If you have spent any time on my blog at all you will know that I am passionate about the paleo diet. If you ask me, everyone should follow the paleo diet principles of eating real, unprocessed and nourishing food. However, there is one mistake that I hear my patients and readers making all the time. Seriously, ALL THE TIME! And it breaks my heart to see them trying so hard, and not getting the results they are hoping for because of this one big mistake.
What is that mistake?
Continuing to buy conventional meat, or meat that you would find at the grocery store.
Yes, I realize it is convenient, but it is also one of the most unhealthy things you could be eating. Meat raised in today's standard fashion is extremely unhealthy for a number of reasons and I will outline each of these below.
1. Highly Inflammatory
When you think about cows you picture them grazing in fields, eating grass and roaming free right? At least that's what I imagine. And that is what should be happening. And that's what used to happen. Unfortunately, the development of factory farms has totally changed the way cows and other animals are raised and fed. Cows are now kept indoors, in close proximity to one another, in unsanitary conditions and fed a diet that is completely unnatural to them. Cows naturally eat grass, however, there is not enough grass to feed cows on a factory farm. Instead, they are given feed that is composed mainly of grains (corn and soy) as well as many other bizarre, and sometimes downright disgusting additives.
In the US, 40 billion pounds a year of slaughterhouse wastes like chicken feces, blood, bone and viscera, as well as the remains of millions of euthanized cats and dogs are rendered annually into livestock feed. It was recently shown that 75% of the cattle in the US are given feed containing slaughterhouse by-products. Disgusting.
These unhealthy living conditions and feed can lead to some very sick animals. Animals so sensitive to illness that they’re fed a steady diet of antibiotics, and so sensitive that the humans who go near them must wear space suits. No joke. These antibiotics then end up in the meat you eat. As well, many cows are given growth promoting hormones to help them grow much more quickly than is natural to them, so that more meat can be produced at a faster rate. All of this unnatural feed, living conditions and additives leads to meat that is not only nutritionally poor, but harmful to your health.
Normally, beef from cows raised on grass produces meat that has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1-4:1. In other words, it is balanced. In contrast, beef from factory raised farms is extremely inflammatory, producing meat with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20-40:1 (depending on the study you read and the meat tested). This excess omega-6 leads to inflammation in the body, which contributes to many different health problems including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. So what is normally a very healthy food has become extremely harmful.
And this goes for all meat and fish that is not being raised properly. For instance, salmon is generally known to be high in omega-3 and a very healthy food. And this is true if it is raised properly, in fresh water, and allowed to eat normally. However, farmed fish is fed corn, soy and other grains making it have a very high omega-6 content and a very low omega-3 content. As well, both Canada and the US have recently approved a GMO salmon that grows to a very large size, in a short amount of time. And so far there has been no regulation requiring that this type of salmon be labelled. So always avoid farmed fish and instead choose fresh or wild fish that has been sustainably raised.
2. Low in Nutrients
Unfortunately, the story doesn't stop at omega-6's either. Rememebr all that extra crap (yes literally crap), antibiotics, and hormones that go into factory farmed animal feed? It leads to meat that basically contains no linoleic acid, beta carotene, or vitamins A and E. In other words, it is nutritionally poor. For instance, if we take a look at eggs, eggs that come from properly raised birds, in comparison to factory farmed birds, are known to contain:
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4 to 6 times more vitamin D3
And the story is similar for all types of meat that comes from factory farmed animals. They contain very little vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In other words, they are basically empty calories. Empty, toxic calories.
3. High In Toxins
All the un-natural ingredients that factory farmed animals are being fed has to end up somewhere. It doesn't just magically disappear when the animals ingest it. In fact, factory farmed meat is known to contain carcinogens, bacteria, and other contaminants that can accumulate in your body and remain there for years. These animals products are loaded with bacteria, antibiotics, hormones, dioxins, and many other toxins that can cause serious health problems in humans.
Because of the unsanitary conditions that factory farmed animals are kept in they often get sick. In fact, 50% of the antibiotcs produced today are given to animals in their feed to try and deal with these infections. And ingesting these antibiotics can lead to a whole host of health problems including changes in your gut bacteria or microbiome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome. As well, roxarsone, an antibiotic commonly used on factory farms, contains significant amounts of the most carcinogenic form of arsenic. Research has shown that “eating 2 ounces of [factory farmed] chicken per day—the equivalent of a third to a half of a boneless chicken breast—exposes a consumer to 3 to 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, the element’s most toxic form.” Daily exposure to low doses of arsenic can dramatically increase the risk of cancer, dementia, neurological problems, and other health problems in humans. Additionally, dangerous hormones are also found in meat and milk that comes from factory farmed animals. According to the USDA, by 1999, roughly 99 percent of cows on large feedlots in the U.S. were given synthetic hormonal implants. These hormones, which make cows grow larger and produce more milk than they would naturally, are prohibited for over-the-counter use by humans in the United States. Scientists have clearly shown that these hormones can increase the risk of developmental delays and cancer in humans.
Another major group of toxins in conventionally raised animals are dioxins. Dioxins are chemicals that are released into the environment when substances are burned, and they accumulate in animals’ flesh and milk. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 95 percent of our dioxin exposure comes in the concentrated form of meat, fish, and dairy products, because when we eat animal products, the dioxin that animals have built up in their bodies is absorbed into our own. Dioxins act as hormone disrupting chemicals that bind to cells and modify their functioning, potentially causing a wide range of health problems, including cancer, a lowered immune response, nervous system disorders, miscarriages, and birth deformities.
Finally, pesticides are also present in large quantities in factory farmed meat and have been linked to a wide range of health problems in humans, including birth defects and cancer. Although humans do ingest some herbicides and pesticides from plant foods, scientists report that animal products are responsible for roughly 80 to 90 percent of dietary pesticide exposure. Pesticides are sprayed on crops that are eventually fed to farmed animals, and like dioxins, pesticides accumulate in their bodies over time. When we eat the flesh, milk, or eggs of animals, the pesticides that they have eaten during their lives are transferred to us.
In other words, in order to actually start seeing the health benfits from the paleo diet, you need to ditch meat, fish and eggs that are not raised properly, because it is just plain bad for you, and bad for the animals that the meat is coming from. This is part of the reason why, when studies are done comparing vegetarian or vegan diets to the western diet, people always do better when they eat the vegetarian or vegan diet. They have removed all the health harming meat and eggs from their diets that they were previously eating. However, there are many important nutrients that you cannot obtain if you stick to a vegetarian diet, which is why I don't recommend that way of eating for long term health. For example, there are many fat soluble vitamins that are only available in meat products that humans cannot obtain through eating any other food sources.
So by now you are probably asking one very important question:
How Do I Find Meat and Eggs That Are Raised Properly?
Well there are a couple different ways. First, you could check out your local Weston A Price Foundation chapter. They will have lists of local food producers in the area and will know where to find properly raised meat, egg and fish sources. However, if you are not interested in driving out to the farm like I do to pick up your meat and eggs (I realize you are busy, trust me), I have an even easier solution for you.
I recently partnered with a company called Butcher Box that will deliver grass-fed and pastured raised meat right to your doorstep for those of you living in the US! How amazing is that? And for a limited time, if you sign up through my link Butcher Box will give you $10 off of your first order, as well as a FREE package of pasture raised bacon!
Until next time, happy eating friends!