Grass fed and pasture raised- the fat facts

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You are what you eat- a cliché never more true than when discussing the fats in our diet. You’ll have heard a lot about essential fatty acids- specifically omega 6 and 3. These fats are “essential” because they are building blocks that we need to obtain from the diet- our body can not manufacture them. Getting the right kinds of fats and in the right ratios determines much about our health- from skin to cardiovascular, from hormones to chronic inflammatory diseases. You are either feeding inflammation with the types and ratios of fats you are eating, or you are promoting anti-inflammation pathways in your body. The ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats we are after for good health is 2:1. While this may have been the way our body’s evolved, in the last 140 years (or so) there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of omega 6s (which are pro-inflammatory) and a dramatic reduction in omega 3s (which are neutral/anti-inflammatory). Some figures say that a modern diet filled with polyunsaturated seed oils and processed fats can be in ratios up to 25:1!!! This is a serious health concern. The facts are simple. A diet high in omega 6 will be high in inflammatory mediators contributing to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other inflammation driven diseases- while a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids will be protective, by driving anti-inflammation pathways in the body.

Now supplementation is one way to increase your omega 3s. Common sources are fish, krill, flax, chia seed and hemp seed oils. Also, we can increase the intake of these fats from foods, as well as decreasing the amount of omega 6s from the diet (vegetable oils, seed oils/margarine, soy oil- any oils used in processed foods and frying).

But there is another way we can tip the scales in favour of good health, and this is where the importance of grass fed /pasture raised beef comes in. Lately there has been a move towards grass fed animal products- with brands available in most chain supermarkets now. But what exactly is the benefit of eating grass fed? 

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I used to wonder, how people got enough omega 3s before capsulated fish oils and adding flax seeds to everything. The truth is, animal fat used to be a major source of omega 3 fatty acids! The natural diet of ruminant animals is grass. In Australia most cattle are raised in pasture and feed on grass, but about 35% of cows are “finished” on feedlots where they spend 6-8 weeks eating grain to increase weight. In grass fed animals the fat content is similar in ratio to the ideal for human health- 2:1. In animals who have fed on grain the ratios can vary from 5:1 to 13:1.

12277103_10153053896711148_166600458_n Photo courtesy of my clever chook raising friends, at Autumn Farm in Bega NSW.

Let’s look at the quick facts. Grass fed beef:

1- Lower in total fat and calories

2- Ideal ratio of omega 6:3 essential fatty acids

3- High in a fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is a potent ally in preventing cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, insulin resistance, immune dysfunctions/allergies and inflammation. It also influences body composition/fat distribution.

4- Reduced exposure to GMOs- Corn and soy fed to grain fed animals comes can often be contaminated with genetically modified products. The impacts of GMO’s on human health are not understood and their safety is controversial- they are best avoided.

5- Better animal health and welfare- Pasture raised animals are living on their ideal diet in their ideal environment, free to roam and have significantly less health issues than animals who are fed on GMO grain living their last months in feed lots. And for those who want an ethically raised, sustainable product- it’s grass fed all the way.

It’s important to not that these benefits are not exclusive to beef but include ALL animal products, including eggs from pasture raised chickens, dairy and other meats such as lamb, pigs etc…

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12270530_10153053911511148_448560255_nMy gorgeous farming friend, Linda working with the pasture raised hens.   

One of the things I love the most about living where I do, is access to local farm raised produce. I have the luxury of buying much of my animal products from farmers markets- where I can speak directly to the farmer about their production methods and welfare of the animals they raise. If you’re in the city, it can get  be a bit trickier to access producers of ethical and pasture raised animal foods. Luckily these changes are catching on- and more and more networks, small goods shops, cafes and health food stores are labeling their products so that you have more of an idea of how and where your food was raised.

So, if you’re eating animal foods-  do your best to chose pasture raised, small scale and as local as possible. It’s better for your health, for their health, the environment and the local economy. So much you can feel good about.

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Most of the beautiful pictures in this post are found on my friend Linda’s Instagram page “GROWFARMFORAGE”- she’s nothing short of an inspiration and her pictures are divine. 

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Turmeric: The age old remedy for old age

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A cousin to ginger, turmeric or Cucurma longa has been used as a medicine in Asia for more than 2500 years. It’s only recently in western herbal medicine that we’ve begun to appreciate the full spectrum of benefits this humble herb can offer.

One thing I love about Turmeric is that while it is powerful- it is gentle.

It’s safe to take along most prescription medications (but double check with your doc first) and it has a mild flavour which is pleasant to most. Let’s take a look at some of it’s proven benefits and uses:

Antioxidant- Protecting the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage due to chemical exposure is turmeric’s speciality. Not only do the active compounds in turmeric act as antioxidants themselves, it also helps to accentuate the body’s own antioxidant processes. It’s a must for the modern world.

Anti-inflammatory- Turmeric contains dozens of compounds which exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects. The most studied and backed by research is the chemical called curcumin. The anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric block enzymes which promotes swelling and pain, making this herb excellent for the treatment of arthritis, chronic pain and injury. Many studies have found curcumin to be as effective in the treatment of arthritis as many anti-inflammatory drugs.

Brain Health- Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and helps to increase certain enzymes in the brain responsible for repair and nerve connections. It’s role as an antioxidant and in inflammation is significant in the processes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Much research is underway to establish to what extent turmeric can delay or reverse brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, age related cognitive decline and depression.

Heart disease- A smite on the modern world- heart disease is our biggest killer. While the causes of heart disease can be both genetic and lifestyle induced- our 2 major foes, inflammation and oxidation play a major role. Turmeric can be a valuable addition to the treatments of many kinds of heart disease and are often fine to take alongside conventional drugs (please see your doctor/pharmacist or naturopath if you have any questions about drug interactions). Turmeric also appears to play a role in endothelial health, the inside wall of your blood vessels which are important in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and many other circulatory processes. As an anti-inflammatory it may be of benefit in raised cholesterol, which often has an association with systemic inflammation.

Cancer- While much research is still needed- early studies have shown that curcumin can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumours), metastisis (spread of cancer cells), as well as contributing to cancer cell death and suppressed tumour growth. There is also some evidence of it preventing some cancers, especially cancers of the digestive system (colon cancer).

Turmeric also has significant benefits on the digestive system (local anti-inflammatory action useful in IBS, inflammatory bowel diseases and autoimmunity), the liver, and in helping us to cleanse the blood and improve skin conditions. There really is no one who wouldn’t benefit from it!

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Golden green and lush- turmeric is ready for harvest.

Can’t live forever, but I’m gonna die trying.

Turmeric is up there on the list of ways to try to keep on ticking. So let’s look at some ways to get it in to ya.

We’ve talked a lot about the active constituent curcumin. Now sadly, it’s not such an easy thing for us to absorb. Not only that, the content of curcumin in turmeric is only about 3-5%. Therefore if you really want to get the most from turmeric as a medicine (pain relief or any of the reasons mentioned above)- an extract can be a good way to go. There are many excellent ones on the market these days, providing high levels of curcumin per dose, usually in capsule/tablet or liquid extract. Without directing you to a particular brand, in Australia, you can be confident with most naturopath prescribed-only companies and a few retail ranges. Products should explain their extraction method and talk about their bioavailability as a key feature. “Bioavailability” being the degree to which the active constituents become available in the blood stream. I’ve used and prescribed quite a few different ones all with great success.

For those of us that are more in to food as medicine, or who don’t have the cash to buy supplements or want to just increase the amount of nutrient dense foods in our diet with out any real particular therapeutic goal per say, preparation of your turmeric is the key. Let’s look to some of the ways we can increase the efficacy of turmeric as a whole food:

Black pepper- Piperine from common black pepper has been found to help block the break down of curcumin in the liver, allowing more of it to enter the bloodstream. In human trials adding piperine to turmeric increased it’s bioavailability by 2000%! Adding a generous dose of black pepper to your curries, or simply popping a few pepper corns whole with your turmeric and veggie juice can help increase it’s effect as a medicine.

Fat- Turmeric has low solubility in water. Therefore mixing turmeric with coconut, sesame, flaxseed or olive oil can also improve it’s bioavailability.

Heat- Traditionally, turmeric has been used in cooking, and in medicinal beverages/teas which has also been found to improve it’s absorption. Curcumin is sensitive to heat however, so while a curry might be have you frying your powder in oil and onions and simmering for ages, this isn’t the best way to get the medicinal benefit. By all means enjoy it that way- but look to heat your turmeric gently and not for long if you want it in all it’s medicinal glory.

Bioflavonoids- These are substances found in plants. A major bioflavonoids called Quercetin can help prevent the metabolism of curcumin in the body- enhancing it’s effectiveness. A favourite way to take turmeric is to combine a tsp dried powder in 1 cup of boiling water with the juice of ½ a lemon and some honey to taste. Lemons are naturally high in Quercetin, and hot lemon in water is famous as a liver tonic. Add turmeric – and what a way to start the day!

The Kitchen Medicine Essentials: 

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Golden Paste-

Making a batch of Golden Paste will make it easy for you to add bioactive turmeric to dishes and drinks regularly, and it’s the base of golden milk a traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It’s easy:

¼ cup turmeric powder

½ cup water

1 tsp black pepper

2-3 tsps of coconut oil

Mix all of the ingredients in a sauce pan until the mixture becomes a smooth rich paste. You may need to add a little bit more water if the mixture becomes too thick. Stir over a low-medium heat for 5 minutes. Trasfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge. This paste will last for 2-3 weeks.

Golden milk-

You’ll find many versions of this around, here is my favourite. If you’ve made golden paste- it couldn’t be easier:

½ tsp golden paste

1 cup milk -Of your choice. Traditionally it’s cows milk- but I prefer almond or coconut milk

Honey to taste

A dash of cinnamon/ground ginger or cayenne pepper if you like

If you haven’t made up your golden paste in advance, it’s not really that much more complicated:

1 cup of milk- as above

½ -1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coconut oil

a dash of black pepper , cinnamon, ginger or cayenne

honey taste

Method:

In both cases- combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes (leave the honey out till the very end). Remove from heat and put the lid back on and let sit an extra 5 mins. Stir and serve up the liquid gold, adding honey now if you want a bit of sweetness- you’ll love it! Depending on your therapeutic aim- drink 1-3 cups per day.

Ps- If you have the fresh grated root, you may wish to blend your ingredients in a high speed blender before heating- to give it an extra smooth consistency.