I’ve received a few emails that have a similar jist to them. Seemingly about the health plusses or minuses of a meat based diet, but this issue quickly slides to a totally different topic. I want to look at two recent news pieces and then look at a recent study validating the efficacy of the paleo diet in humans…and how the growing body of evidence in an ancestral diet will be attacked in the future.
The first was forwarded to me from Matt Lalonde, a Phd. chemist from Harvard. It relates to an apparent “rethinking” of the role of omega 3 fats primarily obtained from fish. Here is that article.
I fear this is to be a long post, brew some espreso and dig in!
Let’s look at that paper citing increased cancer rates from red meat. It’s a study, it’s sciency…it’s very compelling. It takes a not insignificant scientific or statistical background to decifer IF that study is gold quality, or should line the bottoms of bird cages. Short of doing a statistical analysis, let’s consider if there are ANY examples of populations who consume significant amounts of red meat who DO NOT see deliterious health effects. That’s a pretty easy answer, the Inuit Diet. In the article it’s called the “Inuit Paradox” because it is assumed that meat is unhealthful. This is the same story as the French/Spanish paradoxes(i?) that culteres who eat loads of fat are neither as fat nor as sick as North Americans. The main point of the Inuit diet paper is that it is assumed the omega-3’s (n-3) found in the artic animals provide a “protective” effect from the meat. The counter point is interestingly absent: That grain feeding of animals, with the subsequent skewing of the n-/n-6 profile is the REASON for negative health outcomes associated with meat consumption. Again, a lack of an evolutionary orientation leaves people just scratching around in the dirt trying to piece things together with no way to interpert findings. For the sake of that red meat paper however, we just need ONE (1) example of a high red meat consuming society to nulify the notion that red meat is inherently harmful. There is a second piece to that paper that we need to get to, but not quite yet. Let’s look at that fish paper keeping in mind what we know from the inuit diet: proper n-3/n-6 balance is important for health.
The Fish paper starts off with some dismissive language about the “over-hyped” benefits of fish oil…then changes tac completely and begins hand wringing about fish-stocks and sustainability. Oweee-kayyy. Tens of thousands of studies citing the benefits of n-3’s, synergy with what we know about our ancestral diet, the ONLY cited reason for the aparent health of the Inuit on their ancestral diet…and it’s all han-waved away, never explained…and the rest of the paper is focussed on the hot topic of global warming and sustainability! Keep this in mid as we look at a clinical intervention of the paleo diet in humans.
In this paper a represnetitive paleolithic diet is compared to the the much vaunted mediteranian diet…in a sick population of folks WITH ischemic heart disease. It’s worth noting that the paleo-nay-sayers have whined for years: “there is no evidence! We need clinical studies!!” Well…here is a clinical trial showing compelling evidence for the superiority of a paleo diet over a medeteranian diet…and the main critiques of the paper focus on sustainability, not the validity of the science at hand. Here is a similar study with similar, non-science related critiques which focus instead on environmental issues and sustainability.
Before I go on I want to come clean with what my political leanings are: Lover of free-markets, strongly identify with the Liberatarian party. This puts me squarely in a position to constantly piss-off and annoy left-leaning hippies and religious right-wingers alike. If you can piss nearly everyone off, you know you are onto something good.
So, on the one hand I’me very happy to see the positive press these paleo clinical trials are getting. Right on the heels of that excitement and optimism is a sinking feeling when the discussion shifts to global warming, sustainability and the like. Why? Because it is shifting the argument just as the vegetarians are getting painted into a corner with no escape. The notion that our ancestral diet is the healthiest one, if right, will gain momentum and support. The only way to discredit this way of eating then is to throw up a boogey-man of fear and play on peoples guilt. We saw this before with the Fat Crusades, we will see this again and the consequences will be similarly shitty if nay-sayers have thier way. If you think I am being alarmist check out this video:
In the video we see Dr. Robert Olson make a plea for more data before sweeping recommendations are made to the American public and beyond. We also see Sen. George Mcgovern make the point that “…we need to do SOMETHING” about heart disease. We picked the wrong path and billions of dollars and millions of lives have subsequently been squandered.
Fast forward to today, we still have the hand-wringing Malthusiast’s who are convinced we are all on a collision course with disaster unless we bocome low-fat vegetarians and export this lifestyle to everyone else on the planet. Much todo is made that a more meat based diet is unsustainable…but then again, modern farming practices rely on non-renewable fossil fuels, and as such plant based diets are apparently unsustainable also! Somehow the study authors find that a lacto-ovo diet is superior to alternative approaches…I’d like to dig through that study and see what they are using for numbers, but it just does not sit well. Interestingly, no one looks at the picture when we are talking grassfeeding and a more paleo type diet.
Perhpas counter intuitively, a meat, fruit and vegetables diet appears to kill FEWER animals than a vegetarian, grain based diet…this throwing the least harm notion on it’s head. Also, small scale grassfed meat production appears to not only be sustainable, but also highly profitable. Most of the energy production of meat is tied up in grain production. Shift to grassfed meat and you remove this expensive and dirty process from the equation while also increasing the health of meat consumers.
Can we feed everyone like this? Will global warming kill us all? The best way to control ALL these problems is some kind of population control and ironically, the best population control is prosperity. Rich nations have fewer children. The counter salvo from the Malthusiasts is that rich nations require a lot of energy…true, but we are only seeing the beginning of green, sustainable energy, and the main driving force here is an open market. India and China are bypassing decades of development the US went through and are comparitively much cleaner than we were. Speaking of sustainability…the US is headed for a serious problem with health/healthcare and the answer being bantied about is state funded healthcare…whcih has been a stunning failure everywhere else it’s been instituted, but we seem bent on this path…because in the words of Sen. Mcgovern “We must do something”.
My main point here is that we need to tackle these issues ONE AT A TIME. When the vegetarians start shifting arguments mid-stream this is BS and it obscures the topic at hand. This is also the classic ploy of someone who is loosing an argument. My secondary point is that the “sustainability” issue is anything but clear and history has shown that markets and innovation trump doomsayers…no matter how badly they want the end-days to be at hand.