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Paleo & Aging: Grass fed beef, Alzheimer's--and my waistline

Updated: May 1, 2018

Paleo feast for diet-conscious seniors
This looks great...but what did the cow eat?

[We get so excited by our quick progress at losing pounds, or boosting energy. That new pair of jeans can mean so much. But remember-- visible improvement is just the tip of the health iceberg. Sustained Paleo, or any diet that avoids processed foods, industrial seed oils and sweeteners, can have invisible but profoundly beneficial, long-term impact on longevity, memory and happiness.]

My Paleo weight loss stalled a few months into the program, after great progress.

I had lost about 20 pounds, and felt great--energy all day, very clear-headed. My waistline shrank by 2 inches, and I was looking forward to more.

Then the stuck, giving me the same number for several weeks, even though I was doing everything "right." I worked out 6 days a week, and was 100% compliant with all the guidelines.

I cracked the books again, mostly The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. What seemed to leap off the page to me (this time) was something I had skimmed over before: the focus on omega fatty acid ratios.

I don't consider myself a diet geek (are you laughing?) and resist bogging down in the molecular-level chemistry behind Paleo (the best books are full of it, for good reason) but this time I dug in.

And I am glad I did. We made one basic change to our menu, and in a few weeks I had to buy a whole new set of pants--my waist literally melted away another two inches. I started dropping weight again, too.

It all came down to grass fed beef.

Not all protein is created equal

Paleo strongly emphasizes "sourcing" protein--which makes sense since protein anchors most meals. Paleoids avoid, where possible, conventionally raised or farmed animal protein in favor of pasture-raised, grass fed, or "organic" options.

We ate tons organic chicken during those first few Paleo months. It was (relatively) inexpensive and tasted great. We supplemented with wild caught salmon, ground bison, and the occasional organic or grass fed steak.

But what exactly is "organic" meat? It turns out this means the animal got (mostly) organic feed. Organic feed, in turn, is typically GRAIN.

Cows, pigs, sheep and chickens don't eat a 100% grain based diet in the wild. Left to themselves, they would eat—or even encounter—little grain.

Chicken, in particular, are naturally opportunistic omnivores. They prefer bugs and worms. Shifting them to grain, even organic grain, CHANGES IMPORTANT NUTRITIONAL PROPERTIES IN THEIR BODIES.

The most important change is to the omega fatty acid ratios in their meat, specifically, how much "omega 6" there is compared to how much "omega 3."

What are omega fatty acids, why should you care--and what happened to my waistline?

(Here’s a concise, not-quite-too-technical overview of omega fatty acids in our diets.)

The VERY short version: “essential” (100% obtained from food, not created by our bodies) fatty acids, including omegas 3 and 6, are crucial nutrients. They underpin numerous bodily functions including hormone regulation, cellular structure, and brain mechanics.

That is, they literally affect your brain and every cell in your body.

Google this. The RATIO of omega 6 to omega 3 is so important that it’s usually discussed in terms of health problems caused when the ratios are OFF.

Too much 6, too little 3 and you are looking at the “diseases of Western civilization:"

  • Obesity

  • Inflammation

  • Elevated triglycerides

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Arterial Plaque buildup

  • Metabolic syndrome, possibly leading to diabetes

  • Autoimmune conditions

  • Heart disease

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Depression

  • Asthma

  • ADHD

  • ALZHEIMERS DISEASE (more below)

  • Elevated cancer risk

  • Macular degeneration

  • Osteoporosis

(Remember…EVERY cell in your body is affected.)

We are what they ate

Even organic chicken can have a too-high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. Too much grain (or, for the poor bird, mostly 100% grain/corn/soy) skews these ratios unfavorably. Even pasture raised chicken can have lousy ratios.

Eating too much of this skewed chicken meat skews (ske-rews?) our own body’s fatty acid ratios.

It turns out that grass fed beef (or any food animal raised on its NATURAL DIET) typically has very favorable omega fatty acid ratios (approaching the ideal 3:1 - 1:1 range.)

Replacing just half the organic chicken in our weekly rotation--with grass fed beef--gave tangible and almost immediate results.

Why so quick? I had already removed every other "inflammatory" food (grain, industrial oils, conventional dairy, sugar, legumes, processed food, etc.) from my new Paleo diet. The chicken was a last holdout—and I didn’t even know it.

Cutting it back further reduced my remaining systemic inflammation (see the above list.)

Inflammation causes obesity, among many other issues.

Some protein more equal than others

We still eat organic chicken (sometimes turkey), to maximize protein diversity…but I shoot for 1-2 servings per week. My main protein sources are grass fed beef (including liver and heart), wild caught salmon and sardines, tuna, and sometimes bison. Grass fed lamb is on the horizon.

We tried “organic ground beef” a couple of times, after months of using grass fed. Each time I felt bloated and underpowered for about 24 hours. I react similarly to conventionally raised (CAFO) beef, usually steaks when we can’t avoid them in restaurants.

We haven’t tried bugs yet. I get in trouble at home when I bring up cricket flour.

The biggest takeaway here: UN-natural diets, yours or your food’s, work against your health—in both the short and long term.

Luckily, the changes needed for both health timelines…

  • “Now” (Weight loss, energy boost, no more coughs and sniffles)

  • “Later” (Vastly reduced chance of chronic disease later in life)

…are the SAME:

--DUMP processed foods, sweeteners, oils and “conventionally raised” meat or fish (and exercise regularly.)

Don’t just reduce or “avoid” these things. Jettison completely. You can find replacements, even if you have to go online.

I live a normal, middle class gray-collar life in a small, landlocked red-state town and can easily find grass-fed or wild caught protein, organic produce, healthy oils—you name it.

RETIREE MEDICAL COST ALERT: omega fatty acid ratios and Alzheimer’s disease

Remember, you are not being trendy—you are fighting for your dignity and survival.

A lifetime of SAD (Standard American Diet) eating habits (and lack of exercise) can shorten your life, make it miserable—and cost you big bucks.

There is no way to over-emphasize this.

We are way beyond losing a few pounds or getting more pep in our step here.

Most of us over 50 need to think VERY critically about our diets—or risk living the last third of our lives as dedicated medical patients and, finally, nursing home residents.

That is, paying 10%-50% of all the money we’ve ever earned in our lives…to doctors and nursing homes.

One truly insidious example:

Skewed omega fatty acid ratios are now increasingly linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias—besides all the other health issues in the list above.

At close to $100,000.00 per year for care, Alzheimer’s is a top retirement plan destroyer.

Yes, there are studies that link DIET to cognitive decline, and more specifically, omega fatty acid ratios to Alzheimer’s.

You just don’t hear about them. Why is that?

We retirees (ok, pre-retirees and everyone else) need to overcome 50-plus years of mental inertia and media conditioning--what we eat makes a damn difference.

Even simple-sounding steps can have impact, like rejecting processed foods or switching to grass fed beef.

Not just an expensive indulgence

Non-discriminating consumers (relying on corporate-backed media…say, isn’t that ALL media?) might only hear about grass fed beef as another fad, or overpriced delicacy.

Some pundits and self-styled “health bloggers” (I’m a Paleo health blogger) maintain that grass fed beef is no different than the CAFO variety.

A little digging (always needed when major media reassures you that “normal is good”) shows that grass fed beef is FAR superior to CAFO or “conventional” selections:

1. Remember, “you are what they ate.” Grass-fed beef is sustainably ranched, by pros who know that SOIL is the real foundation for healthy beeves. That means low or no pesticides, rotational grazing to rest the terrain, and maintaining the best environment (including microbe-level soil husbandry) not just for the COW but for the GRASS the cows eat.

Natural healthy grass equals natural healthy meat...equals natural (and, yes, healthy) YOU.

2. Lower fat and calories. Grass fed beef is leaner and meaner. Even those on Paleo or Keto need to control overall calories. You get the same protein (or more) per ounce, better overall nutrition, and more control over fat intake.

3. The “good fat:” Grass fed beef is 3-5 times higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), considered a potent cancer disruptor.

4. More Vitamin E, often 3 times as much as CAFO beef. Vitamin E is thought to inhibit cancer…and aging! Grass fed beef generally has more of every vitamin normally found in meat.

5. HUGE differences in omega fatty acid ratios. The average CAFO steak contains a stunningly unhealthy 20:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. Grass fed is typically around 3:1. If you’ve read to this point, you realize this is a big deal.

Manageable change, huge benefits

Favorable omega fatty acid ratios clearly, profoundly impact health. Protein choices within the Paleo (or any) lifestyle directly influence these ratios.

Skewed-ratio selections must be minimized—or eliminated.

Besides canned or frozen wild caught salmon and wild caught tuna, grass fed beef is one of the most accessible, good-ratio protein sources available. If you can’t get it at the supermarket, go online.

Hold out for 100% grass fed (vs. “grass fed, grain finished,” since more grain gets you more omega 6.)

Is it expensive? To quote my favorite plumber, it costs money because it saves money. A few pennies more per pound now could save you $100,000.00 in annual nursing home bills later.

Retirees with a golf or travel budget shouldn’t even notice the expense. Enjoy fine wines, art, or photography? Ditto. If you’re in this category you have no excuse not to invest these negligible amounts in your health.

Tighter budgets may need adjustments—but the effort makes sense given the risk of heavy future medical expenses.

There are many ways to save money on grass fed beef, like bulk ordering, eating “nose to tail” (including organ meats and sweetbreads), or choosing mostly economy cuts.

Like any other purchase. it pays to compare prices, look for sales and deals.

We are lucky enough to be able to buy direct from Bar 10 Ranch here in Southern Utah. We pick up locally, but they also sell online. We found them on Google. You may live closer to a ranch than you think.

If not, you can even find grass fed beef on Amazon.

Do it today.

Your omega fatty acid ratios will thank you.

When you’re playing tennis at age 95, remember to say “you’re welcome.”

And don't forget:

DAVID WHITESIDE IS NOT A DOCTOR and does not give medical advice or treatment. He offers information and personal experience only. Nothing you read on this website or blog should be construed as medical advice or as intended to supersede information you get from your medical professional. Following the advice given here or on any recommended resource site does not create a doctor-patient relationship or create liability for David or anyone else. David is not liable for any loss or complication you experience from following any diet or taking any action. You should check with your properly accredited medical professional if you think you are injured or ill.

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