A few weeks ago I touched on the cholesterol myth and the faltering blame that has been placed on fat, specifically the saturated kind. An important issue in all this that does not get enough attention is inflammation. It could be our worst enemy and the cause of most non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. I mentioned the effect our new low fat, high sugar and imbalanced polyunsaturated fat diet has on inflammation and the last point is followed on here in the form of grass fed animal products vs grain fed.
The imbalance in polyunsaturated fats that I refer to is the high level of omega 6’s we now get in our diet from processed plant oils at the expense of saturated, monounsaturated or omega 3 fats. Somewhere along the deception we were made to believe plant oils are better. The oils we get from corn, soya, palm and sunflower are high in omega 6’s and now very predominant in our diet. We get them in baked goods, processed foods, margarine, cooking oil and products from animals fed on omega 6 sources such as grains.
Omega 6’s are essential fats because our body cannot produce them, this is also the case with omega 3 fats. Both types of fats are vital precursors used in our immune system, but the production line is rate limiting meaning only a limited amount of end product can be made by our body from these fats. Thus omega 6’s are in competition with omega 3’s for the space available. The law of bullying means the bigger numbers gets preference, so more omega 6’s results in more of the end-products derived from omega 6 origin and less from omega 3’s. This would not be an issue if the omega 6 end-product was better at its job than the omega 3 end-product, but it is not. They both are involved in immune function and our defense but to re-use a phrase I have used before, “omega 6′s are the precursors for more inflammatory soldiers whereas omega 3′s are more like peacekeepers, they fight when necessary without dropping bombs”. It is the exaggerated and prolonged inflammatory response that causes much of the damage seen in the diseases I mentioned earlier.
The ideal ratio in the diet of omega 6’s to omega 3’s is about 3:1 where the modern western diet provides anywhere between 10 and 18:1!!
Where does this leave us? Well the point is to try rely less on plant and grain based oils that has taken a large part of our current diets and to increase our intake of omega 3 fats. Good sources of omega 3’s include oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, pilchards etc) and flaxseed as well as animal products from grass fed grazers. Omega 3’s can be produced by the chlorophyll in green leaves and algae, thus animals feeding on grass instead of grains such as soya or corn will have a higher omega 3 content. Ethically this is what they were made to eat anyway. Grass fed beef has an omega 6 to 3 ratio of about 2:1 where grain fed beef can be around 10 to 13:1! Similar benefits will be seen in milk or cheese from grass fed cows and eggs or meat of grass and insect fed chickens.
Here is a link to a summary table of research on the polyunsaturated fat content of grass vs grain fed beef.
The taste will vary a little and if you are used to grain fed versions you might notice a slightly “grassier” taste to the meat if anything. The meat will be leaner in general and the fat (and yolk) will be yellower due to an increase in pro-retinol (precursor of vitamin A). All in all good reasons to choose the happier grass fed options! In particular the movement toward higher protein intakes as advocated by the Paleo and Noakes community means the sources of your protein need consideration. Athletes definitely do not want increased inflammatory profiles that can increase risk of injury or delay recovery.
So ask your butcher or local provider if your produce is grass fed and encourage it where you can. As the yields are lower with these animals, particularly in terms of milk, there needs to be consumer preference to motivate production. It IS always greener, or yellower or leaner on the other side.