Omega-3

Nutrient News

I had recently mentioned that while grass-fed beef has been studied widely and often, hardly anything has happened with pork. Now we have something out of Australia. And as you would expect, pastured pork follows the same pattern as beef – give them access to the green stuff – and acorns, pecans, berries, and roots – and the Omega 3 is going to get itself back in balance with the Omega 6. Not a surprise, but it is welcome confirmation of the virtue of properly raised pork. The antioxidants show up as well – vitamin E and such – so you have that value added too.

All in all, pastured pork fits our mission. It brings sustainable value.

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Harvard, Stanford and several other credible medical research schools are finally doing the research necessary to understand the value of beef and it is becoming a star in the protein world. For good reason when you consider what you get for your daily requirements from 1 – 6 oz piece of grass-fed beef. Look at this recent compilation:

Nutritional Value of Grass-Fed Beef

So this concludes our 3 part series on the value of Real Food. And that value also makes it the superior cost option. Don’t be lured by cheap food – it’s cheap for a reason. Buy the best value and you will never look back.

Omega-3

I’ll start with the all-important fatty acid, the Omega 3, the nutrient proven over and over again to feed the heart and the brain toward our goal of true nourishment. O-3s are found in the fats and oils of creatures that are created to eat either from a grass-based diet (beef, pork, chicken, lamb and eggs) or an algae-based diet (salmon and other seafood). But in order to give us food at a quicker and cheaper price, livestock and fish have been removed from their natural setting and confined in feedlots, cages and “farm” ponds. In the process, they are deprived of their natural grass diet and because of that, deprived of their source of O-3s. It has been demonstrated many times over that livestock raised on a pure grass diet will have 2 to 4 times the levels of O-3s than their companions in the corn-based feedlot (some studies have found the multiple as high as 6X. We will stay with the more conservative numbers). Farm-raised salmon are no better – they are eating feed that does not duplicate their natural environment, so…there goes the O-3s. Remember those ratios: 2 to 4 times more grams of Omega 3s in the grass-fed product.

So let’s assume that you are shopping for nourishment as well as price. You go to your local grocer and find ground beef offered at its current price of $5.77 for lean, $4.37 for a fattier pound and a Ribeye steak at $14.97. You look at grass-fed beef in the same meat counter and find ground beef at $8.00 and Ribeyes at $19.95. Which is the better value?

The feedlot beef offers a gram of Omega 3 for 5.77, 4.37 and 14.97. Assuming the grass-fed beef offers the midrange ratio of 3 grams, then the cost of the O-3s in your grass product is only $1.92, $1.46 and $6.65. Now that’s your bargain! Omega 3s at $1.46.

Let’s look at those numbers again.

Comparative Cost of Nutrition

Cost of Omega-3s per gram of beef

If you are shopping for nourishment and health, grass-fed delivers the value and grass-fed is the real bargain.

Next month we will study the value of Conjugated Linoleic Acids and the daily nutritional requirements provided by grass-fed meats. In April, we will look at the environmental benefits of a pasture-based system.

Grass-fed just keeps on bringing the value.

Odds and Ends

Why no ham in a hamburger? Because it is named for its founding city, Hamburg, not for the type of meat it features. Germans eat ground meats almost exclusively. That’s smart because it allows for the proper mix of lean and fat according to the eater’s preference. In our case, that’s an 80/20 blend — that’s where you get your best dose of omega-3 fats and CLAs.

The Latest Dietary Study, Misinterpreted

The media has grown adept at inaccurate and misinterpreted reporting about dietary studies. These results do not lend themselves to 15 second sound bites or USA Today blurbs - the subject is more complicated than that. The latest Harvard study on the Mediterranean diet and its reported conclusion offers the latest example of the trend.

There is much discussion about the results of the Harvard study of the Mediterranean diet, which reportedly demonstrated a reduction in vascular disease. Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, reports these “behind the curtain” facts and conclusions following his interview of the study’s author and moderator.

While the Med diet limits its fat to olive oil and fish, and is considered “low fat”, the author, Dr. Dean Ornish, reports that “low fat” was not actually followed by the participants — “in the end, it was not a low fat diet at all”. However, it is clear to the author that the dietary key to good heart health is the presence of Omega 3 fatty acids, found in abundance in olive oil and to varying degrees in fish (salmon, a lot; every other fish, less so; farm-raised fish, none at all and that is mostly what is available. Know your fish!)

So what do I take away from this study? Several points, but the primary one is this:  it must be the addition of Omega 3 rich foods that make the difference, not the elimination of red meat. Here is why:

  • In every study of the Med diet, it is always noted that diets “high in olive oil and fish and low in red meat” can be beneficial to heart health. My question: is it really just the olive oil and fish that is adding the benefit because of their high Omega-3 content? I have not seen the study where olive oil, fish and red meat are eaten together to see if the same results obtain, but this might be the hidden truth about this latest study if the designer is to be believed. How do they know which one is the controlling factor when they always eliminate red meat but add omega 3 foods? It may simply be the addition rather than the subtraction that drives the benefit.
  • Since 99.9% of the red meat in the US is grain-finished, and since it is known that grain drives out the Omega-3s and drives up the omega 6s and saturated fats, then they must necessarily be comparing the Med diet to a diet that includes grain-finished beef in the control group. When will they study the grass-finished beef that is high in omega 3s? Until they do, they really have no business denigrating red meat as a whole. They should make it clear that they are suspicious of grain-finished beef at best.
  • In addition, shouldn’t they distinguish between wild fish and farm-raised fish if they consider omega 3 to be the key to the benefit? They don’t tell us. Again, if they are supplying farm-raised fish, then the fish aspect of the Med diet probably is not a contributor to the benefit. And that leads to the parallel conclusion that the elimination of red meat is not a contributor either. Right? Right. It may well be the olive oil, not the fish, that delivers the benefit.

The aspect I agree with wholeheartedly is the importance of Omega-3s in our diet. So let’s consider the Jolie Vue diet of beef, pork, chicken and eggs, all free range on organic pasture and woods, and all served in proper proportion to your vegetables and fruits. All of the JVF meats are demonstrably high in omega 3s. Interestingly, and contrary to popular belief that has been so wrong for so long, our pork may provide the highest omega-3 portion of all the meats. Why? Because the pig converts the oils of nuts to oleic oil, which is the same as found in olive oil. JVF pork dines on many things in their omnivorous life, including greens, acorns, pecans and roasted nuts. There you have it.

So, it is important to go beyond the media-reported conclusion of any dietary study and consider the underlying factor or factors that might have led to the conclusion. And my dietary conclusion is this — buy the very cleanest, properly raised and unprocessed whole foods you can find and eat them in great variety as often as you can. That’s a diet you can live with - as Thomas Jefferson did all the way into his late 80th years.

An Acorn-Rich Year

We are always looking for advantages to this droughty weather we seem to be stuck in. We discussed in earlier letters that one of those advantages is the weed pop that comes along with dry conditions. Weeds are extremely deep-rooted and thus reach down into the subsoil at levels that the grasses do not reach. By their very nature, they are bringing minerals to the root zone that will replenish the subsoil where the grass roots do exist. There is always a reason for Mother Nature’s conduct. In this case, she is replenishing the soil for the grasses upon their return. She giveth as she takes away. Another advantage is that her trees, sensing danger from the lack of moisture, react by overreacting — they lay down abundant seed so that if they die from lack of rain, they have left behind plenty of progeny. In the case of the oak tree, that means a bumper crop of acorns like we have never seen. The ground literally crunches as we walk under the numerous oak trees of Jolie Vue.  A step cannot be taken without stepping on a foot full of acorns.

What is the coincidental advantage here? Wildlife fatten on acorns. That includes the deer and the raccoon for sure. Even better for our purposes, it includes our porkers who live their lives under the canopy of the virgin oaks along the old creek. Acorns contain a rich oleic oil. The significance of oleic oil? Well, it happens to be the same oil from which we derive olive oil. And olive oil is a known source of Omega 3 fatty acids, the natural heart medicine. So it is a feast from heaven that our porkers have been relishing for several months now...ever since the acorn fall began in September. And they continue to fall. So that is more of the good news coming from droughty conditions. You get an even richer source of oils and fats as you eat the JVF pork, not to mention the wonderful flavor addition.  The potentially bad news? I hope “She” is not telling us there is a lot more drought to come.

Where’s the Fatty Acid ?!!

Speaking of good fats, Honi and I participated in an inter-active focus group concerning the relationship between what we eat and healthy hearts. It was inter-active in the sense that we not only responded to questions put to us by the moderator but were also encouraged to pose our own questions to the group of twelve. By the way, the group included people that were thought to be knowledgeable about nutrients and in what foods they were found - doctors, dietitians, chefs, farmers and lay persons.

The group quickly came to consensus on what were and were not the nutrients that were both good and bad for the heart. Omega 3's and CLA’s = Good, wherever they were found.  Bad = hydrogenated fats, trans-fats created therefrom, processed foods in general, and especially, refined sugars. So far so good.  Things did not go off track until the group was asked to explain what they thought a proper diet would look like. In other words, put your knowledge into practice. How do you accomplish that heart-healthy diet? What does it look like on your plate? That is when the outdated but still embedded ignorance came out. When it came around to us, about half of the group had nominated skinless boneless breast of chicken breast as their choice for a heart healthy entree’. So we asked a question before describing our plate - where do the Omega 3's and CLA’s that we all seek come from? The group either did not know or thought it came from the muscle - the “lean” - of the flesh, be that beef, chicken, pork or salmon. They were shocked, and frankly disbelieving in some cases, that these important nutrients come not from the lean but from the fat. Skip the skin on the chicken and you skip the Omega 3s and CLAs too. (We assume the meats are grass-fed and free ranging like you get from JVF.)

How is it the case that large portions of the populace still try to eliminate fats from their diet, thinking it is all bad? This myth started with the completely unfounded and simplistic assumption (and it was no more than that) that if cholesterol showed up in our arteries, it must be from fat in our diet. While the literature now disputes this, the myth remains in the average person’s mind because it is so embedded by years of preaching the wrong values.

We always leave as much of a fat layer on our meats when possible. Even if you trim it off, do not do so until you have cooked with the fat on. It will not only flavor your meat but it will combine in the natural juices and you will get its heart healthy attributes that way. For my part, I eat it along with the lean as well as the au jus.

There are other reasons to include fats and oils in your diet. Meats contain the essential vitamins A,D,E and K. These are fat soluble vitamins. They are most efficiently metabolized when eaten in combination with fats. Without fats, they are absorbed poorly, if at all. So eat your meats and fats in sensible but frequent doses. It’s a good thing.

Stretching Those Meats

Sandwiches for dinner are one of the ways to stretch your meats. Honi and I eat sandwiches made only from eggs, tomatoes, fish, BLT’s, cutlets, leftover roasts, chicken, and our favorites, hamburgers (be it ground beef or pork) and those delicious sausages. With lettuce, tomato and pickles, you have a pretty complete meal. Add some fresh fruit slices on the side (not a lot, just a little) and you are there. Most of us think of sandwiches as lunch. Think outside the box on this one. The sandwich makes a fine dinner and stretches your meat supply at the same time.

Soups, beans and sauces are another and are time-savers as well because it’s as easy to make a lot as it is to make one. The Big Fat Hen gives an example. We roast it then eat a breast and hind quarter the first night, same thing the second night and then trim the scraps for sandwiches the third night. After that, the carcass goes into the stew pot with onion, carrot and sea salt until it has reduced by ½. After removing the bone and scraping the scraps of meat into the pot, in go the soup condiments for four more delicious servings.

Beans? Start with some sauteed vegetables and ground meat or sausage or bacon or...you get the idea. Then the beans simmer until soft, served over rice. Lots of meals there - beans and rice was a Monday laundry day staple where I grew up.  Still love it. At least 6 servings here.  Sauces? Buy a good marinara, bell pepper, garlic and onion at the market. Cook your ground pork or beef with the vegetables, pour on the marinara and serve over spaghetti with parmesan and parsley for decor. You’ll easily make four adult servings with one pound of meat. Or do the same thing with Italian sausage. Be smart in the kitchen. You’ll feed your family well and raise them healthy.   It’s a good thing.

Real food is the bargain. Researcher Tilak Dhiman from Utah State University estimates that you may be able to lower your risk of cancer simply by eating the following grass-fed products each day: one glass of whole milk, one ounce of cheese, and one serving of naturally-raised meat. You would have to eat five times that amount of grain-fed meat and dairy products to get the same level of protection, says Dhiman. But it is not so much a question of Dhiman’s extrapolation about the benefits of the omega 3's, vitamins, and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) found in grassfed products that is my point here but the cost/benefit ratio found in grass-fed versus grain-fed products. Perhaps the most frequent criticism planted by Big Food is that grass-fed is more expensive than grain-fed — and it is if you are looking only at the price point for a pound of each. Hey, if cheap does it for you, go for it.

Let’s take Dhiman’s hypothesis and apply a cost/benefit analysis to it. Isn’t he saying you could spend 5 times more for Real Food over the cost of Big Food before breaking even on cost? So you would have to pay $11.95 per pound for grass-fed against the current cost of $2.39 per pound of grain-fed ground beef at the grocery store before the costs were equalized. What is the average cost of grass-fed ground beef in the Houston area? I put it at $6.00 on the low end to $7.00 on the high end. It’s about ½ the price of grain-fed if you are comparing nutritional values. Naturally-raised and grass-fed from start to finish is the real bargain. See here for more examples of this proposition.