In part one, I rambled about how modern science has flaws and thus cannot be trusted in nutrition research sometimes. With saturated fat and cholesterol science, the research is often on people who have unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, red meat has become the villain. Eggs and steak aren’t bad for you folks. From these studies people will say eat more fruits and vegetables for nutrition. Eggs and meat are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Have you ever eaten a steak and felt like your brain worked better afterwards? I have. That is science folks. Science isn’t just going to pubmed and finding articles to support your theories. That’s reading science. Doing science involves experimentation. Your career description does not need to read “scientist” for you to practice science. Your career may be listed as “scientist” and you may not be doing science sometimes because of your biases.
Knowing that I feel better sometimes from eating meat shows me that on some level it is good for me. In other ways, it certainly may not be good for me and I am open to multiple possibilities. Unfortunately people with their heads up their asses call this anecdotal evidence, ranking it too low to be considered legitimate on the hierarchy of evidence. BULLSHIT! I am completely opposed to that idea. Anecdote is often not reliable. But it can become reliable with careful experimentation.
Now one way eating lots of red meat may not be good for me is because I am only eating the muscle component of the animal most of the time. I am not eating the collagen-rich parts like organ means and making broth from the bones. Lately, I’ve been lazy and have been feeling too busy in medical school to devise a holistic nutrition plan for myself that involves organ meat consumption and use of the whole animal. I don’t farm and am not as connected to my food as I should be. Modern science that concludes meat consumption in Americans on the standard American diet is bad for everyone is also coming from a place of extreme disconnectedness to food. We are modern and fashionable but disconnected to the dirt underneath the cement underneath the carpet underneath the sock underneath our feet supporting our bodyweight.
So that in a gist is part one. In this post I will go through a different thought experiment to prove to you why you cannot rely on studies on meat consumption.
Why epidemiological studies on saturated fat consumption should not be trusted
First of all, these studies actually show no association with heart disease. STILL however people condemn saturated fat. Like HELLO PEOPLE. READ THE LITERATURE YOURSELF. Nevertheless, back in the day when the sugar companies made fat the public enemy to increase the epidemic of obesity in America while profiting off of sugar sales, people went on low fat diets. Large studies like the Nurses Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) have attempted to answer questions about how to live healthfully. Briefly, epidemiology is about studying a population (like nurses in the NHS) and attempting to find a pattern between a factor in their lifestyle and an outcome. Outcomes might include death for example which is the most important one, or maybe a risk factor for death like low HDL and high triglycerides.
Now, it’s clear that low fat diets don’t do much for your health except in certain situations. I only believe in individualized and intuitive eating for optimal health. I believe in the Blood Type Diet by Dr. D’Adamo. It’s individualized. I don’t believe in Whole30. That is a one-size fits all kapha-reducing weight-loss program (kapha is basically like obesogenic in Ayurveda. Diets that eliminate heavy foods are kapha-reducing from that perspective and I think the lingo is easy to understand. People who diet and exercise too much lower their kapha and yin to unhealthy levels and suffer health problems). Whole30 caught on because people mistakenly associate weight loss with health (even medical students fall for this trap). Only true in some cases. Like the person on the standard American diet.
So take my diet. I will make a dinner like in this photo frequently.
I’ll take some healthy oil, like coconut oil, toasted sesame oil, butter, ghee, and NOT canola oil, corn, safflower, or soy oil (avoid vegetable oils as if your life depended on it) and heat it up. I may have spices on the pan already dry roasting like cumin. I add vegetables to it like onions and tomatoes perhaps. I may add some more spices. I will add more vegetables and meat and salt and just cook that food.
I will eat this meal with some type of carbohydrate like rice (brown, red, and white) or buckwheat noodles or starch-rich yellow potatoes. Once in a while I’ll have lentils (daal made bengali style, one of my comfort foods) with this meal to reduce carbohydrate consumption (unfortunately my extended family despite eating a spice-rich diet that protects DNA also enjoys a high white rice diet without accompanying physical activity resulting in obesity and diabetes).
Now please tell me this. Has a study ever been done evaluating how the effect of cumin, coriander, black pepper, onions, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, cooked together in a meal with RED MEAT the VILLAIN hurts my health? HAS THAT STUDY THEN CONSIDERED THE REST OF OUR LIFESTYLES (LIKE EXERCISE HABITS, STRESS, ETC.) AND BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE AN APPLICABLE CONCLUSION FOR MY HEALTH???
The WHOLE POINT, or RAISON D’ÊTRE (I love how expressive the French are with anger) of epidemiology is to find something that APPLIES TO THE GENERAL POPULATION. When the grandfather of epidemiology found in 1853 after meticulously tracking the public water supply in London that water contaminated with people’s shit and piss was causing the vast majority of illness from cholera, he found something applicable to the whole population. There were two water companies in town. One had pipes right next to shit and piss and the other did not. The ratio of illnesses was like 71:5. Pretty god damn obvious there. Correlation does not equal causation in epidemiology. But to common sense, it does. When the correlation is that high and people are dying of cholera, you should just assume causation.
Meat consumption fortunately doesn’t cause people to drop dead like drinking eight glasses of shit and piss-infused water (might as well call it tea at this point or a tincture) does. Unfortunately, it is harder to find cause and effect relationships with foods, herbs, exercise, and so on. You can exercise and still be unhealthy if the rest of your lifestyle is. So if we cannot rely on epidemiology to tell us if meat is healthy how can we answer the effect of meat on our health?
The answer to this question lies in the concept of synergy. When you mix red with blue you get purple. Purple contains both red and blue, but the effect it has on you when you look at it is not simply a mix of the effect of viewing the color red and viewing the color blue. Purple is a relaxing yet luring color to me. I associate it with mysticism (what do you feel when you see purple?) Red is more fiery, sensual, and loud. Blue is cooling, stable, and chill, yet powerful. Of course, this is very subjective but hear me out (science actually is more subjective than people realize). The feeling I get when I look at something purple is not the feeling I get from viewing blue plus the feelings I get from viewing red divided by two. The effect is entirely different. It is new. it is not 1 + 1 = 2.
Thus, when determining how eating red meat and spinach together affects health, we should expect some additive properties (one plus one equals two), some cancelling effects (one minus one equals zero), and some novel synergistic effects (one plus A equals god knows what) that cannot be explained by adding together studies looking solely at meat consumption with studies looking solely at spinach or dark leafy green consumption (or n of one experiments where you just eat meat and see you how feel and just eat spinach and see how you feel then add those up and average them–of course adding up qualitative things to average makes no sense but you get the point). Add stress to the equation and physical activity and you have more room for synergy. There are a million, literally, additional factors that can affect this process.
Red meat itself has so many synergistic compounds in it. Yes there is some saturated fat and cholesterol. Rats and mice fed high cholesterol and high saturated fat diets may end up with clogged arteries, but that is not because just of the saturated fat and cholesterol but because of the unnaturalness of the diet, the inability to process those fats and metabolize them like humans do, and for a variety of other reasons. Regardless that diet does not contain vitamin B12 found in red meat, or alpha-lipoic acid a powerful anti-aging anti-oxidant compound, nor does it contain L-carnitine which helps shuttle fatty acids to the mitochondria for fat oxidation, nor does it contain carnosine another energy-promoting anti-aging nutrient, nor does that diet contain heme-iron which is a highly absorbable and digestible form of iron, nor does that disgusting abominable diet off of which so much catastrophe has ensued from inapplicable laboratory research contain the other combination of B-vitamins in red meat, nor OLEIC ACID THE HEART-HEALTHY fat in OLIVE OIL of which there is almost as much of as saturated fat in red meat (Gary Taubes talked about this a lot and although I think his low-carb hysteria wasn’t entirely true he is a pioneer in nutrition science without even having a degree–goes to show you who you can trust, as while he discusses the evils of carbohydrates the Dean of nutrition programs at top universities condemn organic food and tell you breakfast cereal from Kellogg is healthy because it is enriched with vitamins but mainly because those companies are affiliated with the university somehow…yea don’t study nutrition at a big university or become a registered dietician if you aren’t ready to swallow conventional bullcrap), nor the omega-3 fatty acids present in GRASS-FED beef, and how there is actually less arachidonic acid in grass-fed meat, as well as more vitamin E. Oh man, the list goes on and on.
I’m taking a nutrition class right now that discusses the effects of supplemental minerals and vitamins on health. The studies have examined one nutrient at a time but your body never works that way. Yea sure supplemental vitamin C may reduce this this and that but the whole food will do the same and more things many of which are unpredictable due to the concept of synergy.
Conclusion on synergy
I have rambled a lot so here is the take away about synergy, which was the entire point of part II. Synergy happens when you eat a whole food versus a supplemental vitamin. Red meat for example contains many vitamins and minerals, antioxidant and anti-aging compounds, and omega-3 fatty acids if grass-fed. The synergistic effect of this on your health cannot be predicted from studying the scientific literature on each one of these single nutrients. You may gain an idea but will not know the exact effect.
Part of the reason why you’ll never know is because the synergy also involves how the whole food interacts with the WHOLE YOU. You are a combination of your genetics and environment. Nature and nurture. Your stress levels, physical activity, social actiites, personality, overall happiness, television usage, phone usage, and other factors will affect how red meat affects you physiologically and energetically. This will sound like mumbo jumbo to people who only know how to think reductionistially, like my former self years ago. But lets look at physical activity. Eating carbohydrates after exercising has a different effect than eating those same amount of carbohydrates resting. Although other factors don’t have such noticeably strong effects, there is something happening. I honestly ate dinner today while psychologicaly stressed about something that happened to me reently at school. I very likely did not digest that food as well as I would have if I were at peace mentally, as the mind is connected ot the heart which is connected to the lungs, which is connected to everything else. Indeed as I tried to fall asleep I realized I hadn’t eaten enough and this was mildly stressful as it’s harder to fall asleep. I practiced some stress reduction techniques and slept well.
Final statements for part II.
I am once again not citing any literature, because that is a diversion from doing science yourself. You must take it upon yourself to practice observation, hypothesis formation, experimentation, analysis, then reproduction and expansion of previous experiments, to form valid concludions about what works for your health. Unfortunately, no one is going to figure it out for you.
The studies are limited in design by how much they can truly see. A good scientific study has to have a simple research question that can isolate the effect of one treatment/condition. In this case that would be say, red meat consumption. That study will not factor in exercise, smoking, and all the other factors. The statistial analysis will aim to remove those variables but still, the conclusion will not apply to the guy like me who exercises, eats spices, vegetables, meditates from time to time and tries to be healthy and eats meat. I’m too rare, even though my I shouldn’t be as my diet should be much much better. It’s just that those studies will look at average people who really aren’t doing much for their health. Of course, if red meat was a potent neurotoxin, we would see an effect no matter what and it would be strong. But when the effects aren’t like that, it gets way murkier and that’s why I have shied away from analyzing that kind of literature. I still read nutrition science literature from time to time but always think about how applicable it truly is to the general population. Not much usually I don’t think.
That’s it for part two. In part three I will share the latest research on the subject of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Stay tuned!