Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Obesity, Omegas, and Organic Foods

Here's another great reason to buy only organic, grass fed, free-range meats and dairy (if you buy them at all): Factory farm produce makes you fat.

"In the United States, the mass of fatty tissue in children under one doubled between 1970 and 1990....Between 6 and 11 months of age, you can't blame McDonald's, snacking, TV, and lack of physical exercise!"

Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, in Anti-Cancer, blames milk.

Specifically he blames the changing character of milk since the 1950s. He suggests, with some convincing studies behind him, that the single largest contributor to obesity is an omega 3/omega 6 imbalance. And the leading cause of this imbalance is that farm animals are no longer eating grass, but are primarily fed corn and other grains.

In a tiny nutshell: When cows eat grass, it's full of omega-3 fatty acids which is concentrated in the milk, butter, cheese, and beef. The same is true of eggs from free-range chickens fed with forage rather than grain. But when the demand for milk, eggs, and meats increased, farmers reduced the grazing area needed, and started feeding others grains to the animals. Corn, soy and wheat contain practically no omega-3 fatty acids, but lots of omega-6. We need a balance of omega 3:6 that's close to 1:1. When animals are fed feed, they can end up with produce closer to 1:40. Eating an excess of omega-6 fatty acids makes us fat.

He also suggests we replace our oils with linseed/flaxseed rather than olive oil or corn oil or margarine. And don't eat any processed foods which are all high in omega-6 fatty acids, and avoid sugars and bleached flour.

The cancer link in the book comes with the fact that obesity is second only to smoking as having the strongest correlation to cancer that's affected by individual human behaviour (as opposed, for instance, to industrial pollution).

The book got a horrible review in the New York Times, where it was equated with a late-night infomercial, but there are many many others who site the omega 3:6 balance as imporant to good health. The review mainly takes Servan-Schreiber to task for his claim that a "Type-C" personality contributes to cancer. I have to admit that's why I picked up the book. In my very limited anecdotal experiences, it's the nice people who never yell who succum, and the angry miserable types who live to a ripe old age.

The bottom line is, factory farms are abusive to animals. We all know the horror stories of animals that aren't allowed to move and never see the light of day - at best. But if they also make us fat and contribute to the rising rates of cancer, why would anyone eat them? It's just a few minutes further to the local health food store or the farmer's market where organic meats and dairy are plentiful.

Not convinced? Watch The Meatrix. Take the red pill to learn the Truth: you, the consumer, hold the power.


Barry Deutsch said...

I'm skeptical. What about the large increase in breastfeeding over that same time period? It's possible that our reliance on cow milk for infants actually went down during that time.

I'm also really annoyed by anti-fat scare tactics being used to police infant's bodies.

Finally, surely you're aware that huge number of Americans don't actually live right by a farmer's market, and may not be able to afford the higher prices at the health food store?

Marie said...

Hi Barry,
The book suggests that it's not just that babies are drinking this milk directly, but that they're getting it through their moms.

I think it's a bit dramatic to call it policing infant's bodies. A trend has been noticed that people are getting significantly bigger since the 1950s. Many studies point to McD's, etc. But, since it's also the case that babies are getting bigger, it can't just be because of the behavioural causes previously suggested. Therefore,according to this theory, it must be a change in the quality of the food we're eating.

I don't live near a market, but we have health food stores in the city, and there's organic produce sold at the grocery store. It's really unfortunate that that they're expensive. I imagine selective subsidization has something to do with that. The fact that better quality food is more costly is something that definitely needs to be rectified through citizen protest and/or political action.

And if more people recognize the importance of avoiding factory farm produce, and are able to make the switch, produce will be available more widely and more affordable - in theory anyway.

Teresa said...

This is somewhat of a segue ... I was about to point out that many mid-sized cities ARE quite close to "country" markets: ten minutes in almost any direction outside of KW will take you to any number of varied roadside stands and small-town vendors of organic stuff. However, then I started to think yeah, but what about city dwellers who don't have access to cars -- or who (wisely) do without private vehicles ... how do they get to these plentiful markets?

Isn't it ironic that trying to live well in one way (i.e. without a car) makes you unable to explore other healthful living options (out of town food sources)? I'm not at all sure what this means ... except that it's sometimes tough to live well within the infrastructure in which we find ourselves.

Perhaps that we need to develop better ways of bringing good food into the cities? Or carpooling neighbourhoods to make rural grocery shopping trips? Another irony: I live in the country/small town, which I love and has an abundance of clean(er) air and organic, free-range or grass-fed foodstuffs. But man, do I have a huge carbon footprint ... 'cause out here, we have to drive practically everywhere. Sigh.

Marie said...

@Teresa - Also, this is prime farm country here. There's likely fewer chances of a market near areas with climates or ground less suitable for growing. But we clearly need a different set of priorities for food transportation. If the grocery store can get oranges in winter, surely it can get grass-fed meat and milk. Since the money-making industries don't want to support it, it has to come from mass consumer demand.

We have a neighbour that runs a co-op thing out of her home. She buys directly from farmers, then sells to people within walking distance, so just she has to do the driving. That's one way to go about it - if you've know someone with a car and lots of time and energy on their hands!

Teresa said...

Great idea -- another thing we can do is insist that the major chains buy in-season produce from local growers. It blows my mind how Sobey's will stock New Mexico tomatoes ... in August! I know that people in Wilmot have started to gripe to store managers about that, and asking why. I think it made a difference, too: already this year I'm seeing SOME improvement in the produce section. Don't buy California strawberries! Just wait a month and buy the local ones, folks -- you can't have everything all the time without repercussions.