Why is Red Meat Not Good for Us: When We Evolved from Meat Eating Hunter Gatherers?

November 21, 2005

Why is Red Meat Not Good for Us: When We Evolved from Meat Eating Hunter-Gatherers? 

 Competency #5 What to EAT               Reference:  "The Way to Eat" by David Katz 

 Red meat is full of saturated fats.  They are correlated with creating vascular disease.  Saturated fats are only half as bad as trans fats, but they clearly get an F for nutritional value.  So, didn't Paleolithic man have heart attacks? Well, no, probably not.  From a variety of sources, we know that hunter-gatherers living around the world virtually never get diabetes or vascular disease. This is an important nuance to understand.  Here is the difference.  

Modern cattle and hogs are fed grain.  Good beef is about 27% fat content.  That's the farmer's goal.  Maximum weight gain in minimum time.  Interestingly enough, if you are a hunter and have had a successful deer hunt this season (ends today: which prompts this email) you are eating meat with about 4% fat in it.  Deer feed on green grass and other fresh vegetation (mostly from your garden).  Their body fat is actually mostly PUFAs (omega fatty acids).  Those are the fats that are good for you.   Paleolithic man chased down and ate 70% of his/her calories from wild game, fish or shellfish.   The Innuit even fed the meat of their slaughtered caribou to their dogs, saving the fat for themselves.    

We evolved over millions of years accommodating to eating a pretty high fat/protein diet that had omega fatty acids as the primary fat.  That became a healthy fat to eat.  Our bodies need it.  At the 4% mark. Now, in the last 200 years we invented industrial agriculture and feed our cattle grain.  Just 100 years ago, our farmer fore bearers let their cattle graze in the pasture.  Now they get corn from a bin.  The fat they gain is made internally because they are fed more calories than they need, or even that they have to work for. (Sounds a lot like us)  

Their fat tissue is composed of heavily saturated fats.  When we eat that fat, we have trouble with it because our bodies have never had a chance to get attuned to that type of fat.  It raises our inflammatory processes.  When we eat saturated fats the extra calories and the inflammation caused by saturated fats gives us a one-two whammy.   It’s just not the same as when we are starving and walking dozens of miles searching for our next meal.  Sorry, I forget, we don't do that anymore.  We’ve replaced the 10-mile search for food with ten steps to the fridge… This also explains the paradox of why ocean salmon are filled with omega fatty acids and farm salmon less so.  Ocean-raised salmon eat little fish that feed on littler fish that feed on blue green algae.  Omega fatty acids are made by blue-green algae and grass.  Ocean-raised salmon has lots of omegas.  Farm-raised animals get most of their calories from corn.  The protein is good for you.  The fat in the farmed fish doesn’t have quite the same makeup. 

 So, question:  Are grain-fed chickens better food choices?  Yes, if you take off the skin where the fat is stored.  But guess what is in the fat of grain-fed versus "free range" chickens.   You're right: saturated fats are in the skin of all poultry.  Their breast meat is much lower in fat than mammal red meat. For those of you who had a happy hunting season, congratulations on finding high-quality protein with healthy fats in it. 

 Literature for the Week:  "The Way to Eat" by David Katz.  This book is as solid as Walter Willet's.  If you liked Walter Willet and his "Eat Drink and Be Healthy" get a copy of "The Way to Eat" on your holiday gift list.  Your family can find a copy for you at all local bookstores.  (He is an ABC doctor commentator, Oprah magazine columnist). 

 WWW: What Will Work For Me:  I'm not a deer hunter.  I didn't eat the skin of the turkey this year.  It was sad.  But until I walk to work each day, the choices I make mean I just can't eat all the calories in the fatty red meat, or that chicken skin.

This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)