A new grass-fed meat study (PDF) has just been brought to my attention, thanks to Aaron Blaisdell. It’s pretty fascinating. Researchers wanted to see two things: whether eating grass-finished animals instead of grain-finished animals would provide a significant influx of dietary omega-3s and whether the potential influx would actually make a difference in lab numbers. They took two groups of people, regular Irish folks, and provided weekly portions of beef and lamb, either grass-finished or grain-finished. The animals were “finished” for a minimum of six weeks. Both groups were told to avoid fatty fish and omega-3-rich oils for the duration of the study. All told, both groups ate roughly 469 grams of red meat a week for four weeks. Oh, and these were all healthy subjects with good cholesterol and blood pressure numbers and without prescriptions to any medications.
Dairy resides in a murky area for some of you guys, but I think most of us can appreciate a good slab of grass-fed butter, maybe a bit of raw cheese, and some fermented dairy, either kefir or yogurt. A select few may not. If dairy makes you feel bad, don’t use it – it’s unnecessary – but if your avoidance stems purely from principle (ie, “it’s a little too Neolithic for me; I’ll just play it safe and avoid it altogether”), the latest study on dairy fat might nudge you toward its thick, viscous, white embrace. Researchers found that patients who ate the most dairy fat, from things like cream, whole milk, and butter, had a 60% lower risk of developing diabetes than patients eating the least dairy fat.
Those who ate the most dairy fat also showed the highest plasma levels of a fatty acid called trans-palmitoleic acid, prompting the study’s authors to zero in on that particular fatty acid as the potentially causative factor. There is a tendency to reduce foods to their individual constituents. Individual constituents, after all, can be “candidates for potential enrichment… and supplementation,” which makes a doctor’s job that much easier, and makes it easy to explain away “paradoxes.” Just wait: trans-palmitoleic acid is gonna be the new red wine when it comes to explaining the “French paradox.” At the end of the day, though, they do admit that “efforts to promote exclusive consumption of low-fat and nonfat dairy products … may be premature.” Hey, it ain’t much, but I’ll take it.
Overburdened doctors sure do love tangible targets, like lipid numbers. They’re easy to hit with drugs. There’s no guesswork – statins and the like actually do lower cholesterol (whether that’s helpful or harmful is the question) – and that makes a physician’s life simpler. Oh, sure, lifestyle changes work, but most patients won’t bother trying them (especially when the changes you prescribe are founded in faulty science and no fun following). Doctors can usually get patients to take a pill.
There’s yet another cholesterol-busting wonder drug on the coming horizon called anacetrapib. A recent eighteen-month trial found that it boosted HDL (from 40 to 101) 138% greater than placebo and slashed LDL (from 81 to 45) 40% better than placebo in patients already taking statins by hampering the effects of the CETP enzyme. Another potent CETP-inhibitor – torcetrapib – made similar headlines in 2006 when it boosted HDL and reduced LDL like nothing else before it, but those headlines were overshadowed when 60% excess mortality occurred in people taking the drug versus those on placebo. So far, anacetrapib seems safe enough, but I’m not holding my breath. I tend to get a little uneasy when we change a single variable and mess with enzymatic pathways in a very complex closed system, with a single goal (raise that HDL, drop that LDL!) in mind. Focusing on numbers that are largely an indication of your lifestyle without doing anything about the lifestyle itself is like pissing into the wind: quite often, it’ll splash all over you, and you’re lucky if it’s just the shoes.
The embrace (some might say exaltation) of butter is, in some respects, what sets the Primal eating plan apart from strict paleo. It is essentially pure animal fat with only minor traces of dairy proteins and sugars remaining, and for that reason I consider it a worthwhile staple. But, to answer the question posed in the title, not all butter is created equal. Most of us are in agreement that the nutritional content of the animal’s flesh depends on the content of its diet, and the same goes for butter.
We’ve covered similar ground with other foods – olive oil, cheese, chocolate, to name a few – but butter’s special. A quick glance around the forum and other online paleo/Primal/real food communities reveals that people are mad for butter. Perhaps it’s because we’re subject to a steady barrage of anti-butter propaganda from day one on this earth; perhaps it’s due to the fact that the stuff tastes like heaven and goes with nearly everything. Whatever the reason, butter knowledge is important.
If you’re truly interested in consuming the original Primal brain food, look no further than bone marrow: perhaps the first reliable source of large, fatty animal products our scrappy ancestors were able to procure. Yes, before we became spear-using cunning tacticians surrounding, stalking, and out-maneuvering large prehistoric ungulates, we feasted on the bones of fallen prey. Or, more accurately, we feasted on what lurked inside the bones (and the skulls, for that matter). Animal fat and protein improved the quality of our diet by making digestion less energy intensive. Bone marrow, especially, was highly caloric and nutrient dense, allowing early human ancestors to divert metabolic resources away from the costly digestion of roughage and toward bigger, costlier brains. This spurred the increase in hominid brain size that we still enjoy today.
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