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Red Meat Gets a Green Light Again

As long as it's the kind cavemen ate, you'll stay healthy, study says

FRIDAY, Feb. 8, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're trying to stay healthy, you need not fear red meat. As long as you eat like a caveman, that is.

A new American study says wild game, like deer and elk, and even grass-fed cattle contain a mixture of fats that actually lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including cancer.

Those meats are similar to what our Stone Age ancestors ate, says study author Loren Cordain, an anthropologist and professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University.

Modern humans are genetically adapted to eat these kinds of lean, pasture-nourished meat, as opposed to the high-fat beef of feedlot cattle that are fed huge amounts of grain, Cordain says.

Cordain and Bruce Watkins, director of the Purdue University's Center for Enhancing Foods to Protect Health, combined a nutritional analysis of elk, deer, antelope, grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef with anthropologic research into the diet of ancient hunter-gatherers.

"We examined the types of fat that are found in wild animals here in North America, and we contrasted them to the types of fat that are found in domesticated animals that are either grain-fed or grass-fed," says Cordain, author of a book called "The Paleo Diet."

"We found that there was a substantial difference in the types of fat and the amounts of fat between wild, grain-fed and grass-fed animals. The differences have important implications for our health and well-being," he says.

Wild game and grass-fed beef have more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Fish also have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

"These omega-3 fats are known to be beneficial in terms of their health effects, in terms of preventing cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk for some forms of cancer and some forms of autoimmune disease," Cordain says.

The wild game and grass-fed beef have lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Diets too high in omega-6 fats are linked with heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes and some forms of arthritis.

The researchers found the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 2-to-1 in wild game and grass-fed beef, compared to ratios as high as 13-to-1 in grain-fed beef.

The study appears in the current issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Contrary to what many people think, Cordain says, eating meat isn't bad. It's the kind of meat you eat that can hurt your health.

Sticking cattle in feedlots and letting them gorge themselves on grain makes them unnaturally fat. Beef cattle left in pastures to eat grass until they're slaughtered provide much healthier meat, similar to wild game, he says.

When you eat fat-laced meat, you're going against our genes and that's what causes health problems, he adds. He notes the genetic code of modern humans is 99.995 percent the same as it was 10,000 years ago.

"Even though we live in cities and we have all the trappings of civilization -- cars and computers and so forth -- we still have the genetic makeup of Stone Age people," he notes.

The genes we inherited from our ancestors were shaped by what they ate, which included lean meat, fruit and vegetables.

"So, the types of food that they were eating are the foods that our species is genetically adapted to," Cordain says.

Nutrition expert Cindy Moore says this study shows there is a difference between grass-fed and grain-fed livestock, and it adds to the growing knowledge about what's in our food.

"As we acquire more knowledge about the specific components of foods that we eat and their makeup in terms of the building blocks -- amino acids, fatty acids and the types of carbohydrates -- it warrants looking into whether we need to alter our (dietary) recommendations," says Moore.

The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed livestock hasn't received much attention, but certainly warrants more research and discussion, she adds.

What To Do

If you want to eat like your ancestors, Cordain says it's not difficult to find wild game or grass-fed beef in most American cities. He suggests you check with specialty meat or health food stores. Also, don't forget that fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

For more information about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, go to the American Heart Association. If you want to try deer meat, here are some venison recipes.

SOURCES: Interviews with Loren Cordain, Ph.D., professor, health and exercise science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.; Cindy Moore, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition therapy, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio; January 2002 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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