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Thinking Critically about Diet

Meat, Protein and Dietary Fat
by Paul Bergner

Beef: Facts and Errors

The evidence of meat of correlating to any disease at all is underwhelming from a scientific point of view, looking at the totality of the evidence instead of cherry-picking negative studies. For several decades now vegetarian advocates and some naturopathic writers have selectively cited scientific literature, ignoring contradictory data, to support their belief systems, and this has muddied the waters of the nutritional beliefs of most of us in alternative health care. A very large meta-analysis of meat eating and cancer, for instance, found a slight (12%) increase in cancer risk based on demographics, a risk that disappeared when bologna-type meats were excluded.

A very large trial showed that meat eating was protective against heart disease, and a large and growing body of evidence shows that meat eating is protective against osteoporosis and its worst endpoint. This is in stark contradition to the neo-naturopathic theory that it causes the bones to melt down in acidified blood. I say neo-naturopathic, because in the history of naturopathy, starting in Germany and up until the 1970's, among several dozen major figures and teachers, we find only two vegetarian advocates, both of whom died 15-20 years before the meat eaters.

For arachidonic acid (an oft-maligned component of beef), several researchers have looked at the biochemical pathways and tried to supplement arachidonic acid as a possible treatment for immune deficiency. Even with a 3 month intervention at six times the average American intake, they could not alter the clinic immune picture. As it turns out, arachidonic acid is now considered an essential nutrient and required in infant formulas in Europe and Japan, and it also has a protective effect against insulin resistance. And a final note on arachidonic acid. The primary source of cellular level AA in the body of modern Americans is refined omega-6 oils (such as corn oil), not meat.

I was a vegetarian advocate for many years, and adhered to the "meat as poison" theory, but now, personally, clinically, and also looking at the science and human anthropology honestly, I have to say that for most people, meat, even if it's modern meat, and abundant protein in the diet is essential for abundant health. By now I have case files on several hundred individuals with chronic fatigue, insulin-resistance, allergy, mixed anxiety/depression, neurosis, delusional thinking, and/or sugar addiction or worse who got rid of every one of these by introducing meat and fish into the diet in abundance and making a few other changes.

The biggest difference in modern and older meat (you only have to go back 50-100 years) is in the essential fatty acid content. Grass fed animals build up EFA the same way salmon do. The other difference is in the nutrient content. For instance every cut of beef listed by the USDA in the 1960s contained at least some vitamin A. Today, no cut of beef contains vitamin A, which a grass fed animal converts from the beta-carotene in the plants. I find meat to be the indispensable tonic for my patients, a fundamental tonic food in the diet of the human species over history, and including it in the diet will often rapidly remove the need for tonic herbs in a deficient patient.

Regarding the case of India, it is not a majority vegetarian country. Vegetarianism is prescribed only for the Brahmin priests among the Hindus. This is not the orignal Vedic tradition, because if you go to the source texts in Ayurveda, they all contain tonic recipes and prescriptions for meat, including beef. Hindu fundamentalists have tried to resurrect Ayurveda in a vegetarian form after independence there in 1948, and this form is the dominant one in the US. But the actual source texts recognize the tonic qualities of meat. Regarding the health of modern India, in vegetarian south India, there is a higher rate of heart disease, hypertension, and type II diabetes than in the US and Canada. This phenomenon is referred to in the literature as the Indian Paradox. My guess it is because of the influx of processed carbohydrates, sugar, junk oil, and tobacco, combined with the EFA deficiency inherent in a vegetarian diet.

Optimal Fat Balance

We need both omega 6 and omega 3 fats to be healthy. Among the 3's we need both EPA and DHA. EPA is antiinflammatory, and DHA confers insulin sensitivity. Traditionally we got our omega-6 fats from nuts and seeds, and these feed both the Type 1 and Type 2 prostaglandin pathways. We got the omega-6 arachidonic acid from meat. This is "pro inflammatory" but that also means "pro-immunity" which is why it is important. Dietary amounts of arachidonic acid are not a problem if they are accompanied by the omega-3 EPA. Salmon, for instance, has more arachidonic acid than beef, but also more omega-3 EPA. Historically we got our EPA and DHA preformed in the meat (including fish). Today we emphasize fish, but historically, we got these from wild game, grass fed meats and fish. The key is an animal that eats green stuff for a living. The animals transmutes the tiny amounts of ALA (what's in flax oil) into lots of EPA and DHA. Flax seeds look like a good idea on paper, but in reality it hardly converts to EPA at all. The conversion rate from ALA to EPA is about 5% at best, and much worse than that in some individuals. The conversion to DHA is even worse, about 2%.
That means you have to take about 40 Tablespoons of flax oil to get the benefits of one tablespoon of cod liver oil. In some trials, large amounts of flax seed oil failed to yield any increase in DHA at all in the tissues. Of all the trials published (as of two years ago) on flax oil, none of them provided any clinical relief of inflammatory symptoms, while fish oil interventions do this routinely.

The other thing in the equation for oils is the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the cell membranes, basically derived from the ration of oils on your plate. The ratio in hunter gatherers is between 2:1 and 3:1 of n-6 to n-3 oils. In the Japanese, who eat fish and don't like bottled corn oil, its about 4:1. One study of American showed it to be 17:1 and one study of Israelis showed it to be 24:1. Why? because we've invented industrially produced oils out of this that you cant normally make oil out of. Corn, safflower seeds, peanuts, soy, etc oils are all very high omega-6. So the average modern person eating french fries, salad dressing, and who-knows-what in their pastries and processed foods is getting a huge amount of omega-6 oils, at the same time that the omega-3 oils are disappearing from the meat due to corn feeding rather than grass feeding. The distorted ratio is both pro-inflammatory and pro-insulin resistance. I maintain that its impossible to effectively practice any form of traditional medicine (CM, naturopathy, Western herbalism, etc) without first restoring the "traditional" oil balance in the cell membranes. If someone has heat from an elevated omega6:omega3 ratio and we successfully cool them off, we did it not by addressing the root, but by inducing a cold pathology to balance the dietarily induced hot ones.

The "oil change" strategy we use in our clinic is this:
1. All the olive oil and butter or ghee you want. They are are EFA-neutral, meaning they won't disturb the balance of 6:3.
2. Cod liver oil or fish oil caps. (You can see the vitamin A and D quantities on the label.) You can eat fish or wild game or grass fed meat along with or instead of this, but the problem is that farmed fish, most of what's available on the market, has the fatty acid profile like hamburger. Sardines are the only generally available wild fish. I no longer consider fish oil a "supplement" after seeing it come up again and again in my studies of nutritional anthropology (which I teach at college and masters level). All around both the Atlantic and Pacific rims, people have made fish oils to supplement their diets. Native Americans in the Puget Sound area catch small fish and let them rot in buckets, collect the oil, and consider it their nectar food. Same in the traditional Korean diet. Same in the Carribean. Same in Scandinavia and Ireland.
3. Several servings of nuts and seeds daily
4. Eliminate bottled omega-6 oils and margarines and other trans-fatty acids. That usually means no processed foods, as the TFA are in almost everything you buy with oil in it.

The above changes produce -rapid- clinical changes, in 7-40 days. Some people deficient in EFA develop keratinous bumps on the hair follicles on the back of the upper arm. These disappear rapidly. Also cognitive function improves rapidly. As do allergies and inflammatory symptoms, provided no more allergens are being poured on the inflammatory fire. The question about whether people need supplements, I think ideally not, if they are seeking out nutrient dense food the way hunter gatherers do -- nuts, seeds, kelp, dark leafy greens in abundance, EFA-rich fatty meat, but who does that? In cases of insulin resistance, if find it impossible to "cure" without at least initial huge doses of some supplements, including the oil change above.

Raw versus cooked food by Todd Luger:

Traditional Chinese dietetics has always advocated a diet primarily composed of cooked food. This stands in stark contrast to other forms of natural healthcare, most notably Naturopathic Medicine. The Chinese position is based upon long observation and yin/yang theory. Food is considered primarily yin since all substances are more yin than yang. Digestion, on the other hand, is considered yang, as all active functions are more yang than yin. Thus, by yin/yang theory, one needs an abundance of yang activity to absorb and assimilate yin substance. Digestion is usually explained by the metaphor of a fire cooking the food. This series of essays explores a number of lines of thought that may lend support to this position.

While China is home to hundreds of distinct cultures and the central government has exerted control over many of these diverse people for thousands of years, the Chinese population exhibits a certain genetic homogeneity. This is clear from the distinct Asian facial features and skin color. This is also true of some middle eastern peoples, native Americans, Africans and northern Europeans. In fact, one of the assumptions of the a growing number of medical anthropologists on diet is that peoples who evolved in different environments from subsets of homo sapiens developed food cultures adapted to their unique genomes. Now it is widely recognized that all humans are the same species and race is considered to have no significant genetic basis. Race merely reflects adaptations to particular environments over a long term.

The diversity of traditional worldwide ideas on diet seems to bear consideration in this light. So while Traditional Chinese Medicine dietary basics may be universal, the specifics might not be. I think there is agreement in so many quarters (ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, macrobiotics, modern research) on the dangers of things like rancid fat, excess refined carbohydrates and low vegetable diets that these can be considered almost universal. But it may also very well be true that some people have low grade blood reactions to certain types of foods (based on their lectin content in blood type therapy) according to genetic peculiarities. Thus, there are also distinct differences in food therapy prescribed by such as Hippocrates, Maimonides, Avicenna and zhu dan xi, all learned scholars in their culture and era.

The issue is cooked versus raw foods is very hotly debated in natural health circles. As far as I can tell, the ethnic foods of the middle east, India, Africa, etc. all center on cooked foods. I think this issue also raise another comparison with herbology practice, keeping in mind that food and herbs exist on a continuum in Traditional Chinese Medicine. While we do not have a consensus on what constitutes the best form of herbs, most authorities seem to agree that some form of preparation is necessary. Ground raw herbs made into pills appear to have been used for hundreds of years in China. Grinding is the most basic form of extraction, increasing surface area upon which the digestive juices can act. However, this was never considered optimum by scholar physicians and even in medieval China such products were often made with profit as the main incentive. So wine extraction, decoction, syrups, drafts were preferred by doctors. But even grinding is a step beyond chewing uncooked herbs. Grinding also generates heat that helps break down fiber, too.

So if their is general agreement that some form of preparation is necessary to get the potency out of herbs, why wouldn't the same be generally true of food? I mean decoctions and granules have definitely been denatured regarding enzyme content and all vitamin c is destroyed, yet all the successful Traditional Chinese Medicine research has been done on these products. As my staff naturopath corrected me one time, "we are not what we eat, we are what assimilate". The question that hovers over this discussion is why would humans be more adapted to a cooked food diet, since this is clearly not natural, at least to the extent that ALL other animals eat raw foods?

It now seems likely that homo erectus controlled fire and that homo sapiens (modern humans) have always had fire and thus the ability to cook their food (and extract their herbs as soup/tang). And this "technology", which allowed preservation of gatherings and scavenging beyond normal spoilage dates gave humans a vital advantage over competitor hominids. We have not evolved physically since that time, which supports the conventional anthropological view that it is culture that has allowed the continuing adaptation of humanity worldwide. We don't need to evolve physically in our current environment because culture and technology adapt for us (now that may change, but that's a whole other topic). And the transforming power of fire was the one of the first technological tools.

In addition, it is a mistaken notion that evolution has any "interest" in longevity. Evolution "cares" about reproductive fitness, nothing more, nothing less. So it could also be argued that the raw diet of primeval hominids (probably pre homo sapiens, as mentioned) was not necessarily healthy in the long term, but was adequate to provide nutrition to offspring long enough to allow them to heartily reproduce themselves at puberty. Contrary to romantic myths, these paleolithic tribes were not long lived, often succumbing to infection to injury rather than chronic illness.

Now death statistics can be confusing. For instance, high infant mortality lowers the average age of death. A fairer estimate of normal longevity is one that factors out infant mortality. Infant and early childhood mortality was like 50% in ancient China. But amongst those who made it to adulthood, average ages of death were in the high 60's even early 70's. Even today, if you factor out China's still higher infant mortality, the average age of death is about the same as the west (and France and Japan's high average age of death may actually turn out to be due largely to a statistical artifact related to their very commendable low rates of infant mortality, like half of the US rate, rather than any special diets or lifestyles).

Widespread archaeological research in the past decade has revealed endemic parasite infestation amongst most paleolithic peoples studied and correspondingly short lives. Parasites are directly related to eating raw foods, especially scavenged meats. And with regard to scavenged meats, it is now also considered likely that early humans were not skilled hunters, but rather scavenged the kills of carnivores, whenever possible. It is very possible that in the course of human cultural evolution (the last 500,000 years) we have discovered that longevity is preferable to mere reproductive fitness and animal abandon.

While some primal qi might be more present in raw foods, the trade-off is parasites and chronic disease in early adulthood. Humans, because of their self awareness, were able to evolve dramatically on another level. Humans thus transformed their animal heritage into civilization worldwide and one thing that was left behind by these great civilizations was a scavenged diet of raw foods. I would thus suspect that the Chinese emphasis on cooked foods and extracted herbs reflects a keen observation, not at all a social more. Especially when you consider that the main proponents of dietary therapy for a thousand years were Daoists who explicitly rejected conventional mores. It is perhaps no coincidence that one of the first passages in the revered Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine discusses the sickness caused by eating various raw foods and thus the importance of cooking to health.

Counterpoint (this advocates some raw food, not a plea to eat mostly or all raw foods)

I have long argued the case that cooked foods are more healthy than raw foods. There is substantial modern scientific data to support this position. However, after living in hot san diego for a year after living in cooler climes all my life, I wonder..... My students frequently take their patients to task for eating salads, but I am beginning to wonder how bad this really is. Obviously cold foods are hard on the GI tract, i.e. frozen or fresh out of the fridge. But how about room temperature salads and fruit.

In Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine, it is noted that the term generally translated as raw may actually refer to unclean foods. Since uncooked meat is clearly dangerous, this is one obvious connection between raw and unclean. But the Chinese still fertilize their fields even today with uncomposted feces (night soil) in peasant areas. This means that freshly picked veggies are also contaminated. Everyone knows one should not eat raw veggies in many third world countries because they are contaminated, not merely because they are raw. On the other hand, food borne infections from salads are rare (but not unheard of) in the West. My Ayurveda teacher, Robert Svoboda, suggests that raw foods are suitable for certain types and in certain climates. So does macrobiotics. What evidence is there that TCM actually prohibits uncooked food rather than merely unclean food?

The reason I bring this up is because I always tell my students that disease is not caused by a deficiency of acupuncture and herbs, but by the internal, external and miscellaneous causes of disease, amongst which I consider diet to be a very prominent factor. So what we tell our patients in this area of the utmost importance. My concern is this. We all want our patients to eat an abundance of veggies. Yet the truth of the matter is that most folks get a significant amount of their meals outside the home. Thus they are at the mercy of what is available in local eateries to satisfy this goal. So the question is whether it is better to eat salads, which are widely available or the type of cooked veggies one can get outside the home. Even if we can prove that raw salads are inherently worse than steamed veggies, are they worse than chinese, thai, and indian food that is commonly available.

Studies have shown these latter three to be very high in fat and the fat they are prepared with is generally rancid polyunsaturated oils that been subjected to heat and light and oxygen, making them massive free radical producers, thus implicating them heavily in cancer and heart disease. Such foods absolutely violate the TCM prohibition against overly greasy, spicy foods. So are we doing our patients a disservice when we just tell them to avoid salads if this results in them eating truly dangerous foods or just avoiding veggies altogether. Be clear, this is not a call for veganism. I consider animal protein to be a vital part of a healthy diet. But is a salad with olive oil, lemon juice and mild aromatic spices really a problem or is it even (dare I say it) good for you. As a final thought, I would just point out that the japanese who exhibit the best health in the world as a population eat both raw veggies (albeit often marinated) and raw fish.

Part 3

I have also observed that if people continue to eat excessively sweet, spicy and greasy foods, their health does not improve, regardless if the only eat foods on their type list. But I'd like to add at the outset that I believe the reverse also is true. TCM dietary therapy is limited in its own right. And scientific ideas like blood type diet can be of importance just as the germ theory of disease often serves us well. Both my staff naturopath and Peter D'adamo are very clear about this. You still have to follow the basic rules of eating. The question is what constitutes such basic rules?

Raw cold foods are certainly tolerated better in the hot dry climate, as would dairy (yin balancing yang in both cases). I think dairy and raw foods can very problematic in the northwest and my experience suggests this single change can have profound effects on patients health. There is also evidence mounting that many of the most potent and important disease preventing substances in food are more accessible when the food is cooked. For years, emphasis has focused on the substances destroyed by cooking, but lately research has focused on what cooking enhances. While raw foods are higher in vitamins than cooked foods, only a few vitamins are actually destroyed by gentle cooking methods. Yet the breakdown of cellulose by cooking vegetables renders the remaining nutrients far more assimilable. A well known example is lycopene from tomatoes, but this is true of all food compounds called flavonoids, which are turning out to be extremely valuable substances.

Many raw food advocates point to the near total elimination of enzymes through cooking. While enzymes are well known to be essential to health, there is no evidence I now of that shows food enzymes to play a necessary role in health. When I asked Peter D'adamo (a noted raw foods advocate) about this, he referred me to the Pottenger studies on cats. Sorry, the fact that cats may thrive on raw milk, a food with easily accessible nutrients and no fiber, proves nothing to me about human needs. Nor does the fact that our ancestors obviously evolved in a raw foods environment in primeval africa. This is because much anthropological consensus now has it that the fire was under primate control before homo erectus evolved in modern homo sapiens (500,000 years ago). Thus, we have always had fire. In addition, dental evidence suggests that our control of fire gave us a serious adaptive advantage over our competitor primates. Evidence now suggests that earlier hominid primates succumbed often to dental caries and parasites caused by eating raw grains and other raw foods. D'adamo also directed me to Weston Price's famous study of dental development and diet. However, the details of this landmark ethnographic style study present people all over the world eating whole foods diets. In no cases were the subjects living mainly on a raw foods diet.

As for spicy and greasy foods prohibition, these concepts are directly linked to herbal properties and can't be dismissed without also completely dismissing the value of herb qualities at the same time. First, it is herbs which give foods spice to begin with. So the same excessive spices are also medicinal in many cases, such as ginger, sichuan peppers, cinnamon, and cloves, to name a few. These herbs warm the interior. They often aggravate They treat coldness. It does not seem reasonable to accept these herbal functions and then say there is no effect from eating foods with lots of these herbs. And while different constitutions have different needs and tolerances, it is a central tenet of TCM theory that all people can be overstimulated by spice, because life is mainly an expression of Yang Qi.

As for greasy, this seems obvious. While the theories regarding fat in the diet shifts a lot, there are some general points of agreement. Fried foods provide fat which has become toxic; animals raised without exercise on corn diet and rendered animal protein produce fat that has pathological imbalances , causing the body to have inflammatory tendencies. Margarine and vegetable shortening cannot be used in normal biological process and just add fat tissue and also cause inflammation. Basically all polyunsaturated oils, pressed or extracted are rancid by the time they are purchased, unless they have been refrigerated in lightproof bottles or otherwise preserved. Rapeseed is a toxic plant, the source of canola. On the other hand, naturally raised meat, dairy, chicken, eggs etc, have got a bad rap. They are safe in moderation. But again, I must return to herbs to drive this home. If certain herbs are said to be greasy and this is a constant cause for concern, this must also be true of foods.

Fire predates homo sapiens

Some theorists believe the control of fire prior the origin of homo sapiens led to smaller teeth being satisfactory, changing our skull shape to allow larger brains. so humans may never have been raw food eaters and development of our minds might be inherently bound up with eating cooked food. the question remains whether we are better off with cooked food because we have evolved to thrive on it or whether raw is still better, in which case we need to puree.
It is thought that changing climate killed off the australopithecines, early hominid competitors, in part due to severe dental damage by attempting to eat raw grains and seeds when the fruit and insects dried up. It may be fire and cooked food that was the key to the survival and adaptability of homo sapiens. It is interesting that once we moved out of warm tropical climates, only cooking food allowed us to survive. It is even more interesting to know that homo sapiens may have no ancestry of eating raw foods at all.

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