, higher in total omega 3s, higher in CLA (the good fat), higher in vaccenic acid (which can be converted into CLA), lower in saturated fats, and has a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Another study from Colorado State University showed that grass-fed meat was 4 times higher in vitamin E compared to meat from feedlot animals and almost 2 times higher than in feedlot cattle that were supplemented with 1000 IU of vitamin E per day. This is important since vitamin E deficiency is linked with heart disease and cancer, and Americans are usually deficient in vitamin E (www.eatwild.com).
Eating grass-fed meat may also be helpful for weight loss since there’s approximately half the fat in grass-fed meat as opposed to grain-fed meat. Grass-fed beef is very similar to wild game in fat content. To understand why there’s so much difference in the nutrition between grass-fed meat and conventional meat, look at what the animals are fed. (Note: If hearing about the inhumane treatment of animals makes you queasy, skip this next paragraph.)
Most factory farms feed their animals an unnatural diet of corn, soy and other by-products that come from the manufacture of human food. Termed “by-product feedstuffs,” the animals may be fed sterilized city garbage, candy or bubble gum still in wrappers, floor sweepings from plants that manufacture animal food, bakery waste, potato waste, and a scientific blend of pasta and candy (Univ. of Wisconson-2008.) Besides being cheap, these are all high calorie foodstuffs which fatten up the cows, the same reason cows are given so many antibiotics. With practices like this, what good is it to be at the top of the food chain?
In addition to grass-fed beef, there are many other healthy meats such as bison, chicken, lamb, turkey, and pork. Each has unique healthful properties as long as the animals are well cared for. For example, the pig (our closest relative in the animal kingdom according to our DNA) is high in vitamin E and selenium. Both of these nutrients are considered important anti-oxidants which may help reduce the risk of cancer and have anti-aging benefits. Bison also provides a high amount of selenium. Just 3 ounces of grass-fed bison provides approximately 100 mcg of selenium-several times more than the MDR and four times more selenium than obtained from grain-fed bison (Carrington Research Extension Center). Another study found that selenium improves the disposition – another good reason to be happy when eating bison (Psychopharmacology 102:549-50).
If you’re worried about eating eggs and think about skipping the yolks because of cholesterol, there’s a study that you should know about. In a study of 118,000 men and women, no association between egg consumption and CHD (coronary heart disease) was found. Those who ate 5 to 6 eggs per week had a lower risk than those who ate less than one egg per week (JAMA 281(15): 1387-94). Egg yolks are the richest source of lutein and zeaxanthin, essential anti-oxidants that protect the macula. Degeneration of the macula is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55. The deeper yellow orange color of the yolks the better. The pastured eggs I enjoy almost daily have the deepest yellow yolks I’ve ever seen. Eggs from pasture-raised hens have 3-6 times more vitamin D, are higher in folic acid, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, have double the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, 7 times more carotene, 1/3 less cholesterol, and 1/4 less saturated fat than commercial eggs. Wow! Now, do you know what grass has to do with it?
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C., is a Brimhall Certified Wellness Doctor with over 30 years experience helping people maximize their health potential. On behalf of the Foundation for Wellness Professionals, he will speak at the Livonia Civic Center Library August 26 on “Pasture-Raised Foods.” For more information, visit: www.karlwellnesscenter.com or call 734-425-8220.