We have a problem with plastic. Not only is it difficult to get rid of without damaging the environment, but we appear to have an addiction to all things disposable. In the U.S., plastic is considered an integral and necessary part of daily life. Just a stroll down the grocery store aisle reveals an unhealthy dependence on plastic, from packaging to bags for our groceries.
Fresh produce is often wrapped in plastic or sliced and shrink-wrapped in a plastic covering. Nuts, cheese, milk and lettuce are all encased in plastic. Across the world, 299 million tons were produced in 2013, much of which ended up in the oceans, threatening wildlife and environment.1 In 2015, the U.S. generated 34.4 million tons, which accounted for 13.2% of municipal solid waste.2
In the case of plastic packaging, 95% of the material value, an estimated $80 billion to $120 billion annually, is lost after its first usage, adding economic problems to other drawbacks, according to a report from the World Economic Forum.3 Now scientists are thinking about how to make plastic into food.
Exchanging Plastic for Food
With a focus on improving military logistics, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Iowa State University and partners a $2.7 million grant to make food from plastic and paper waste, which they intend to feed to military men and women.4 The ability to turn paper and plastic into a food product may help with short-term nourishment for soldiers and improve military logistics for extended missions.
They estimate the total grant award may reach $7.8 million before the project ends. Partners in this endeavor include the American Institute of Chemical Engineers RAPID Institute, the University of Delaware and Sandia National Laboratories. Initially, the system is being called the Novel Oxo-degradation to Macronutrients for Austere Deployments (NOMAD).
The aim is to convert paper waste into sugars and plastic into fatty acids and fatty alcohols. These byproducts would then be processed into a single cell biomass in the field. Other examples of single cell proteins include Vegemite and nutritional yeast. The NOMAD system must fit specific requirements to enable military troops to carry it with them during deployment and extraction.
While DARPA is initiating the project for use by the military in the field, it may not be long before such a system would be proposed as a means of providing inexpensive food stuffs for others. As explained in the press release from Iowa State University, the process could “go a long way toward solving looming problems of plastic disposal and ensuring a viable global food chain.”5
Robert Brown from Iowa State University is the principal investigator on the project. He explained how plastics and paper could biodegrade in the field and be used to grow edible yeast or bacteria:6
“When exposed to heat or ultraviolet light in the presence of oxygen, plastics convert to oxygenated compounds that can be consumed by microorganisms — plastics are, in fact, bio-degradable, but the process is very slow, as evidenced by the accumulation of plastic wastes in the environment.
We can dramatically increase oxo-degradation of plastics to fatty compounds by raising the temperature a few hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cooled product is used to grow yeast or bacteria into single cell proteins suitable as food.”
‘An Army Marches on Its Stomach’
This familiar saying has been attributed to Napoleon and Fredrick the Great in reference to the ability of an army to perform better when their nutritional needs are met.7 While an argument could be made the food supplied to the military would be “natural” single cell protein, it's important to remember the lessons that we have learned from grain-fed beef.
There are multiple problems with raising livestock in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), including issues with the environment, water supply, humane treatment of the animals and the addition of chlorine and other toxins to clear away contaminants. Despite the outcry over CAFOs, many fall back to the claim that factory farms can feed the world. The question is — at what cost?
As nutritional analyses have revealed, issues inside the CAFOs and surrounding communities are not the only problems. The nutritional differences in beef raised or finished on grain versus beef from pasture raised animals is striking. Grass fed beef has better fatty acid composition and antioxidant content.8
The meat is higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and precursors to CLA,9 which play a role in fat metabolism and positively modify cardiometabolic risk factors which impact body composition by lowering body fat levels.10 Grass fed beef is also higher in omega 3 fats and lower in cholesterol elevating fats.11
The aim of producing more meat in less time with less effort has led to a glut on the market of beef that contributes to the ill health of those who eat it. Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association says it best in this article:
“Before these hapless creatures are dragged away to hell, to be fattened up on GMO grains and drugged up in America’s CAFOs, their meat is high in beneficial omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), and low in ‘bad’ fats.
Unfortunately by the time their abused and contaminated carcasses arrive, all neatly packaged, at your local supermarket, restaurant, or school cafeteria, the meat is low in omega-3 and good “fats,” and routinely tainted by harmful bacteria, not to mention pesticide, steroid, and antibiotic residues.”
The lesson learned is that just because it looks like healthy beef, doesn’t mean it carries the same nutritional value as that raised in a healthy environment. Of course, the same can be said about Impossible Burgers or any other food product manufactured in the lab. In the short term it may be a solution to a military problem, but do you think it will stop there?
Is Recycling Just a Big Fraud?
Recycling is another way of attempting to reduce the problem with plastic pollution. However, the question remains as to whether this is a viable answer since there is growing evidence suggesting it may have only a minor impact under the best of circumstances.
The Guardian12 reports that Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against 10 major companies. The group hopes to force the organizations to take responsibility and pay for the environmental and ecological destruction their products are causing. Ramping up recycling may sound like an answer, but as the executive director of the Basel Action Network, Jim Puckett, told Rolling Stone magazine:13
“They really sold people on the idea that plastics can be recycled because there’s a fraction of them that are. It’s fraudulent. When you drill down into plastics recycling, you realize it’s a myth.”
Pucket goes on to describe how 91% of the plastic created since 1950 has never been recycled, quoting a study published in 2017.14 In addition, the reporter from Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson, wrote:15
“Unlike aluminum, which can be recycled again and again, plastic degrades in reprocessing, and is almost never recycled more than once. A plastic soda bottle, for example, might get downcycled into a carpet.”
At the rate at which plastic is being added to the ocean, it's expected there will be more plastics than fish by 2050.16 You'll find more about plastic recycling, struggles with landfill pileup and Coca-Cola undermining the recycling efforts in “Is Plastic Recycling Just a Big Fraud?”
Lifetime Average Consumption of Plastic Is Shocking
Tiny bits of plastic can be found nearly everywhere in the environment, including the food on your plate. Microplastics, as they are called, are smaller than 5 mm and have been found in foods and beverages. Drinking water is one of the largest sources from which researchers estimate the average person consumes 1,769 particles each week.17
Yet, bottled water is not the solution since it may contain even more plastic than tap water. Research published in Environmental Science and Technology suggested people who drink bottled water exclusively may consume more microplastics than those who drink tap water:18
“Additionally, individuals who meet their recommended water intake through only bottled sources may be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water.”
Plastic pollution likely originates from the manufacturing process of bottles and caps. When researchers tested 259 bottles of 11 bottled water brands, they found there were 325 pieces of microplastic per liter, on average.19 The brands tested included Aquafina, Evian, Dasani, San Pellegrino and Nestle Pure Life, among others.
Based on the findings from the WWF International study, Reuters created an illustration showing how much plastic a person would consume over time. According to these estimations, you may be consuming:20
- Every week — 5 grams or enough plastic to pack a soup spoon.
- Every six months — 125 grams or enough shredded flakes to fill a cereal bowl.
- Every year — 250 grams or a heaping dinner plate of shredded plastic.
- Every 10 years — 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) or about the size of a standard life buoy.
- Over 79 years — 20 kg (44 pounds) of shredded plastic over an average lifetime.
To put this in perspective, one car tire weighs about 20 pounds.21 So a lifetime supply of plastic consumption would be like slowly eating 2.2 car tires. Thava Palanisami of the University of Newcastle, who was involved in a study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told Reuters:22
"We have been using plastic for decades but we still don't really understand the impact of micro- and nano-sized plastic particles on our health … All we know is that we are ingesting it and that it has the potential to cause toxicity. That is definitely a cause for concern."
A Call to End Plastic Pollution
The fight against plastic pollution is being carried out on several fronts. In addition to the lawsuit filed by Earth Island Institute, the WWF is calling on governments to support further research into the consequences on living organisms when microplastics are ingested. In their analysis, they note:23
"The current global approach to addressing the plastic crisis is failing. Governments play a key role to ensure all actors in the plastic system are held accountable for the true cost of plastic pollution to nature and people.”
You can help by supporting legislation that is aimed at holding companies accountable for the pollution they create. For example, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, which requires companies selling plastic products to pay for “end-of-life” initiatives that ensure plastic does not end up polluting the environment.24
Bills like this need your support since the industry has deep pockets and its players are notorious for their extensive lobbying and public relations expertise. It’s also important to remember the significant impact you can have by making simple changes in your daily life. Below is a sampling of strategies that can help:
Don't use plastic bags. Opt for reusable bags, especially for groceries
Bring your own mug for a coffee drink; skip the lid and straw
Instead of buying bottled water, bring water from home in a glass water bottle
Make sure the items you recycle are actually recyclable
Store foods in glass containers or Mason jars, not plastic containers or freezer bags
Bring your own leftovers container when eating out
Avoid processed foods, which are typically sold with plastic wrapping or plastic-lined paper boxes. Buy fresh produce and use vegetable bags brought from home
Request no plastic wrap on your newspaper and dry cleaning
Use nondisposable razors, cloth diapers and rags. (Old shirts and socks make great cleaning rags)
Avoid disposable utensils and straws and buy foods in bulk when you can
Buy clothes and other items at secondhand stores. Microfibers found in newer clothing can be as destructive as plastic grocery bags
Buy infant toys and even pet toys made of wood or untreated fabric, not plastic
Berries are often hailed as some of the best fruits you can eat. That’s because they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that have a wide range of health benefits.
One class of compounds in berries that’s responsible for many of their health benefits is anthocyanins — the plant pigment that gives berries and other red, blue or purple plants their color. All berries contain some anthocyanins, but bilberries are considered one of the best natural sources.1
Bilberries are small, dark berries that look a lot like blueberries. In fact, because they look so similar, they’re often confused, but bilberries are smaller, softer and a little more tart than blueberries.
Bilberries, whose botanical name is Vaccinium myrtillus, are native to northern areas of the United States, Canada and parts of Europe and Asia and have been used as a medicinal plant for centuries.
You may not be as familiar with bilberries as some of the other berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, but with so many potential health benefits, it’s worth including them in your diet.
The Antioxidant Power of Bilberries
One of the reasons bilberries are so good for you is because of their high antioxidant content or, more specifically, their anthocyanin concentration. Anthocyanins are plant pigments classified as flavonoids.
Studies have shown anthocyanins protect against various long-term health issues and diseases, help improve eyesight and protect your nervous system.2 There are many physiological processes involved in how anthocyanins work, but two of the major mechanisms are by fighting free radicals and turning off chronic inflammation. Anthocyanins also have potent antimicrobial activity, so they can help fight infections from pathogenic viruses and bacteria.
While blueberries are often hailed for their rich antioxidant concentration, bilberries the only have 30% to 60% of the anthocyanin content of blueberries.3 True European bilberries contain 3.7 milligrams of anthocyanins per gram of total fruit weight. If you do the math, that means a half-cup of bilberries, which weighs roughly 74 grams depending on the size of each berry, contains about 274 mg of anthocyanins, most of which is concentrated in their skin.4
However, the exact amount of antioxidant compounds in bilberries depends on where they are grown. For example, one study showed that bilberries grown in the Velingrad region of Bulgaria had 34% higher concentrations of anthocyanins than bilberries that came from the Troyan region.5
There’s no current dietary recommendation for how many anthocyanins you should get, but studies suggest intakes of about 50 mg per day (about one-third cup) are enough to reap most of the health benefits.6 The average intake, meanwhile, is only 10.5 to 12.6 mg daily.7
In addition to anthocyanins, bilberries also contain catechins, epicatechins, quercetin, myrcetin and kempferol (other types of flavonoids), ascorbic acid, phenolic acids and chlorogenic acid — all compounds that also have antioxidant capabilities. While most of the benefits of bilberries can be attributed to their high anthocyanin content, all of the compounds work together to keep you healthy.
Bilberry Helps Maintain Eye Health
Legend has it that bilberries have been used to help improve vision since World War II, when British Air Force pilots discovered that when they ate bilberry jam before a night mission, they had better night vision.8 While there aren’t any official studies to confirm if bilberry actually has a positive effect on night vision, there are other studies that show bilberries can help improve other areas of eye health.
One animal study9 looked at whether or not bilberry could improve dry eye. The researchers found that daily administration of bilberry extract could increase tear production and help relieve symptoms of dry eye. In another animal study,10 bilberry was found to help fight against endotoxin-induced uveitis, or inflammation of the middle layer of the eye (called the uvea).
There are also some studies that look at how anthocyanins, in general, can help improve eye health. According to one review, anthocyanins can help increase blood flow to the eye, improve dark adaptation and relax eye muscles, helping improve symptoms of glaucoma and myopia, or nearsightedness.11
Bilberry Improves Blood Lipids and Heart Health
Although bilberries are small, they have big benefits for your heart. In one study,12 participants with risk factors for heart disease consumed bilberries, lingonberries, black currants and chokeberries on alternating days for eight weeks.
After the trial period, blood pressure decreased and HDL cholesterol increased significantly and there were measurable positive changes in platelet function. Another animal study13 found that bilberry extract could reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in diabetic rats.
Bilberry Protects Against Cancer
It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer.14 But there are a lot of lifestyle changes you can make to protect yourself, and eating anthocyanin-rich foods like bilberries is one of them.
In a 2017 study,15 researchers discovered that consuming anthocyanin-rich foods can help inhibit cancer cell growth and prevent metastasis. Anthocyanins have also been shown to trigger apoptosis, or the death of cancer cells.
Bilberry Reduces Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism against diseases and potentially harmful pathogens. However, when it becomes chronic, it can affect your quality of life and lead to devastating conditions like heart disease, cancer and liver disease.
More than 50% of deaths worldwide are caused by inflammatory diseases.16 The anthocyanins of bilberry can help turn off chronic inflammation and return your body to optimal function.
In a 2007 study published in The Journal of Nutrition,17 researchers noted that anthocyanin-rich bilberry extracts helped inhibit nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), a proinflammatory compound that can lead to chronic inflammation. In the study, which lasted three weeks, participants were divided into two groups. One group was given 300 mg of anthocyanins from bilberries each day, while the other group was given a placebo.
After the trial period, participants in the bilberry group had a 38% to 60% decrease in inflammatory markers, while the placebo group’s inflammatory markers went down by just 4% to 6%.
In another study,18 researchers found that some of the other compounds in bilberries — quercetin, epicatechin and reservatrol — could also inhibit NF-kappaB, reducing inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, and fighting off oxidative stress.
Bilberry Helps Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Some of the compounds in bilberries also act on digestive enzymes, slowing down carbohydrate digestion and helping to maintain healthier blood sugar levels.19
In one study,20 researchers divided participants into three groups: a bilberry-enriched diet group, a group whose diet was enriched with other berries (strawberries, raspberries and cloudberries) and a group on a control diet.
After eight weeks, only the bilberry-enriched diet group had positive changes in fasting blood glucose levels, insulin secretion and beta cell function. The researchers connected these benefits to better overall glycemic control.
Similarly, in an animal study,21 researchers found bilberry extract could reduce high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity in mice with Type 2 diabetes, a combination that could both help prevent and treat the condition.
Bilberry May Help You Lose Weight
Studies show that having a high daily intake of anthocyanins may also help you lose weight, specifically fat mass, independent of other factors like genetics. Researchers from a study22 that was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the diets of healthy female twins and calculated their total flavonoid intake.
They found that participants aged 50 and younger with a high intake of anthocyanins had 3% to 9% lower total fat mass and less fat around their midsection than their twin.
The study didn’t use bilberries specifically, but since bilberries are one of the most anthocyanin-rich foods, it makes sense that including them in your diet would have similar, if not more significant, effects.
How to Eat Bilberries
The easiest way to eat bilberries is by the handful, just like you would with blueberries. However, since they’re not as popular as blueberries, they’re not always easy to find in your local grocery store.
If you can’t find them fresh, you can order organic dried bilberries online. If you choose to eat them dried, make sure you’re not overdoing it. Since dried fruit has most of the water removed, it’s a lot easier to eat too much of them and if you do, you’ll be taking in a lot of sugar too. You can also find bilberry leaf tea, although it’s better to consume the whole fruit to get the full benefit.
Have you ever heard of breadfruit? It's a rather strange name for a piece of fruit that sounds like it may smell or taste like bread. Instead, breadfruit is grown in tropical regions of the world and, like jackfruit, is a member of the mulberry family.1
Breadfruit trees were originally found in Polynesia. People use the fruit to bake, broil or fry the produce, similar to the way that potatoes are used. Others dry the flesh and grind it into flour to make bread and crusts. Polynesians brought the trees to Hawaii, when anthropologists believe it was colonized 1,000 years before Columbus landed in the Western world.
By the time European explorers came to the Western world in the late 1700s, the Polynesian settlers had established an agricultural system that supported hundreds of thousands of people.
More About Breadfruit
A breadfruit tree thrives in a Caribbean or tropical climate and can grow as tall as 85 feet, producing up to 200 fruits per year. The fruit is round, oval or oblong and can grow as big, or bigger than a basketball. The outer skin is neon green and covered in bumps, which hides the firm flesh people cook like potatoes or plantains.2,3
A single breadfruit yields enough fruit to feed a family of four. When the fruit is ripe, the interior is creamy white or yellow and soft. While it is a fruit, it's treated and cooked more like a vegetable. The texture and taste resemble a potato, a grainy piece of bread or an artichoke heart, depending on the ripeness of the fruit and how it's prepared.
Because the taste is bland, it lends itself to culinary creativity. As breadfruit ripens, it becomes sweeter, but it never approaches the sweetness of a papaya or mango. The British are credited with spreading it outside Polynesia.
Captain James Cook and botanist Sir Joseph Banks discovered breadfruit in Tahiti and believed it could be the answer to Britain's food challenges of the era. The first time the trees were exported to the West Indies, the expedition was led by Lieutenant William Bligh from the infamous HMS Bounty.
Enroute to the West Indies from Tahiti, the lieutenant and members of the crew were cast into a small boat and all breadfruit tree plants were thrown overboard. After returning to England, Lieutenant Bligh was promoted to Captain and led another expedition to Tahiti in 1791, during which he successfully brought breadfruit plants to the Caribbean and Jamaica.
Although the plants thrived, the people didn't enjoy the food and ate it only when they had to. Currently, breadfruit trees are grown in more tropical areas in Africa, Australia, southeast Asia and South America. Trees can also be found in the U.S. in Hawaii and South Florida.
The fruit, which is packed with nutrients, is a staple in Hawaii. The flesh of breadfruit is high in antioxidants, calcium, carotenoids and fiber. It also contains copper, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus and protein. Interestingly, although it's a fruit, one cup provides 5% of the RDA for protein, 14% of magnesium and 31% of potassium.4,5
Could Breadfruit Be the Next Superfood?
Although it has been a traditional staple for centuries, there has been a distinct lack of scientific evidence demonstrating the health impacts of breadfruit. In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, scientists analyzed flour made from breadfruit.6,7 The objectives were to identify any health problems associated with breadfruit flour in consideration of it as a sustainable source of nutrition and to establish it as a functional food.
In the lab, using an enzyme digestion model, they found the protein in breadfruit was easier to digest than protein found in wheat. The digested flour was tested for cytotoxicity by applying it to caco-2 cells. These cell lines are used to analyze drug permeability and they have been used for the past two decades “as a model of the intestinal barrier,” according to researchers from Italy.8,9
The researchers found no difference between wheat and breadfruit in terms of cytokines and immune factors. When breadfruit-based food was substituted for wheat in a diet for mice, they found there was no sign of illness, death or malnutrition related to the change. Major bacteria and histology of the ileum were similar between the mice fed with breadfruit and those fed with wheat products.
The researchers concluded: “No negative health outcomes were observed in studies with in vitro or in vivo models and breadfruit flour is a healthy alternative to other starches for modern foods.”10
The combination of scientific evidence and knowledge that the breadfruit tree is high-producing and easily grown may provide health benefits and address food shortages around the world. Susan Murch, Ph.D., is a chemistry professor and one of the researchers on the study. She said:11
“Breadfruit is a traditional staple crop from the Pacific islands with the potential to improve worldwide food security and mitigate diabetes. While people have survived on it for thousands of years there was a lack of basic scientific knowledge of the health impacts of a breadfruit-based diet in both humans and animals.”
Doctoral student Ying Liu shared:12
“Overall, these studies support the use of breadfruit as part of a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. Flour produced from breadfruit is a gluten-free, low glycemic index, nutrient-dense and complete protein option for modern foods.”
The Impact Grains Have on Health
The potential exists to substitute wheat flour for breadfruit flour in baked breads and crusts. While breadfruit flour is gluten-free, wheat products are not. In years past, only people with wheat allergies and celiac disease sought out gluten-free products. After adopting a diet free of gluten products, they often reported a resurgence of good health.13
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and cereal grains.14 When these proteins are in contact with water, they form an elastic bond that gives bread the ability to hold its shape. Gluten can also be found in barley, oats, rye and spelt and may hide in processed foods under a variety of names, including malts or natural flavoring.15
Some people react negatively to just a small amount of gluten because their body identifies it as a toxin. When left unchecked, excessive gluten consumption can predispose a person to nutrient deficiencies along with neurological and psychological conditions. It can have a potentially negative effect on the joints, liver, nervous system and skin.16
In addition, professionals at the Celiac Disease Foundation believe that undiagnosed celiac disease may contribute to the development of "autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage … epilepsy and migraines, short stature and intestinal cancers."17
As you might imagine, a gluten intolerance can trigger signs of gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, diarrhea and belly pain. Beyond this, you might also experience anxiety, confusion, headache, nausea or joint and muscle pain. Although gluten-free food options may look like they help people who have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, it's prudent to approach these cautiously.
I believe most processed, packaged gluten-free foods are glorified junk foods because they are some of the most ultraprocessed foods in the store. They lack fiber, are often loaded with toxic amounts of sugar and salt and include unhealthy fats in their list of ingredients.18
Whether you have a sensitivity to gluten or not, nearly everyone can benefit from eating fewer grains, which are high in net carbs. The potential for using breadfruit flour and baked goods may help reduce your exposure to gluten and the glycemic index of the foods you eat.
Your Body Needs Fiber
Breadfruit is high in fiber, which is far more important than science had thought before. In fact, just 1 cup contains 43% of all the fiber you need for the day.19 A low fiber diet can alter your gut flora. In one study using an animal model, a low fiber diet altered the gut flora, which was also passed on to the offspring.20
In some cases, even after the mice were fed high-fiber meals, the gut was unable to repopulate with certain bacteria that had been severely diminished. Past studies have confirmed that the human microbiome has changed over the course of history, as has the human diet.21 In general, researchers have found that people who eat more plant-based foods have a more diverse gut microbiome.
The benefits of eating enough fiber include preventing leaky gut syndrome that also triggers anxiety, joint pain, fatigue and bloating.22 Food Integrity Now explains leaky gut syndrome this way:23
"The wall of the intestine is considered semi-permeable. This means it only allows certain things to enter the bloodstream and blocks other things from entering the bloodstream. For instance, specific molecules and nutrients are allowed to pass through but toxins and large undigested food particles are blocked.
When you have leaky gut, the pores in your small intestine widen and this allows undigested food particles and toxins, that would normally be blocked, to enter your bloodstream. These particles and toxins aren't recognized and the immune system goes into attack mode because they are not supposed to be in the blood. In essence, the immune system literally recognizes these undigested particles as dangerous."
Fiber has other health benefits as well. For example, researchers have found an inverse relationship between fiber and heart attack, showing those eating a high fiber diet have a 40% lower risk of heart disease.24
As I've written before, fiber can delay brain inflammation and aging that negatively influence your function. In particular, low fiber diets can be harmful to older adults, as they have a lower ability to produce butyrate, a nutrient that helps delay brain aging.
Sustainable Crop May Impact Global Health
Breadfruit is a sustainable, high production crop that has a low glycemic index and may provide one answer to the growing problem of food shortages around the world. It’s also easy to grow in the right climate. With winter fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, it might be time to think about dramatically reducing your food bill by growing an indoor organic garden.
As the cost of organic produce rises due to demand and problems related to the pandemic, many have taken to starting their own backyard gardens and container gardens. If you thought fall was the time to hang up your gardening gloves, you may want to reconsider since you can harvest spinach, beets and carrots well into February. Many herbs and vegetables can be grown indoors with adequate lighting.
You'll enjoy the benefits of winter gardening, which include savings on your grocery bill and the assurance that the produce you're harvesting is from organically grown, non-GMO seed. Before diving in, take time to plan your garden.
Some plants do well with an extended growing season, while others are planted in the fall to overwinter for an early spring harvest. Still others do best in container gardens indoors. Gardening is good for your health in other ways, as it's a simple way to reduce stress and get a little exercise, something each of us needs.
Beyond Meat is one of a handful of companies flooding the market with plant-based burgers and other fake meat products, billing them as a healthy, environmentally friendly alternative.
But before you fall for the marketing hype, be aware that these ultraprocessed junk foods are anything but natural, and Beyond Meat has even signed an agreement with the Jiaxing Economic & Technological Development Zone (JXEDZ) with plans to start producing its “beef,” “pork” and “chicken” products in China.1
China, meanwhile, is notorious for its rampant food safety issues, including problems with illegal additives and contamination.2 It’s because China has these problems that a recent opinion piece in Food Safety News3 is so relevant when it comes to Beyond Meats being manufactured in China.
The piece talks about the lack of transparency in food companies’ disclosure of food safety violations to the FDA. So, if chemical contamination and other problems are occurring with other types of food and you’re not hearing about it, who’s to say the same thing won’t happen with Beyond Meats and its lab-created products from China?
Jiaxing, the Chinese city where Beyond Meat plans “to design and develop manufacturing facilities in the JXEDZ, including a state-of-the-art production facility to manufacture plant-based meat products including beef, pork and chicken under the Beyond Meat brand in China,” also happens to be the city where some 16,000 dead pigs were dumped into the Huangpu river, creating a toxic soup that threatened water supplies in 2013.4
Beyond Meat ‘Delighted and Confident’ Over China Deal
In a news release, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown shared the company’s enthusiasm for the newfound partnership with China:5
“We are delighted and confident that after several months of productive and collaborative discussions, we will partner with the JXEDZ to develop two production facilities, including one of the world’s largest and technologically advanced plant-based meat factories.
We are very impressed by the capabilities and vision of the JXEDZ and they are the ideal partner for us in this vitally important country and market.”
Production is expected to begin on a trial basis within months while full-scale operations are slated for early 2021. The question is whether U.S. consumers will receive the news of Beyond Meat being made in China with the same fervor.
As Food Safety News put it, “It remains to be seen how American consumers will respond. When USDA permitted China to process chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S., Canada and Chile, thousands of American consumers protested because of China’s dismal reputation for food safety.”6
Beyond Meat has also stated that “China is a critical part of Beyond Meat’s long-term growth strategy,”7 and in April 2020 they launched three Beyond Beef products in Chinese Starbucks shops.8 The brand is growing steadily, with total revenue increasing from $16.2 million in 2016 to $87.9 million in 2018.9 It’s expected that its revenue will continue to rise, reaching $358 million in 2020.
Why Fake Meat Products Aren’t ‘Natural’
Beyond Meat cites human health as one of its driving missions that will be achieved by shifting from animal to plant-based meat.10 But it’s widely known that ultraprocessed foods are the enemy of good health, even increasing the risk of premature death by 62% if eaten in quantities of more than four servings daily.11
What makes Beyond Meat an ultraprocessed product? According to the NOVA Food Classification system, designed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition, ultraprocessed foods are:12
"[I]ndustrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, sugar, starch, and proteins), derived from food constituents (hydrogenated fats and modified starch), or synthesized in laboratories from food substrates or other organic sources (flavor enhancers, colors, and several food additives used to make the product hyper-palatable).”
A hallmark of ultraprocessed foods is their long ingredient lists. Beyond Burger’s patties contain 22 ingredients. Among them are expeller-pressed canola oil, pea protein isolate, cellulose from bamboo, modified food starch and methylcellulose13 — hardly “health” foods. To morph these ingredients into a patty that resembles meat requires significant processing.
Even registered dietician Emily Gelsomin, a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said to the Harvard Health Blog, “Even though legumes are sourced for protein in the branded meatless options, their health benefits are somewhat blunted by the high degree of processing involved.”14
Beyond Meat certainly doesn’t want to highlight the heavily processed nature of its fake food, so on its FAQ pages where it explains how they “rebuild meat,” it’s stated:15
“Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat. We source these building blocks directly from plants. Using heating, cooling, and pressure, we create the fibrous texture of meat from plant-based proteins.
Then, we mix in fats, minerals, fruit and vegetable-based colors, natural flavors, and carbohydrates to replicate the appearance, juiciness, and flavor of meat.”
Impossible Foods Holds 14 Patents
Impossible Foods is another leader in the fake meat industry and one of Beyond Meat’s top rivals. Its website also suggests its plant-based meat is better for you and the planet,16 even though the products resemble nothing found in nature. In fact, Impossible Foods holds 14 patents, with at least 100 more pending.17
The patents, which were uncovered by Seth Itzkan, environmental futurist and co-founder and co-director of Soil4Climate, include the following and offer proof of the unnatural nature of these fake foods; truly natural foods cannot be patented.18
Patent No. 10287568 — Methods for extracting and purifying nondenatured proteins
Patent No. 10273492 — Expression constructs and methods of genetically engineering methylotrophic yeast
Patent No. 10172380 — Ground meat replicas
Patent No. 10172381 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Patent No. 10093913 — Methods for extracting and purifying non-denatured proteins
Patent No. 10039306 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Patent No. 10087434 — Methods for extracting and purifying nondenatured proteins
Patent No. 9943096 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9938327 — Expression constructs and methods of genetically engineering methylotrophic yeast
Patent No. 9833768 — Affinity reagents for protein purification
Patent No. 9826772 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9808029 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9737875 — Affinity reagents for protein purification
Patent No. 9700067 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9011949 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Are Meat Eaters Being Misled?
While you may assume that the allure of a plant-based burger applies most to vegans and vegetarians, research from market research firm NPD Group suggests that 95% of those who bought plant-based burgers were meat eaters.19
“Plant-based burgers allow consumers to substitute without sacrifice. They get the ‘burger’ experience while assuaging their need for more protein and social concerns,” Darren Seifer, NPD Group food and beverage industry analyst, said in Market Watch.20
NPD Group’s report added that 18% of the U.S. adult population is also trying to add more plant-based foods into their diet, presumably for the health benefits, but adding a processed plant-based meat substitute is not the same as adding more vegetables. It seems many meat eaters are being misled when they purchase meatless burgers, as they think they’re doing their health and the environment a favor.
Impossible Foods even claims that they have a better carbon footprint than live animal farms and hired Quantis, a group of scientists and strategists who help their clients take actions based on scientific evidence, to prove their point.
According to the executive summary published on the Impossible Foods website, their product reduced environmental impact between 87% and 96% in the categories studied, including global warming potential, land occupation and water consumption.21 This, however, compares fake meat to meat from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are notoriously destructive to the environment.
“The pretense that this wealth-concentrating march of the software industry into the food sector is in any way good for people or the environment is predicated on a comparison with only the worst aspects of animal agriculture,” Itzkan said.22
Grass Fed Meat Is a Better Choice
A healthier and more sustainable choice to the typical CAFO burger would be to choose beef from grass fed cows. White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, which produces high-quality grass fed products using regenerative grazing practices, commissioned the same analysis by Quantis and published a 33-page study showing comparisons of White Oaks Pastures emissions against conventional beef production.23
While the manufactured fake meat reduced its carbon footprint up to 96% in some categories, White Oaks had a net total emission in the negative numbers as compared to CAFO produced meat.
Further, grass fed beef from White Oak Pastures had a carbon footprint that was 111% lower than a typical U.S. CAFO and its regenerative system effectively captured soil carbon, which offset the majority of emissions related to beef production.24
It’s worth noting, too, that the Impossible Burger, which is made from GMO soy, contains Roundup ingredient glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA,25 at levels of 11.3 parts per billion — that’s 11 times higher than the glyphosate found in the Beyond Meat Burger.26 Impossible Foods’ scientists also fed leghemoglobin to rats for 28 days to determine the risk of allergic reaction or toxicity.
In plants, leghemoglobin is the protein that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule. Originally, Impossible Foods harvested leghemoglobin from the roots of soy plants, but deemed that method unsustainable. Instead, they turned to genetic engineering, which they use to insert the DNA from soy plants into yeast, creating GE yeast with the gene for soy leghemoglobin.27
Dana Perls, from Friends of the Earth, pointed out that the rats exhibited alterations in blood chemistry after being fed leghemoglobin, which the company did not follow up on.28
Consumer Reports senior scientist Michael Hansen added that there are no long-term studies of soy leghemoglobin in humans, even though the process to make it creates at least 45 other proteins as byproducts, which are also consumed and in need of further evaluation.29 Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has raised concerns over the soy leghemoglobin in the Impossible Burger being a possible human allergen.30
On the other hand, grass fed animal products are better for the environment and public health. Levels of cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), for instance, increase by two- to three-fold when cattle are grass finished as opposed to grain finished.31
The ratio of dietary fats is also healthier in grass fed beef,32 which is a whole food, not an ultraprocessed junk food. If you’re interested in saving the planet and supporting your health, skip the fake meat alternatives trying to disguise themselves as health foods and opt for real food that’s being raised the right way instead.
If you’re a fig lover, this next sentence may be hard for you to swallow. The figs you’re eating could have a dead wasp stuck in them. I know that probably makes you squirm, but it sounds more dramatic than it is. You may think the idea of wasps inside a fig is gross, but it’s actually pretty amazing to see how nature knows exactly what it needs to do to allow both plant and insect species to survive.
Figs and fig wasps have a mutually beneficial relationship — something that’s officially called mutualism1 — that developed over millions of years of evolution. They need each other to survive. Fig wasps help pollinate figs and, in turn, the figs provide a safe place for the wasps to lay their eggs. This relationship is crucial to a balanced ecosystem and is also crucial to you enjoying a fresh fig or that fig jam you love.
So, don’t let this tidbit of information make you shy away from eating figs. The fruit, or technically flower, is full of resistant starch, potassium and other nutrients such as magnesium and choline, that help keep you healthy.2 Plus, you’re probably already eating a lot of bugs without even realizing it. Read on to see what I mean.
Why Do Figs Need Wasps?
Figs are often eaten as a fruit, but they’re actually inverted flowers with a fascinating biology.3 Unlike other flowers that bloom and expand outwardly, fig flowers bloom inside the fig’s pod. Because the flowers are on the inside, they require a special system for pollination — and that’s where the female fig wasps come in.
Each flower produces a single fruit called an achene that’s composed of a single shell and a hard seed. Because several flowers grow inside the fig pod, there are also several of these hard-shelled fruits. That’s what gives fresh figs their seeded inside and signature crunch.
Female fig wasps enter a fig through small passageways called ostioles. The ostioles are so narrow that the fig wasps actually lose their wings and antenna when traveling through them.4 Because of this, they can get in the figs, but they usually cannot get out. That’s OK with them, though, because their sole purpose is reproduction.
There are female and male figs. The female figs are the ones we eat, while the male figs serve solely as a place for fig wasps to reproduce. Once inside a male fig, the females lay their eggs. Eventually the eggs hatch and then the baby male wasps dig tunnels through the fig so that the baby female wasps, covered in pollen, can escape and continue the cycle in another fig.5
However, if a fig wasp enters a female fig, she can’t lay her eggs. Instead, she pollinates the flowers inside the fig, but then stays behind, living out the rest of her maximum 48-hour life cycle,6 and dying inside the fig.7
So, Are There Dead Wasps in Figs?
The short answer to whether or not there are dead wasps inside your fig is: Maybe. Most figs grown in the U.S. are self-pollinating, which means they don’t need the wasps to grow. Karla Stockli, CEO of the California Fig Advisory Board, points out that more than 95% of the figs produced in California are self-pollinating and most of the figs that you can buy in the U.S. (100% of dried figs and 98% of fresh figs) come from California, which has the highest quality standards in the world.8
That’s one bit of good news. The other thing that may ease your mind is that the figs actually contain an enzyme called ficin that breaks down the exoskeletons of the wasps and turns them into protein. Technically, when you eat a fig, you could be eating protein that comes from a wasp, but you’re not likely to find an intact wasp carcass in the fig.
Even if you did find an intact wasp, it’s not like the wasps you’re probably picturing. Fig wasps are really small9 — about 1.5 millimeters in size — so you probably wouldn’t even notice them. For reference, a typical yellowjacket worker wasp is around 12 millimeters, while the queen can grow to about 19 millimeters.
Don’t Worry, You Already Eat Bugs
The other thing that may ease your mind (or not, depending on how you look at it) is that if you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, you’ve likely eaten thousands of bugs already.
According to a report by Terro, a pest control company in Pennsylvania, the average person can consume up to 140,000 insect parts each year.10 That’s because the FDA allows certain amounts of insects into the food supply. For example, a half-cup of frozen berries is legally allowed to contain two whole insects.
And those hops used to make beer? They get the go-ahead with 25,000 whole insects in a half-cup. While this may make you squirm, insects are actually a regular part of the diet in many places. Approximately 80% of people worldwide eat one or more of the different 1,700 edible insects as a source of protein.11 Some parts of the world, especially tropical countries, even consider them delicacies.12
They’re only considered gross in Western societies because we’re not accustomed to eating them and categorize them as pests instead of food. With animal agriculture, we also don’t really have a need for alternate protein sources, so we tend to shy away from edible insects.
Health Benefits of Figs
If you can get past the idea the idea that some of the figs you eat may have a wasp in them, there are a lot of reasons to include them in your diet. One medium sized fig is approximately 40 calories and provides 1.5 grams of fiber, in addition to an abundant amount of magnesium and choline, as well as vitamin B6, copper, pantothenic acid and folate. It’s also rich in beta carotene.13
Figs are a good source of potassium, which your body uses to control blood pressure and balance the sodium potassium ratio, and calcium. As you might expect, the nutritional value increases by weight as the fruit is dried. For instance, 100 grams provide 35 mg of calcium when fresh14 but 162 mg of calcium when dry.15
Since figs are high in fiber, they may act as a natural laxative. High-fiber foods also provide a feeling of fullness and one of the types of fiber in figs — resistant starch — acts as a natural prebiotic to support pre-existing beneficial bacteria in your gut.16 Resistant starch also helps control blood sugar, protect the kidneys and help the body use certain vitamins, like vitamin D — a combination that can help control diabetes and reduce diabetic complications.17
Resistant starch also increases satiety, helping to control body weight and reduce the risk of obesity. In one animal study, researchers found adding resistant starch to the diet of obese rats helped reduce body weight by as much as 40%.18
Another animal study evaluated the effects of figs, dates and pomegranates on neuroinflammation.19 They found daily administration of a supplement containing these three fruits decreased inflammatory cytokines and delayed formation of senile plaques. The researchers concluded the fruit mediated the reduction of cytokines and may be one mechanism that can help protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
Fig leaves may be as important nutritionally as the fruit itself as they have unique health benefits, including an ability to regulate blood sugar. In one study, patients given a decoction of fig leaves for one month were able to lower their average insulin dose by 12%.20
An animal study evaluating hypertriglyceridemia in rats used an administration of fig leaf decoction. While total cholesterol levels were unaffected, the fig decoction had a clear positive effect on lipid molecule breakdown.21
Figs, including the fruit, skin, leaves and pulps are also rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds.22 These compounds help combat oxidative stress and can protect against age-related and chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome and obesity.23
July 15, 2020, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) published its 2020 report, an independent scientific review on the nutrition and health status of Americans, and there was a concerning finding: Most Americans don't get enough choline, an essential nutrient that's vitally important, but rarely discussed.
Marie Caudill, Ph.D., a registered dietitian who is internationally recognized for her research on choline and folate, says the most alarming find from the report is that the populations who would benefit the most from extra choline — pregnant and lactating women, infants and children — are falling especially short.
In pregnant women, choline deficiency is associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects. In the general population, getting too little choline can lead to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and muscle damage.
What Does Choline Do?
Choline is often lumped in with the B vitamins, but it's not technically a vitamin. It's more of a vitamin-like nutrient.1 Choline helps support optimal health at all stages of life. It plays a role in healthy fetal development, helps maintain cognition and memory, boosts energy, improves fitness and keeps your liver healthy. Your brain and nervous system need adequate amounts of choline to help regulate muscle control, mood and memory.2 Choline is also involved in metabolism. Other roles of choline include:
Promoting healthy fetal development3 — Choline is required for proper neural tube closure,4 brain development and healthy vision.5 Research shows mothers who get sufficient choline impart lifelong memory enhancement to their child due to changes in the development of the hippocampus (memory center) of the child's brain.6 Choline deficiency also raises your risk of premature birth, low birth weight and preeclampsia.
Helping reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease — According to a study in the journal ARYA Atherosclerosis, choline may help prevent cardiovascular disease by converting homocysteine to methionine.7 Homocysteine is an amino acid that may increase your risk for heart disease and stroke if it accumulates in the blood.8
Aiding the synthesis of phospholipids, the most common of which is phosphatidylcholine, better known as lecithin, which constitutes between 40% and 50% of your cellular membranes and 70% to 95% of the phospholipids in lipoproteins and bile.9
Boosting your nervous system health — Choline is necessary for making acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in healthy muscle, heart and memory performance.10
Strengthening cell messaging, by producing cell-messaging compounds.11
Facilitate fat transport and metabolism — Choline is needed to carry cholesterol from your liver, and a choline deficiency could result in excess fat and cholesterol buildup.12
Modulates DNA synthesis,13 aiding in the process along with other vitamins, such as folate and B12.
Improves cognitive performance — Researchers found a relationship between high dietary choline and better cognitive performance in a study involving men and women from the Framingham Offspring population.14 In a group of 1,391 men and women, performance factors were better in those who consumed more choline, adding to evidence your nutrition makes a difference in how your brain ages.
Helps manage certain mental disorders — Research shows that low choline intake is associated with increased anxiety levels.15 This nutrient has been used in treating rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, too. A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry shows that choline supplementation helped reduce the manic and mood symptoms of people with bipolar disorder.16
Influences methylation reactions17
Aids in healthy mitochondrial function18
The Problems With Choline Deficiency
If you don't get enough choline through your diet, it can result in a choline deficiency, which has widespread negative health effects. Because choline is involved in fat metabolism, low levels of the nutrient can result in an overaccumulation of deposits of fat in your liver.19 Eventually, this can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which currently affect 30% of the U.S. population.20 Choline deficiency can also lead to liver damage and muscle damage.21
Choline deficiency can be even more worrisome for pregnant women and lactating mothers. Choline is essential for proper brain development of a growing fetus. It also helps maintain proper homocysteine concentrations during pregnancy.22
According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, there is an increased risk of neural tube birth defects in babies of women who consume less than 300 mg of choline per day when compared to pregnant women who get at least 500 mg daily.23
Because choline will be pulled from the mother's blood to supply adequate amounts to the fetus, pregnant and lactating women have higher choline needs, yet only 5% get enough, according to one study.24 In addition to pregnant and lactating women, groups at especially high risk for choline deficiency include:
- Endurance athletes — Endurance exercises, like marathons and triathlons, can deplete choline levels. Studies show that supplementing with choline before these types of stressful exercises can help keep the levels of choline in the blood from getting too low.25,26
- People who drink a lot of alcohol — Excess alcohol consumption can increase your need for more choline while simultaneously increasing your risk of deficiency.27
- Postmenopausal women — Postmenopausal women have lower estrogen concentrations, which can increase the risk of organ dysfunction in response to a low-choline diet.28
- Vegetarians and vegans — Animal foods like beef liver, eggs and krill oil are the highest sources of dietary choline. Because vegetarians and vegans have dietary restrictions that eliminate some or all of these choline-rich foods, it can be more difficult to get an adequate amount of the nutrient through diet alone.29
How Much Choline Do You Need?
Your liver makes some choline, but the amount isn't enough to keep you healthy and prevent the adverse effects of choline deficiency. That's why you need to get adequate amounts through your diet.
The amount of choline you need depends on your age, sex and whether or not you're pregnant or nursing. Here's a general breakdown from the National Institutes of Health30:
|Age||Male||Female||Pregnant Women||Nursing Women|
0 to 6 months
7 to 12 months
1 to 3 years
4 to 8 years
9 to 13 years
14 to 18 years
19 years and older
Keep in mind, however, that some people have genetic polymorphisms that increase the need for choline and certain ethnic and racial groups are more likely to be affected.31 According to Chris Masterjohn, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional science, eating a diet that's high in (otherwise healthy) saturated fats can also increase your need for choline.32
How to Get More Choline
Grass fed beef liver is the richest dietary source of choline, with 430 mg of choline per 100-gram cooked serving.33 But liver isn't as much a staple on American plates as the second highest source of choline — eggs. One single egg, which weighs around 50 grams, contains 169 mg of choline.34
Here's the catch, though: Most of that choline, or 139 mg, is found in the yolk.35 Egg yolks are also rich in lecithin, a fatty acid that's a precursor for choline. That means if you're still following the outdated and totally misguided advice to eat only the egg whites, you're missing out on a lot of the egg's nutrition.
Krill oil, which comes from krill, a crustacean mainly eaten by whales, penguins and other aquatic creatures, is also a rich source of choline. A 2011 study published in the journal Lipids found 69 choline-containing phospholipids in krill oil.36
Of those phospholipids, 60 were phosphatidylcholine substances, which protect against liver disease (including hepatitis and cirrhosis in alcoholics), reduce digestive tract inflammation and lessen symptoms associated with inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.37 Other dietary sources of choline include:38
Grass fed beef liver
Organic pasture raised chicken
According to the DGAC, most multi-vitamin supplements don't contain sufficient amounts of choline. You can find supplements that contain only choline, but it's always best to try to get what you need through a healthy diet.
I’ve written many articles detailing lifestyle and dietary strategies that may decrease your COVID-19 risk by boosting your immune function and general health. Now we can add fermented foods to the list, which shouldn’t come as such a great surprise, considering the influence your gut health has on your immune system.
The study,1 posted July 7, 2020, on the pre-print server medRxiv, conducted by researchers in Berlin, Germany, looked at whether diet might play a role in COVID-19 death rates. Interestingly, mortality rates tend to be lower in countries where consumption of traditionally fermented foods is commonplace. As reported by News Medical Life Sciences:2
“The researchers say that if their hypothesis is confirmed in future studies, COVID-19 will be the first infectious disease epidemic to involve biological mechanisms that are associated with a loss of ‘nature.’ Significant changes in the microbiome caused by modern life and less fermented food consumption may have increased the spread or severity of the disease, they say.”
Fermented Veggie Consumption May Lower COVID-19 Mortality
The researchers obtained data from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database and compared consumption levels with COVID-19 mortality statistics (deaths per capita) for each country, obtained from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The EFSA database includes statistics on countries’ consumption of fermented vegetables, pickled or marinated vegetables, fermented milk, yogurt and fermented sour milk specifically.
They also looked at potential confounders, such as gross domestic product, population density, percentage of the population over the age of 64, unemployment and obesity rates. According to the authors:3
“Of all the variables considered, including confounders, only fermented vegetables reached statistical significance with the COVID-19 death rate per country.
For each g/day increase in the average national consumption of fermented vegetables, the mortality risk for COVID-19 decreased by 35.4%. Adjustment did not change the point estimate and results were still significant.”
Probiotics May Ease Depression
In related news, a review4 of seven small clinical trials has found probiotics and/or prebiotics may be helpful for those struggling with depression and anxiety. While these mental health challenges are epidemics in their own right, the global lockdowns certainly have not made the situation any better.
According to the authors,5 all of the studies “demonstrated significant improvements in one or more of the outcomes” compared with no treatment, placebo, or baseline measurements, leading them to conclude that “utilizing pre/probiotic may be a potentially useful adjunctive treatment” for patients with depression and/or anxiety.
The review builds on earlier studies that have shown people with depression tend to have higher amounts of specific gut bacteria than those who are not depressed.
While it seems the gut microbiome’s role in health is a very recent discovery, as early as 1898 — yes, 122 years ago — a paper6 in The Journal of the American Medical Association proposed that intestinal microbes might play a role in melancholia. As noted in the 2019 paper, “The Microbiome and Mental Health: Hope or Hype?”:7
“The primary tenet of FMT [fecal microbiota transplantation] is that dysbiosis within the human host gut microbiome predisposes an individual to disease. The exact mechanisms through which this occurs have not yet been established, but several potential direct and indirect pathways exist through which the gut microbiota can modulate the gut–brain axis.
These pathways include endocrine (cortisol), immune (cytokines) and neural (vagus and enteric nervous system) pathways, and the assumption is that introducing microflora from a healthy individual will help recolonize the system with a microbial pattern more in keeping with wellness either by establishing the new healthy microbiota or by allowing the host to ‘reset’ their own microflora to a pre-illness state.”
Bacteria Associated With Mental Health and Depression
Two types of gut bacteria in particular, Coprococcus and Dialister bacteria, have been shown to be “consistently depleted” in individuals diagnosed with clinical depression. According to the authors of a study published in the April 2019 issue of Nature Microbiology:8
“Surveying a large microbiome population cohort (Flemish Gut Flora Project, n = 1,054) with validation in independent data sets, we studied how microbiome features correlate with host quality of life and depression.
Butyrate-producing Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus bacteria were consistently associated with higher quality of life indicators. Together with Dialister, Coprococcus spp. were also depleted in depression, even after correcting for the confounding effects of antidepressants.”
The researchers went on to analyze and catalogue the neuroactive potential of these gut bacteria, finding that those associated with good mental health had the ability to synthesize the dopamine metabolite 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, while those associated with depression produce γ-aminobutyric acid. Other studies have identified yet other microbial profiles associated with better or worse mental health. For example:
• 2016 research9 found the relative abundance of Actinobacteria was increased, and Bacteroidetes was decreased in depressed individuals compared to healthy controls.
• A 2015 study10 found patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder had higher amounts of Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria, and lower amounts of Firmicutes than healthy controls.
“These findings enable a better understanding of changes in the fecal microbiota composition in such patients, showing either a predominance of some potentially harmful bacterial groups or a reduction in beneficial bacterial genera,” the authors wrote.
• A 2014 study11 found depressed individuals had an overrepresentation of Bacteroidales and an underrepresentation of Lachnospiraceae bacteria.
Lachnospiraceae are a family of beneficial bacteria that ferment plant polysaccharides into short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate and acetate.12 The genus Oscillibacter, and one specific clade within Alistipes were also significantly associated with depression.
Zinc for Mental Health and Immune Function
Aside from fermented foods, zinc is another dietary factor that impacts both your mental health and COVID-19 risk. As noted in a 2013 article in Psychology Today:13
“Zinc is an essential mineral that may be lacking in modern processed and strict vegetarian diets, as major sources are meat, poultry, and oysters … Since the body has no special zinc storage capability, its important to consume a bit of zinc on a regular basis.
What does zinc have to do with depression? It turns out that zinc plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress all along the way …
The highest amount of zinc in the body is found in our brains, particularly in a part of our brains called the hippocampus. Zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression, ADHD, difficulties with learning and memory, seizures, aggression, and violence …
In humans, zinc has been found to be low in the serum of those suffering from depression. In fact, the more depressed someone is, the lower the zinc level … Zinc supplementation has been shown to have antidepressant effects in humans …”
Zinc May Be Crucial Against COVID-19
Zinc is also important for your immune defense against the common cold and other viral infections, including COVID-19, and is a component of enzymes involved in tissue remodeling. As noted in Psychology Today:14
“Low zinc also seems to affect inflammation and immunity. The T cells in our immune system, which hunt and kill infection, don’t work well without zinc and also release more calls for help (leading to more inflammation, via IL-6 and IL-1) in the case of zinc deficiency.”
Interestingly, low zinc levels are associated with a loss of taste and smell, and these are also two early symptoms of COVID-19 infection. This suggests zinc deficiency may indeed be a key factor in the illness.
Researchers have also argued that one of the key mechanisms of action of the drug hydroxychloroquine is its ability to shuttle zinc into the cells. In fact, zinc appears to be a “magic ingredient” required to prevent viral replication.15
This is likely why, when taken early along with zinc, the drug appears to have a high rate of success against COVID-19. As noted in the preprint paper, “Does Zinc Supplementation Enhance the Clinical Efficacy of Chloroquine / Hydroxychloroquine to Win Todays Battle Against COVID-19?” published April 8, 2020:16
“Besides direct antiviral effects, CQ/HCQ [chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine] specifically target extracellular zinc to intracellular lysosomes where it interferes with RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity and coronavirus replication.
As zinc deficiency frequently occurs in elderly patients and in those with cardiovascular disease, chronic pulmonary disease, or diabetes, we hypothesize that CQ/HCQ plus zinc supplementation may be more effective in reducing COVID-19 morbidity and mortality than CQ or HCQ in monotherapy.”
Being a natural zinc ionophore (meaning it improves zinc uptake by your cells), the supplement quercetin also has very similar mechanisms of action and appears to be a viable alternative to hydroxychloroquine.
Simple Strategies to Lower Your COVID-19 Risk
Personally, I take quercetin and zinc at bedtime as a prophylactic each day. The reason it’s best to take them in the evening — several hours after your last meal and before the long fast of sleeping — is because quercetin is also a senolytic (i.e., it selectively kills senescent or old, damaged cells) that is activated by fasting. So, by taking it at night, you maximize its other benefits.
If you’re not already eating fermented foods, now would be a good time to consider adding some into your diet. Fermented vegetables are easy and inexpensive to make at home, and provide a whole host of health benefits, thanks to the beneficial bacteria they provide. To learn more, see “Fermenting Foods — One of the Easiest and Most Creative Aspects of Making Food from Scratch” and “Tips for Fermenting at Home.”
If you have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 infection, then my best recommendation is to start nebulizing food grade hydrogen peroxide at 0.1% as discussed in “Could Hydrogen Peroxide Treat Coronavirus?”
I would also make sure that your vitamin D levels are adequate, as discussed in my Vitamin D in the Prevention of COVID-19 report. If you don’t know your vitamin D level and have not been in the sun or taken over 5,000 units of vitamin D a day, it would likely be helpful to take one bolus dose of 100,000 units, and make sure you are taking plenty of magnesium, which helps convert the vitamin D to its active immune modulating form.
Fake meat is all the rage, and although plant-based meat alternatives have been on the market for years, the industry is gaining speed, promoting its meatless 'burgers' as a sustainable solution to feed the world. The green image is an illusion, however, one predicated on a product that's the epitome of unnatural.
Impossible Foods, which made headlines for its meatless burgers that "bleed" like real meat, is one of the leaders in the fake meat industry. Its website suggests its plant-based meat is better for you and the planet,1 but eating an Impossible burger is not akin to eating a plate full of vegetables.
Far from it, Impossible Foods should be called "Impossible Patents," according to Seth Itzkan, environmental futurist and co-founder and co-director of Soil4Climate, who suggests fake meat products are destroying the environment by perpetuating a harmful reliance on genetically engineered (GE) grains while accelerating soil loss and detracting from regenerative agriculture.2
Impossible Foods Holds 14 Patents, Has 100+ Pending
Impossible Foods' products resemble nothing found in nature. That's why the company holds 14 patents, with at least 100 more pending. "It's not food; it's software, intellectual property — 14 patents, in fact, in each bite of Impossible Burger with over 100 additional patents pending for animal proxies from chicken to fish," Itzkan told Medium, adding:3
"It's iFood, the next killer app. Just download your flavor. This is likely the appeal for Bill Gates, their über investor. It's a food operating system (FOS), a predecessor, perhaps, to a merger with Microsoft. MS-FOOD.
The business model is already etched in Silicon Valley — license core technology (protein synthesis) while seeking vertical integration of supply chains, which, in this case, is not from coders to users, but from genetic engineers to protein seekers."
Natural foods cannot be patented, but Impossible Foods' products certainly can be. The Impossible Burger is a meat alternative that's unlike others on the market due to the addition of soy leghemoglobin, or heme. This, the company says, it what makes meat taste like meat, and, in plants, leghemoglobin is the protein that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule.
Originally, Impossible Foods harvested leghemoglobin from the roots of soy plants, but deemed that method unsustainable. Instead, they turned to genetic engineering, which they use to insert the DNA from soy plants into yeast, creating GE yeast with the gene for soy leghemoglobin.4
Impossible Foods' products are heavily processed and created in production rooms — not grown in or found in nature. Their science project creations are also heavily protected, as evidenced by the 14 patents assigned to Impossible Foods, uncovered by Itzkan:5
Patent No. 10287568 — Methods for extracting and purifying nondenatured proteins
Patent No. 10273492 — Expression constructs and methods of genetically engineering methylotrophic yeast
Patent No. 10172380 — Ground meat replicas
Patent No. 10172381 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Patent No. 10093913 — Methods for extracting and purifying nondenatured proteins
Patent No. 10039306 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Patent No. 10087434 — Methods for extracting and purifying nondenatured proteins
Patent No. 9943096 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9938327 — Expression constructs and methods of genetically engineering methylotrophic yeast
Patent No. 9833768 — Affinity reagents for protein purification
Patent No. 9826772 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9808029 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9737875 — Affinity reagents for protein purification
Patent No. 9700067 — Methods and compositions for affecting the flavor and aroma profile of consumables
Patent No. 9011949 — Methods and compositions for consumables
Impossible Foods Are Junk Foods
While the industrialized meat production that occurs on the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) responsible for most meat consumed in the U.S. is an environmental and ethical atrocity, creating fake meat in high-tech laboratory settings is not the answer.
Impossible Foods is only perpetuating the consumption of ultraprocessed foods, of which Americans already eat far too much of. Americans not only eat a preponderance of processed food, but 57.9% of it is ultraprocessed6 — products at the far end of the "significantly altered" spectrum that have been robustly linked to obesity,7 ill health and early death.8
Friends of the Earth (FOE), a grassroots environmental group, released a report that posed critical questions about the growing trend toward animal product alternatives. In it they pointed out the highly-processed nature of these products:9
"Various 'processing aids' are employed to make some of these products, including organisms (like genetically engineered bacteria, yeast and algae) that produce proteins, and chemicals to extract proteins.
For example, chemicals like hexane are used to extract components of a food, like proteins (from peas, soy, corn etc.) or compounds (from genetically engineered bacteria) to make xanthan gum … disclosure of these ingredients is not required.
Other processing aids (e.g. bacteria, yeast, algae), including those that are genetically engineered to produce proteins, are also not currently required to be disclosed on package labeling. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess the inputs and impact of their use."
Many of these foods, including Impossible Foods' fake meat, are made with GMO soy, which in itself is ecologically devastating, in part because it's often planted where essential grasslands and prairies once stood. That soy is heavily sprayed with the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate, posing additional environmental and potential human health risks.
Not surprisingly, testing by consumer group Moms Across America found the Impossible Burger contains Roundup ingredient glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA,10 at levels of 11.3 parts per billion — that's 11 times higher than the glyphosate found in the Beyond Meat Burger,11 the company's biggest fake meat competitor.
'There Is No Place for Nature' at Impossible Foods
Impossible Foods has even taken aim at regenerative farming practices, which are promoting optimal nutrition and health while at the same time helping to prevent pollution and restore damaged ecosystems. Yet, as Itzkan noted:12
"In this software-as-food scenario, there is no place for nature. Manufacturing of Impossible Burger starts with glyphosate-sprayed soy grown on what was once healthy prairie. It is then infused with heme molecules produced by patented yeast in high-tech labs for the blood-like upgrade.
Finally, it ends its journey as a plastic-wrapped puck that some are brave enough to ingest. Just fry with canola oil and the illusion of a meal is complete."
Impossible Foods also claims that they have a better carbon footprint than live animal farms and hired Quantis, a group of scientists and strategists who help their clients take actions based on scientific evidence, to prove their point.
According to the executive summary published on the Impossible Foods website, their product reduced environmental impact between 87% and 96% in the categories studied, including global warming potential, land occupation and water consumption.13 This, however, compares fake meat to meat from CAFOs, which are notoriously destructive to the environment.
"The pretense that this wealth-concentrating march of the software industry into the food sector is in any way good for people or the environment is predicated on a comparison with only the worst aspects of animal agriculture," Itzkan said.14
Grass Fed Farms Represent a Truly Regenerative Solution
White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, which produces high-quality grass fed products using regenerative grazing practices, commissioned the same analysis by Quantis and published a 33-page study showing comparisons of White Oaks Pastures emissions against conventional beef production.15
While the manufactured fake meat reduced its carbon footprint up to 96% in some categories, White Oaks had a net total emission in the negative numbers as compared to CAFO produced meat. Further, grass fed beef from White Oak Pastures had a carbon footprint that was 111% lower than a typical U.S. CAFO and its regenerative system effectively captured soil carbon, which offset the majority of emissions related to beef production.16
"Within our margin of error," the report noted, "there is potential that WOP [White Oak Pastures] beef production is climate positive. This would be very rare and it is unusual that there is more benefit to producing something than to simply not produce,"17 but it's within the realm of possibility when it comes to properly raised grass fed beef. Fake meat produced in a lab simply can't compare.
"It [the fake meat industry] ignores, entirely, the rapidly growing regenerative movement that is offering so much hope for the planet at this key time, healing landscapes, replenishing aquifers and mitigating fires," according to Itzkan. "Thus, because of its reliance on grains, tillage, pesticides and fertilizers, fake meat of scale exacerbates depletion of grasslands while undermining a more legitimate solution."18
Are There Health Risks in Fake Meat?
The drive for plant-based meat alternatives isn't due to health or even to support vegan or vegetarian diets. Those truly interested in eating a plant-based diet can do so by eating plants, after all, and in so doing can enjoy the many health benefits that eating plant foods provides.
Impossible Foods' numerous patents reveal that their products are driven by profits, and perhaps the ultimate goal is to replace real meat altogether with a highly lucrative patented product.
It's already known that the consumption of ultraprocessed food contributes to disease,19 but manufactured fake meat may also pose additional risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for instance, has raised concerns over the soy leghemoglobin in the Impossible Burger being a possible human allergen.20
Impossible Foods' scientists also fed leghemoglobin to rats for 28 days to determine the risk of allergic reaction or toxicity. Dana Perls, from Friends of the Earth, pointed out that the rats exhibited alterations in blood chemistry "that could indicate kidney or other health problems," which the company did not follow up on.21
Consumer Reports senior scientist Michael Hansen added that there are no long-term studies of soy leghemoglobin in humans, even though the process to make it creates at least 45 other proteins as byproducts, which are also consumed and in need of further evaluation.22
The fact is, fake meat cannot replace the complex mix of nutrients found in grass fed beef and other high-quality pastured meats, and it's likely that consuming ultraprocessed meat alternatives could lead to many of the same health issues that are caused by a processed food diet. To protect your health and the environment, skip pseudofoods that require patents and stick to those found in nature instead.
Salmon is often used as an example of a health-conscious food choice, but its health value depends greatly on its source. While wild salmon is nutritious, there are many problems with farm-raised salmon, which makes up the bulk of salmon sold in U.S. supermarkets and served in restaurants.
A key part of that lies with their diet, which in the wild is made up of marine life, including zooplankton and other fish. In an attempt to simulate their wild diet, during the 1990s virtually all farmed salmon were fed diets rich in fishmeal and fish oil.1 This wasn’t sustainable, however, and in an effort to create feed for farmed fish that didn’t involve overfishing, vegetable ingredients were added as a replacement.
While fishmeal and fish oil once made up about 90% of farmed Norwegian salmon feed, by 2013 this dropped to about 30%.2 Other research suggests that by 2016, only 10% of the fat in farmed salmon feed was marine-based.3 High levels of vegetable oils, including rapeseed, or canola, are now used instead, which has had dramatic consequences for the salmon and, likely, for those who use them as a food source.
Farmed Salmon Feed Alters Cell Metabolism
Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Nofima) conducted a study to find out how dietary changes affect the way salmon utilize fat, particularly during fasting.4 In the wild, salmon regularly experience periods of fasting when they’re unable to catch food. Farmed salmon may also fast, but only due to illnesses, spawning and prior to slaughter.5
“During these periods, it is vital for salmon to regulate fat metabolism in the body well, which is why it is interesting to study how these processes change with altered diets,” study author Bente Ruyter of Nofima explained. “This is something that is not easy to study in fish that are alive, but we can conduct a more detailed study of the energy metabolism in cultured cells.”6
Using primary fat cells isolated from 20 live fish, the researchers added fatty acids found in fish feed to determine their effects. The fatty acids included:
- Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), an omega-3 marine fat that used to be more plentiful in the feed than it is now
- Oleic acid (OA), which is found in vegetable oil and is added in higher quantities to fish feed than it was before
- Palm acid, a saturated fatty acid found in fish oil and plant oil, which has also decreased in farmed fish feed
Significant differences were seen in the cultured cells depending on fatty acid, including changes in the amount of mitochondria — the cells’ powerhouses — and alterations in the release of fatty acids during fasting.
The findings also suggested that oleic acid may promote overweight and obesity in Atlantic salmon more so than EPA and palm acid, with the researchers noting, “The supplementation of OA to mature Atlantic salmon adipocytes lead to a higher production of intracellular lipid droplets.”7
Dietary Changes Cause Significant Cellular Alterations
Changes in commercial farmed fish diets have led to significant reductions in EPA, the omega-3 fat DHA and palm acid in salmon’s adipose tissue, along with an increase in OA. These fats yield “very different and often opposing effects on central adipocyte functions,” the researchers explained, affecting adipose tissue metabolism and physiology via a number of mechanisms, including:8
- Modulating the transcript level of relevant genes
- Modifying lipolytic activity
- Modulating metabolic processes, such as lipid droplet formation, the leptin system and mitochondrial dynamics
It was formerly believed that salmon transport fat as free fatty acids, including during sexual maturation, when nutrients from fat tissue are transferred to reproductive cells. The study revealed, however, that the fat is transported on phospholipids, cholesterol esters and triglycerides.9
Correlations were also seen with humans, as the salmon fat cells reacted to fasting similarly to human fat tissue.
“Many of the regulatory mechanisms associated with energy metabolism when on a fatty diet appear to be similar to those found in humans,” according to Nofima.10 The researchers suggested that more research is needed to find out how the lipid composition of fat cells affects fish physiology and health, especially during fasting.
When a fish stops eating, the ability to recruit lipids from fat cells is essential for reproduction as well as recovery from disease, making the dietary changes potentially disastrous. What’s more, it could also serve as a warning for humans. According to Nofima scientist Marta Bou Mira:11
“In this journal, most research focuses on humans, but I think salmon is increasingly being considered as a possible model for humans. We have conducted basic research on fish that has never been done before, and the combination between adipose tissue models and an increased understanding of obesity-related issues most likely caught people’s eye.”
How Does Eating Farmed Salmon Affect Humans?
If you eat farmed salmon, you’re essentially consuming the salmon’s unnatural diet as well. In a review published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Nini Sissener with the Institute of Marine Research in Norway looked into how changes in commercial salmon feed affect the fatty acid composition of salmon tissues, and how these changes affect the humans who eat them, essentially following the fatty acids through the food chain.12
Salmon is the second most popular type of seafood in the U.S. (shrimp is the first), with just over 2 pounds consumed annually, per person.13 A key reason behind its popularity has to do with its perceived health benefits. As a rich source of beneficial animal-based omega-3 fats, salmon can, indeed, be a very healthy food choice.
While farmed salmon may still provide a source of omega-3 fats, the concentrations are less than they were before, however, and are less than those found in wild salmon.
“Farmed salmon still contributes positively to the overall n-6/n-3 ratio of a Western diet, but to a much lesser extent than before,” Sissener wrote. “Combined with similar changes in much of our food supply, this is a cause for concern, and efforts should be made to limit the amount of n-6 FAs in salmon fillets.”14
Farm-raised salmon makes up 75% of the salmon consumed worldwide, and its volume has increased nearly 1,000% from 1990 to 2015,15 which means that changes in its nutritional content may affect public health.
While half a fillet of wild Atlantic salmon contains about 3,996 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 and 341 mg of omega-6,16 the same amount of farmed Atlantic salmon contains an astounding 1,944 mg of omega-6.17 Aside from an inferior nutritional profile, farmed salmon is also more likely to contain toxins.
Consuming Atlantic Farmed Salmon May Pose Health Risks
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores and found farmed salmon had, on average:18
- 16 times more polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) than wild salmon
- Four times more PCBs than beef
- 3.4 times more PCBs than other seafood
What’s more, in 2005 researchers found that farmed Atlantic salmon were so contaminated with PCBs, toxaphene, dieldrin, dioxins and polybrominated diphenyl ethers that they posed a cancer and additional health risks to humans, even when consumed in moderate amounts:19
“Many farmed Atlantic salmon contain dioxin concentrations that, when consumed at modest rates, pose elevated cancer and noncancer health risks.
However, dioxin and DLCs [dioxin-like compounds] are just one suite of many organic and inorganic contaminants and contaminant classes in the tissues of farmed salmon, and the cumulative health risk of exposure to these compounds via consumption of farmed salmon is likely even higher.
As we have shown here, modest consumption of farmed salmon contaminated with DLCs raises human exposure levels above the lower end of the WHO TDI [World Health Organization’s tolerable daily intake], and considerably above background intake levels for adults in the United States.”
27% of Wild-Caught Fish Fed to Fish
The environmental risks of farm-raised salmon must not be overlooked, and while feeding farmed salmon a diet more comparable with what they would eat in the wild may be preferable from a nutritional standpoint, it’s not a sustainable solution.
About 27% of wild-caught fish — amounting to about 20 million tons of seafood — is used to make fishmeal that’s fed to farmed fish,20 and stocks of wild fish may be dwindling as a result.
An undercover investigation in Vietnam, India and The Gambia by the Changing Markets Foundation, titled “Fishing for Catastrophe,” also revealed that the demand for fishmeal and fish oil used in the aquaculture industry is fueling overfishing and putting intense pressure on wild fish stocks.21 According to the report:22
“Our findings show that FMFO [fishmeal and fish oil] production, driven by demand from the global aquaculture sector, is visibly accelerating the decline of fish stocks in India, Vietnam and The Gambia that marine fisheries for human consumption have already pushed to breaking point.
Local fisherpeople and communities are clear-eyed about the consequences for them; they see the slump in catches they are currently experiencing as a precursor to the inevitable destruction of the fisheries that sustain them. However, they feel powerless against the economic might of the industry.”
While 90% of the fish being used for fishmeal and other uses could be used to feed humans directly,23 they’re instead being diverted into other uses, contributing to food insecurity in local communities. Further, as noted in “Fishing for Catastrophe:”24
“A report published in July 2019 found that the Scottish salmon industry alone uses roughly the same quantity of wild-caught fish to feed its salmon as the entire adult population of the UK purchases in one year, and that it will require a further 310,000 tonnes of wild fish per year to meet its ambitions to double in size by 2030.”
Safer, Sustainable Seafood Options
With fishmeal and fish oil representing an unsustainable feed source, and plant-based feed alternatives leading to changes in farmed salmon’s cellular metabolism and nutritional value, eating farm-raised salmon is not advisable.
I only recommend eating safer seafood choices such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring. All of these are at low risk of contamination yet are high in healthy omega-3 fats. You’ll want to opt for sustainably harvested wild-caught fish as well.
One of the best options toward this end is to look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo, which features the letters MSC and a blue check mark in the shape of a fish. The MSC logo ensures the seafood came from a responsible fishery that uses sustainable fishing practices to minimize environmental impacts.25
Your body functions best when it’s in balance; the biological term for this is homeostasis. Basically, this means that while a little of something may be good, a lot of the same thing can be bad.
Your body also functions optimally when it is under some stress. For instance, your muscles grow and strengthen when they are asked to perform. Your immune system creates antibodies when it is exposed to a pathogen. You experience personal growth and development only when you step past the edge of your comfort zone.
Yet, with too much stress, your body can get overwhelmed and damaged. Being exposed to too many free radicals is one example. This leads to oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants.1 Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are free radicals that are the by-products of metabolism and they play an important role in cell signaling.
Your body constantly produces ROS. When there aren't enough antioxidants to keep the number in check, it can result in oxidative stress. This can lead to several health conditions such as neurodegenerative disease, gene mutations, cancer, heart disease and inflammatory diseases.2
Your Body Uses Two Types of Antioxidants
At the molecular level, free radicals have an unpaired electron. This makes them highly unstable, damaging your cellular structures. The damage happens when the free radicals steal an electron from another molecule. This process is called oxidation.3 You can see the visible signs of oxidation when you cut into an apple and let it sit on the counter and watch as the flesh begins to turn brown over the next couple of hours.
In small amounts, free radicals help fight infections, inhibit aging and start wound healing. But in larger amounts they are damaging. Your body has a built-in mechanism to help fight the damage from ROS using antioxidants. These molecules are different since they can donate an electron and remain stable, thus reducing the damage from free radicals.
More than one type of antioxidant is in play when it comes to our defenses. In one group are exogenous antioxidants: These are molecules that are formed in foods and can be absorbed when eaten. Examples I’ve talked about are vitamin C, astaxanthin, flavonoids and polyphenols. Keeping a balance between damaging ROS and antioxidants may also help your body fight infectious diseases, such as flu and COVID-19.
Your body can also form endogenous antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidases, glutathione and catalase. While getting enough external antioxidants from your food is important, it is the endogenous antioxidants like superoxide dismutase (SOD) that are the first line of defense against ROS.4
Glutathione plays a crucial role in health and fitness. It is an intracellular antioxidant that can improve the activity of other antioxidants like vitamins C and E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid.5 Since glutathione is poorly absorbed from foods,6 it may be beneficial to raise your levels using the precursor N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC).7
Another powerful antioxidant made inside your body is SOD, which plays a role in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and inflammatory diseases.8 During metabolism, an aggressive superoxide radical is created. SOD breaks this down to hydrogen peroxide and molecular oxygen.9
The accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in the cells is also damaging. At this point in the reaction catalase, another endogenous antioxidant, breaks down the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
Aronia Berry Supplementation Fights Oxidative Damage
SOD is found in every cell of your body as well as between the cells.10 When adequate amounts of this enzyme are produced, you are powerfully protected against the ravages of oxidative stress. However, levels of SOD go down as you age.11 In one review, researchers discussed its importance to overall health and wellness, writing:12
“It has been suggested that proper daily SOD supplementation will protect the immune system and significantly reduce one’s chances of diseases and ultimately slow down aging process.”
SOD is a metalloenzyme, which means it needs a metal ion to work. The ions that researchers have found most commonly bound to SOD include zinc, iron, manganese and copper. Large amounts of extracellular SOD (SOD3) can be found in nearly all human tissue.13 Several places, including the heart, have the ability to transcribe SOD3 RNA from SOD DNA, raising the level of production.14
By reversing the loss of SOD, scientists may be able to have a powerful effect on reducing oxidative stress and therefore lower the potential risk of many chronic diseases. There are two ways to increase it:
- Consume a source of SOD to raise the levels
- Consume a precursor to help the body boost levels of production
Enter the Aronia berry. In parts of the country they are known as chokeberries, in reference to their sour flavor.15 They come in red and black colors, with the red berries being slightly sweeter than the black. They are a native, perennial, deciduous shrub in North America.16
In a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), researchers found that chokeberries had 50% more antioxidant activity than other, more common berries.17 In addition to high levels of exogenous antioxidants, Aronia berries can activate nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (NRF2), a key regulator of antioxidant action,18 to boost the production of SOD.19
Supplementation with Aronia berry extract reduced oxidative stress in the fruit fly so significantly that it extended the life of the fly by 18%.20 It also reduced oxidative stress and the pathogenesis of colitis in an animal model.21
The berry extract modulated mitochondrial antioxidant activity and upregulated antioxidant enzymes, preventing depletion of reduced glutathione and glutathione peroxidase.
What Affects Your Endogenous Antioxidant Production?
In the search for ways to raise SOD levels, nearly 35 years ago scientists pulled it from the blood of livestock and injected it directly into the joints of people with osteoarthritis. The results showed significant improvement.22 However, other research showed disappointing results and it was not developed for commercial purposes.
When intraperitoneal and oral administration of SOD was compared to naproxen and dexamethasone in an animal model, the results revealed that oral SOD lowered lipoperoxidation.23 In the animals that received the drugs, 20% of those getting naproxen died of hemorrhages in the gastrointestinal tract and 50% of those getting dexamethasone died of pulmonary infections.
The question has remained as to how to naturally increase the amount and activity of SOD in the body. Although some plants naturally produce it, once consumed, the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal tract destroys it.24
It appears that consuming Aronia berry extract could actually increase SOD levels. In one study, researchers engaged 47 participants; 22 were healthy and 25 had metabolic syndrome. The participants with metabolic syndrome were given 100 mg of Aronia extract three times a day for two months.25 This group saw reductions in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels while their SOD levels were significantly raised.
Researchers have also learned that curcumin supplementation can increase SOD, catalase and glutathione peroxidase, all important endogenous antioxidants.26 This same effect was also found in the fruit fly.27
Remember, SOD has to have metal ions to function properly. This is an important consideration for our time, as some people may be taking zinc to protect against COVID-19, flu and other infectious conditions. In a discussion of the importance of the zinc/copper balance, Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D., writes:28
“The negative effect of zinc on copper status has been shown with as little as 60 mg/d zinc. This intake lowers the activity of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme important to antioxidant defense and immune function that depends both on zinc and copper.
Notably, the maximum amount of zinc one could consume while staying in the acceptable range of zinc-to-copper ratios and also staying within the upper limit for copper is 150 mg/d."
Molecular Hydrogen: A Potent Selective Antioxidant
Molecular hydrogen is yet another important antioxidant. Among the many benefits of using it is the ability to selectively decrease excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.29
As discussed earlier, it's important to remember that the body requires balance in all its processes, including stress. By inhibiting excessive oxidative stress and damage, molecular hydrogen helps to maintain homeostasis. This means the goal is to neutralize excessive free radicals, but not all of them.
In my interview with Tyler W. LeBaron, founder of the science-based, nonprofit Molecular Hydrogen Institute, he talked about the selective elimination of free radicals. You can see the entire interview in my article, “Molecular Hydrogen — Is it the Best Antioxidant You Can Take?” He comments:30
"Sometimes antioxidants can even exacerbate oxidative stress because they can increase Fenton reaction cycles and redox cycling and end up being potent pro-oxidants. So, it is very complicated, and we have to be very cautious …
One of the reasons we know hydrogen gas could be so safe is because it simply does not have the reductive power or potential to neutralize or react with some of these critical important signaling oxidants, such as hydrogen peroxide, singlet oxygen, superoxide radicals and nitric oxide. It just does not have the ability to react with these, even in vitro, if you just put the two together, they don't react."
Molecular hydrogen will react with hydroxyl radical, which is the most reactive and oxidative radical in the body. It is turned into harmless water.31 Molecular hydrogen is inexpensive, has no risk and its potential upside is tremendous. Use the article link above to read more about its benefits.
How to Use Molecular Hydrogen at Home
Molecular hydrogen is absorbed in gas form. As LeBaron and I discuss in our interview, easiest way to get it into your system is to dissolve molecular hydrogen tablets in pure water and drink it. It is important to be sure the concentration is high enough and that the frequency is not continuous.
As LeBaron explained, when exposure to molecular hydrogen is continuous, it is less effective. At this time, further study is needed to determine the best frequency.
Until then, customizing the dose to your personal circumstances may be appropriate. For example, if you live in non-stressful circumstances and are not exercising much, once a day may be enough. On the other hand, if you exercise vigorously, it may be more appropriate to take it a couple of times a day.
The normal dose is one tablet in 500 mL or 16 ounces of water. You want to drink the whole glass as soon as the tablet dissolves and before the cloud of hydrogen gas dissipates. The rate the tablet dissolves will depend on the water temperature. Ideally, use room temperature water so there's more gas in the water by the time the tablet is fully dissolved.
It’s important to use plain water and not sparkling water, which contains carbon dioxide that will disperse the hydrogen gas faster. The water will take on a milky look from the dissolved hydrogen gas. You'll want to drink it as quickly as possible while the hydrogen is suspended in water.
In the video podcast above, Dr. Paul Saladino and science journalist and author, Nina Teicholz — who is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the executive director of The Nutrition Coalition — review the evidence against chicken, and why saturated fat really qualifies as a health food.
Teicholz' book, "The Big Fat Surprise," challenged the conventional wisdom on dietary fats, especially saturated fat. Saladino, meanwhile, is releasing the second edition of his book, "The Carnivore Code," August 4, 2020.
Why Conventional Chicken May Contribute to Poor Health
As noted by Saladino, while consumption of red meat is on the decline, thanks to the vilification of red meat and saturated fat, people are eating more and more chicken.
Long thought of as a healthier type of meat, primarily because it's leaner than red meat, the problem with conventional chicken is that they're fed corn — typically GMO varieties that are farmed with glyphosate.
Increasingly, we're finding that trans fats and polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils are far worse for your health, and a greater contributor to chronic disease, than added sugar even. And what happens when chicken is fed corn? The meat becomes high in omega-6 linoleic acid, as corn is high in this type of fat.1
As Saladino points out, high chicken consumption actually adds to your vegetable oil consumption. While you need some omega-6, the amounts obtained from a standard American diet high in processed foods are far too high for health. High omega-6 intake also skews your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which ideally would be close to 1-to-1.
As noted by Saladino and Teicholz, 60% of the U.S. population has chronic disease, nearly 70% are overweight or obese, and recent NHANES data2 reveal 87.8% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, based on five parameters. That data is over four years old now, so the figure is clearly greater than 90% of the population today.
That means virtually everyone is at risk for Type 2 diabetes and all the chronic diseases associated with insulin resistance, which run the gamut from cancer to Alzheimer's. Simply assuming you are one of the 12.2% (from the 4-year-old figures) that are metabolically healthy would be risky business.
Will Saturated Fat Myth Soon Be Upended?
Part of why chronic ill health is so widespread is this persistent idea that saturated animal fats are unhealthy, and should be replaced with industrial vegetable oils.3
On the upside, Teicholz reviews a recent paper4 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online June 17, 2020, which actually admits the long-standing nutritional guideline to limit saturated fat has been incorrect. This is a rather stunning admission, and a huge step forward. As noted in the abstract:
"The recommendation to limit dietary saturated fatty acid (SFA) intake has persisted despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Most recent meta-analyses of randomized trials and observational studies found no beneficial effects of reducing SFA intake on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and total mortality, and instead found protective effects against stroke.
Although SFAs increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, in most individuals, this is not due to increasing levels of small, dense LDL particles, but rather larger LDL which are much less strongly related to CVD risk.
It is also apparent that the health effects of foods cannot be predicted by their content in any nutrient group, without considering the overall macronutrient distribution.
Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, eggs and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of CVD. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods."
How Did We Go so Wrong?
In the podcast, Saladino and Teicholz review the history of the demonization of saturated fat and cholesterol, starting with Ancel Keys' flawed hypothesis5 that saturated fat causes heart disease in 1960-1961, and how the introduction of the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980 (which recommended limiting saturated fat and cholesterol) coincided with a rapid rise in obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease.
They also discuss the reasons why this myth has been allowed to persist, despite the scientific evidence against it. In short, the low-fat, low-cholesterol myths promulgated by Keys in the '60s rapidly led to dramatic changes in the food and drug industries, and these behemoths are incredibly reluctant to relinquish what have become highly profitable businesses.
Acknowledging that saturated animal fats are healthy, and processed industrial vegetable oils and grains are not, would decimate the processed food industry, as it relies on vegetable oils and grains. The healthy alternative is real food, and there's no big industry profits to be made from that.
Vegetable Oils Undermine Your Health
Saladino and Knobbe are both equally convinced that the massive increase in linoleic acid (omega-6 polyunsaturated fat found in industrial vegetable oils) is a key metabolic driver of obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic disease. They review several studies6,7,8,9,10,11,12 demonstrating the truth of this.
Historically, humans got an estimated 2% polyunsaturated fat from their diet. Today, that percentage is between 10% and 20% — and conventional poultry is a hidden source of harmful polyunsaturated fat as well.
Importantly, they also review the incorrect belief that high LDL is a risk factor for heart disease, and that by lowering your LDL, you lower your risk of a heart attack. The science simply doesn't bear this out, and the reason for this is because not all LDL particles are the same.
By cutting down on red meat and saturated fat and eating more vegetable oil and chicken for example (which again will count toward your vegetable oil or polyunsaturated fat intake), your LDL may go down, but those LDLs are now going to be oxidized, and no one is testing for oxidation. Oxidized LDL, Saladino explains, will in turn trigger insulin resistance and related problems, including heart disease.
Eating saturated fat, on the other hand, may raise your LDL, but those LDL particles will be large and "fluffy," and do not cause any arterial damage. Many studies have demonstrated that high LDL has nothing to do with heart disease. High LDL does not raise your risk of heart disease per se, but oxidized LDL do.
Teicholz also makes another important point, in that the saturated fat myth has been one of the most thoroughly and comprehensive hypotheses in the history of nutritional science, and it has failed miserably.
She also details how avoiding saturated animal fats causes you to end up with nutritional deficiencies, as animal foods and fats are also rich in micronutrients. Industrially processed vegetable oils are not. As noted by Teicholz, "foods high in saturated fats are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet." These nutrients are also highly bioavailable.
Meanwhile, the diet recommended by our Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not actually meet nutritional goals. As a result, the most disadvantaged among us — impoverished school children who rely on school meals, hospital patients and the elderly who are in long-term care facilities for example — are being disproportionally harmed, as they have few if any options to make healthier food choices.
The Benefits of Carnosine
In addition to saturated fat and the vitamins and minerals it contains, red meat is also an important source of carnosine, a dipeptide (two amino acids put together) made up of beta-alanine and histidine. Carnosine is only found animal products. It serves as a scavenger or sink for reactive carbonyl groups — intermediaries that go on to form advanced lipoxidation end-products.
If you can grab these carbonyls before they attack proteins and fats, you can essentially stop the vicious cycle resulting in catastrophic peroxidation. Diets that exclude animal products and meat will lower your carnosine level, and carnosine is a really important nutrient to limit the damage from oxidation products. It's also important for mitochondrial function.
Summary of Why Saturated Fats Are so Crucial
Toward the end of his podcast, around one hour and 44 minutes in, Saladino offers a comprehensive summary of the entire discussion. Here's a quick review of his key points:
- The insulin sensitivity of your adipose fat cells is inverse to the rest of your body. In other words, you want your fat cells to be insulin resistant, because this makes the rest of your body insulin sensitive (i.e., not insulin resistant). If your adipose fat cells are insulin sensitive, the rest of your body will be insulin resistant. The factor that determines the insulin sensitivity of your adipocytes is the fats you eat.
- Linoleic acid "breaks the sensitivity for insulin at the level of your fat cells" — it makes them more insulin sensitive — and, since your fat cells control the insulin sensitivity of the rest of your body by releasing free fatty acids, you end up with insulin resistance.
- Conversely, when you eat saturated fat, because of the way it's beta-oxidized in your mitochondria, your fat cells become insulin resistant. As a result, they do not grow and they do not release free fatty acids. Thus, the insulin sensitivity in the rest of your body improves, and insulin resistance goes down.
Vegetable Oils Are Toxic
As discussed in my recent interview with Knobbe (above), the polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils, seed oils and trans fats are mostly stored in your fat cells (opposed to being used for fuel), and have a half-life of 600 to 680 days.13
They also get incorporated into tissues, including your heart and brain. Who in their right mind would want a highly oxidizable oil saturating their organs for years? One result of this could be memory impairment and increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, which is exactly what they found with canola oil.14 As reported in one 2017 study:15
"Our findings do not support a beneficial effect of chronic canola oil consumption on two important aspects of AD pathophysiology which includes memory impairments as well as synaptic integrity. While more studies are needed, our data do not justify the current trend aimed at replacing olive oil with canola oil."
In the interview above, Knobbe explains the harms of vegetable oils and, like Saladino and Teicholz, reviews why they are a root cause behind virtually all chronic diseases.
The fact that most olive oils on the market are fraudulently diluted with less expensive (and more harmful) oils has been known for years. Now, a report1,2,3 in the journal Food Control warns that the purity and quality of avocado oil sold in the U.S. is questionable at best, and that standards to protect consumers and genuine producers are urgently needed.
Adulterated Avocado Oil Is Commonplace
According to the Food Control report,4 a vast majority of commercially available avocado oils labeled as “extra virgin” and “refined” are in fact adulterated and of poor quality; 82% were found to have gone rancid before their expiration date.5
Three of 22 oils were not even avocado oil but something else entirely (likely soybean oil). Co-author Selina Wang told Olive Oil Times6 that while she expected “some percentage of adulterants,” she was shocked to find several cases of 100% adulteration. As noted in the report:7
“This study analyzed avocado oils currently on the market in the US to evaluate their quality (e.g., free fatty acidity, peroxide value, UV absorbances, vitamin E) and purity (e.g., fatty acids, sterols, triacylglycerols).
Our results showed that the majority of commercial samples were oxidized before reaching the expiration date listed on the bottle. In addition, adulteration with soybean oil at levels near 100% was confirmed in two ‘extra virgin’ and one ‘refined’ sample.”
How Purity and Quality Are Assessed
As explained in the Food Control report,8 an oil is considered authentic and pure when no additives or other oils have been added, and when the content matches that listed on the label.
Quality includes consideration of the raw material (the quality of the avocado used), the extraction process used and storage, but is “mostly related to the level of hydrolysis of the fruit and oxidation of the oil.” With this report, the authors have begun compiling a database “to support standards development for this industry.”
In all, 22 avocado oil samples were obtained from six grocery stores and two online sources, covering the major brands and types of oils, which include extra virgin/unrefined and refined. Countries of origin included California, Mexico, Brazil and Spain.
While previous researchers have proposed a healthy level of free fatty acidity (FFA) should be between 0.1% and 0.55% for refined avocado oils, three of the 22 samples had FFA values close to 2.5%. Extra virgin avocado oils had an FFA range between 0.03% and 2.69%, with an overall average of 1.31%.
According to the authors, these elevated FFA levels may be due to poor-quality fruit and/or poor handling during processing.9
“Unhealthy fruits that are damaged, bruised, overripe, insect infested; prolonged time between harvest and processing; overheating during processing are all factors that can contribute to a rise in FFA,” the authors note.
To put this into an easier to understand perspective for you, I am sure you have opened an overripe avocado in the past to see the ripe green avocado color turn to very dark, nearly black. Can you imagine the entire avocado being black when you open it up and processing it and turning it into oil? Well, that is precisely what you do when you purchase rancid avocado oil.
High Oxidation Is Common
When an oil is exposed to oxygen, peroxides and other oxidation products form, thereby giving the oil undesirable odors and flavors. While not as conspicuous as the FFA values, the trend toward high oxidation was also evident. In other words, many of the oils were rancid well before their “best by” date.
Extra virgin avocado oil had the highest oxidation values, which is expected, as the refining process removes peroxides. Still, many of the refined oils also had higher than expected peroxide levels. In fact, all but three samples were above Mexico’s CODEX cap.
Not surprisingly, the three samples with the highest peroxide levels were stored in clear, rather than tinted, packaging. This makes sense, as tinted bottles protect against photooxidation.
Storage time also contributes to higher oxidation. The longer the oil sits, the more likely it is to be oxidized, so always be sure to check the best by date. Sadly, higher price does not guarantee quality, as the most expensive oil assessed in this review also had the highest peroxidation value.
Exaggerated Vitamin E Content Suggests Adulteration
The vitamin E content was also measured, and exaggerated levels in some of the samples suggest adulteration with cheap soybean oil. As explained in the Food Control report:10
“There are eight compounds that make up vitamin E content, four tocopherols (ɑ-tocopherol, β-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol, δ-tocopherol) and four tocotrienols …
This study shows multiple samples (EV3, EV6, R1, U4, U5, U6) had total tocopherol contents over 400 mg/kg, which is interesting as the highest documented total tocopherol content in literature, to our knowledge, is 282 mg/kg.
In particular, there are three samples with a notably high total tocopherol content, EV3, EV6 and U6 at 645.4 mg/kg, 906.2 mg/kg, and 692.9 mg/kg, respectively. These samples had significantly higher levels of gamma and delta tocopherols compared to the other samples in this study and to values seen in literature for avocado oils.
A study that reported on the tocopherol content in fruits and vegetables, showed soybean oil has similar tocopherol levels and distributions to those seen in EV3, EV6 and U6, therefore, it is possible these samples contain soybean or had soybean tocopherols added after processing for preservation.”
Industry Standards Are Urgently Needed
The Food Control report is the first to demonstrate there are serious problems in the avocado oil industry. Just like olive oil, much of what’s being sold is adulterated and of inferior quality. As concluded by the authors:11
“The majority of the samples were of low quality with five of the seven oils labeled as ‘extra virgin’ having high FFA values and six of the nine ‘refined’ oils had high PV [peroxidation value]. FFA, PV, and specific extinction in UV data demonstrated that these oils have undergone lipolysis and oxidation, respectively.
This likely resulted from improper or prolonged storage, using damaged or rotten fruits, or extreme and harsh processing conditions. Extra virgin oils often are more expensive and distinguished from lower grades such as virgin or crude oils using the above quality parameters.
Adulteration with soybean oil was found in two samples labeled as ‘extra virgin’ avocado oil (EV3 and EV6) and one labeled as ‘pure’ avocado oil (U6).
Tocopherol, fatty acid, sterols, and TAGs data show this adulteration is occurring at or near 100% for all three samples. This not only is a potential health hazard for consumers but creates unfair competition in the market …
In the case of samples EV3, EV6, and U6 the adulteration was confirmed in addition to the adulteration percent and adulterant oil. However, the need for standards is also demonstrated by the samples R1, U4, and U5.
The variance seen in their fatty acid, sterols, TAGs, and tocopherols profiles could be due to natural variance of the avocado fruits, processing conditions, or unnaturally, economic adulteration with high oleic sunflower or safflower oils.”
Benefits of Authentic Avocado Oil
I personally have never used avocado oil as I typically avoid processed oils, with the exception of our own Solspring biodynamic olive oil. I think it is far better to eat the whole food. That is precisely what I do — I have half an avocado every day in each of my collagen protein powder smoothies.
As detailed in “An Avocado a Day Keeps the Doctor Away,” avocados are loaded with healthy fats your body can easily use for energy. They’re also rich in fiber, protein and essential vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, potassium, folate and vitamin K, and have been shown to counteract metabolic syndrome.
Considering the excellent nutritional profile of avocados, it’s no wonder avocado oil has risen in popularity in recent years. However, extracting the oil and putting it into a bottle allows plenty of opportunity for fraud, as the Food Control report demonstrates.
Unfortunately, the report does not specify the brands investigated, so it cannot be used as a guide when shopping. Provided you can actually find authentic avocado oil, it can be a very healthy addition to your diet. Health benefits of authentic avocado oil include:12,13,14
- Normalizing blood pressure, thanks to its high potassium and vitamin E content that supports healthy blood vessel function and combats free radicals15
- Anti-inflammatory effects, which help lower your risk of heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions16
- Detoxification, thanks to its high chlorophyll content (which is also a natural source of magnesium) and glutathione17
- Enhancing collagen production, thanks to vitamins A and D. High protein and amino acid levels also aids tissue regeneration and cellular renewal18
- Supporting healthy vision, thanks to the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin19
Should You Cook With Avocado Oil?
Avocado oil is typically said to have a high smoke point, although just how high differs depending on the source. Masterclass.com cites it between 375 degrees Fahrenheit and 400 degrees F in one chart, while listing it at 480 degrees F for unrefined and 520 degrees F for refined in another.20
Australian researchers, meanwhile, cite a smoke point of about 386 degrees F (196.67 degrees Celsius plus or minus 0.577 degrees C).21 Either way, the higher smoke point of avocado oil has been relied on by many for the recommendation to use it during high-heat cooking, baking and frying.
However, the Australian researchers present evidence suggesting this might not be such a good idea after all. The study,22 published in 2018, assessed the correlation between various oils’ smoke point and other chemical characteristics associated with stability and safety.
Importantly, they found that “smoke point does not predict oil performance when heated.” Avocado oil was one of 10 cooking oils investigated. Paradoxically, they found that oils with higher smoke points, such as avocado oil, actually tended to produce higher levels of harmful compounds during heating — including trans fats.
For this reason, I don’t recommend avocado oil for cooking. Chances are, you’re better off using it cold. Without a doubt, your best alternatives for high-heat cooking, baking and frying include lard, grass fed butter and organic ghee. Coconut oil may also be a healthier alternative when cooking than avocado oil, as it’s known to be quite stable at high temperatures. The Australian study appears to support this as well.
Scientists have learned that the variety of microbes that live in your gut are as unique to you as your fingerprint. This population of microbial flora can be rapidly altered after exposure to foods, toxins, antibiotics and even lifestyle choices. Each microbe performs a function and must be balanced for you to maintain optimal health.
Potentially harmful microbes are only dangerous when they overwhelm beneficial ones. Essentially, this means living in a sterile environment is not ideal since the loss of your gut microbiome and the microbes living on your skin will adversely affect your health; this happens when we use antibacterial soaps and antibiotics.
Researchers understand that diseases are likely influenced by what happens in the gut microbiome. Some of the conditions identified thus far are cancer, autoimmune disorders, autism, cardiovascular disease and obesity.1,2,3 Your gut microbiome can also influence the effectiveness of certain drugs, including those prescribed for mental health.
Since your gut can undergo rapid change based on your actions, you have the ability to positively or negatively affect its health and diversity by making simple alterations to the food you eat.
Fermentation Creates Health-Promoting Components
Historically, the primary reason for fermenting was to preserve food. Over time, many cultures incorporated fermented foods into their daily diets and some were credited with a selection of foods they shared with the world. For example, Japanese natto, Korean kimchi and German sauerkraut are popular in many areas outside their respective places of origin.4
The process of fermenting food is controlled by the microorganisms involved and the type of food. Yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, while lactic acid bacterium produces more lactic acid. Most fermented foods from the grocery don't contain live cultures, which are a primary benefit of the food. Instead, before packaging, they may be smoked, baked, pasteurized or filtered.
There is a growing consensus that the fermentation process adds nutritional benefits by transforming the food and forming bioavailable end products, including an increasing density of vitamins. Some of the plant toxins may also be removed.
During the process, biologically active peptides are formed. In one paper published in Clinical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the authors listed some of those peptides and their multiple health benefits:5
"Among these peptides, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) have a blood pressure lowering effect, exopolysaccharides exhibit prebiotic properties, bacteriocins show anti-microbial effects, sphingolipids have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties, and bioactive peptides exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood pressure lowering effects.
As a result, fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity."
During fermentation, different foods are found to increase certain activities, thus conferring a number of benefits. In a paper published in Nutrients, the writers explained:6
"Fermentation was found to increase antioxidant activity of milks, cereals, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Anti-hypertensive peptides are detected in fermented milk and cereals. Changes in vitamin content are mainly observed in fermented milk and fruits.
Fermented milk and fruit juice were found to have probiotic activity. Other effects such as anti-diabetic properties, FODMAP reduction, and changes in fatty acid profile are peculiar of specific food categories."
Fermented Foods Are High in Beneficial Bacteria
The transformation of the end product is not the only benefit associated with fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for fermenting are a focus of attention, as many are beneficial to your gut microbiome. In one study, researchers analyzed the microbial growth in “organically fermented vegetables, using a salt brine, which is a common ‘at-home’ method of food fermentation.”7
The researchers studied the microbial fermentation of beets, carrots, peppers and radishes. After collecting the data, they found the highest change in diversity of microbes was after two to three days. At the beginning of the process the microbiome of the food was similar to what would be found in the soil.
However, by the end of the first day, the microbes that dominated the fermented food were Enterobacteriaceae. As the process continued, the population of Lactobacillales grew. The microbes were compared to a sample that were first autoclaved and sterilized before the fermentation process. These samples showed little change. The authors wrote:8
“Spontaneous fermentations are known to be more challenging to control and many industrialized fermented food producers use starter cultures to directly manipulate fermentation outcomes … Our results indicate that the presumed nutritive and probiotic value of this process is highly dependent on the vegetable and microbiome that comes to dominate the process.”
The microbes living in your gut microbiome, both beneficial and pathogenic, are important to the stimulation of your immune system. Your gut has a strong impact on its stability. Researchers have found that dysbiosis can increase your “susceptibility to infections, hypersensitivity reactions, autoimmunity, chronic inflammation and cancer.”9
Your diet and the medications you take play a significant role in the development of dysbiosis. At the same time, probiotics have the potential to restore stability. I believe one of the best ways to get probiotic bacteria is through eating properly fermented foods.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
The health benefits associated with fermented foods are many. In fact, the yogurt industry has advertised that eating a container a day may be helpful in maintaining digestive health. However, while the product may have probiotics, it also contains an abundance of sugar that feeds the harmful bacteria in your gut. This is just one reason why store-bought yogurt is typically not beneficial.
Fermented foods promote bowel regularity and may be easier to digest. For instance, researchers have found that sourdough-fermented breads digest more easily than yeast breads. The authors of one study found that for those who ate the sour dough form, gastric emptying was faster, as was the transit time through the intestinal tract.10
Others discovered that bakery products made with sourdough promoted better gastrointestinal function then those that were prepared with brewer's yeast.11 Fermented foods may help by reducing inflammation in the body and the gut. They also increase the bioaccessibility of polyphenols,12 which has a significant impact on mental health.13
Researchers have found fermented milk products to be helpful with certain conditions related to disease. In a study published in the BMJ, scientists evaluated two large groups of individuals from Sweden.14 There were 61,433 women and 45,339 men who responded to questionnaires. The researchers noted that a high intake of milk was associated with higher rates of mortality in men and women. However:
“Consumption of fermented milk products (soured milk and yogurt) indicated a negative relation with both the oxidative stress and the inflammatory markers …”15
Fermented foods may additionally play a role in the prevention of cancer.16 In lab studies, kombucha has shown the ability to preserve normal epithelial cells while selectively working against colon cancer. The researchers concluded:17
“Therefore, kombucha tea could be considered as a potential source of the antioxidation, inhibition of pathogenic enteric bacteria, and toxicity on colorectal cancer cells.”
As Chris Kresser, licensed integrative medicine clinician and co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine writes, there are several more benefits to fermented foods. These include supporting skin health, protecting against food toxins and helping with weight management.18
Soy: Fermented or Unfermented?
Fermenting soybeans helps reduce their phytic acid levels. Phytic acid is a type of antinutrient that reduces your body’s ability to absorb minerals from your food. It binds to metal ions, preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc19 — all of which are cofactors for optimal biochemistry in your body.
Zinc is especially important during flu season, as it helps suppress the replication of influenza. While unfermented soy products contain phytic acid, fermented soybeans have the ability to reduce mild cognitive impairment and raise brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).20
Fermented soy may also help lower the rate of death from cardiovascular disease in men and women. In one study using data conducted over the course of 14.8 years, researchers engaged 92,915 participants.21 They found those who had a lower risk of mortality consumed more fermented soy.
But the data did not reveal a statistically significant association between the total amount of soy products the participants ate and all-cause mortality. The researchers cautioned that the association may be reduced by factors that were not accounted for in the study. They hypothesize fermented soy is higher in fiber and potassium than non-fermented soy, which may help explain the difference in rates of heart disease.22
Tips for Making Fermented Foods at Home
In the U.S., it’s becoming more popular to eat fermented foods at home. Yet, preparing them is largely a lost art. One of the quickest and easiest ways to raise the level of your gut health is through your diet. For example, sugar is the preferred source of food for fungi and harmful bacteria.
On the other hand, probiotic-rich foods, such as fermented vegetables, will boost the population of beneficial bacteria, which then reduce the potentially pathogenic colonies. Making your own yogurt at home is an easy way to start with fermented foods.
Many of the yogurts sold on grocery store shelves are fruit flavored and sweetened with sugar. You’ll want to steer clear of commercial brands as they likely will not help promote an overall healthy gut flora. To make yogurt at home you only need a high-quality starter culture and raw, grass fed milk. You'll find simple step-by-step instructions in “Benefits of Homemade Yogurt Versus Commercial.”
You can also experiment with fermenting almost any vegetable. Cucumbers (pickles) and cabbage (sauerkraut) are among the most popular. Although it might seem intimidating at first, once you have the basic method down, it’s not difficult. In the video below, Julie and I review how to do this.
As I discuss in “Tips for Fermenting at Home,” there are several steps you can take to make the process a little easier. Begin with fresh, organic ingredients and be sure to wash them properly under cold running water. The idea is to remove bacteria, enzymes and other debris as this can affect the outcome. Never use plastic because it can leach chemicals into the food.
Don't use metal, since the salt that’s used in the fermentation process can corrode the container. Instead, choose glass Mason jars with self-sealing lids. Most fermented vegetables will need to be covered with brine.
The process of wild fermentation is not consistent so you may want to use a starter culture on its own or in addition to salt. I recommend using a vitamin K2-rich starter culture dissolved in celery juice.
Allow the jars to sit in a relatively warm area for several days. The temperature should ideally be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer months, vegetables are typically finished in three to four days. In the winter, they may need up to seven days. The only way to tell when the fermentation process is complete is to open the jar and have a taste.
When you're happy with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into the refrigerator. Refrigeration will slow fermentation and the vegetables can keep for many months. Remember not to eat out of the jar because you’ll contaminate the rest of the batch with the bacteria from your mouth. Make sure the vegetables are covered with brine before replacing the lid.
Many of the headlines and predictions in the past few weeks have been dire. The fear and panic they spread can be paralyzing, making it difficult to adapt and develop a constructive plan for the future. Yet, in order to think clearly and identify the steps you can take to protect your health, it’s important that you control fear.
While it is helpful to stay up to date with changes, it isn’t necessary to get sucked in by the stylistic exaggerations of the media headlines. Instead, look for the facts and seek out your own answers.
Whether life returns to the way it was one year ago or not, the reality is that any return to “normal” is months away. When the shelter-in-place orders have ended, the repercussions to the food supply chain shutdowns may mean some industries won’t fully recover.
Dairy Farmers Incentivized to Close Their Farms
While milk is flying off the shelves in some stores, dairy farmers are being asked to dump hundreds of gallons of milk and sell their cows.1 With restaurants and schools closed, the industry is sending all their supplies to grocery stores. However, when the shelter-in-place orders were first announced, grocery stores were limiting milk to one or two gallons per customer.
Those limits left dairy farmers with a glut of milk on the farm, while contending with plummeting prices. Richard Conrad, co-owner of Conrad Farms in New Holland, Ohio,2 spoke with CNN. His farm supports 500 cattle and sales of milk account for two-thirds of their income. In the first few weeks it seemed the issue would be a short-term problem, but by the time of the interview, he realized he was wrong.
The Wisconsin Dairy Alliance said there is milk ready and waiting for processing, leaving food banks and pantries with a desperate need for dairy products.3 Several dairy groups have sent letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture including a statement from the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin:4
"America's freedom, strength and future hinges on its ability to feed its people. We must make sure that this crisis doesn't leave American weak by our inability to deliver food to our own people. There is no good reason for Americans to go hungry while our farms are the most capable and efficient in the world. We need immediate action."
The Ice Age Farmer published a letter on Twitter5 from the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Wisconsin, in which the coop encouraged farmers to quit their dairy farms. In a stroke of irony, the letter was dated April 1, 2020.
Channel 7 news in Wisconsin ran a story on the letter April 3, 2020.6 Several people the reporter spoke with called the move “unprecedented.” Specifically, the letter encouraged dairy farmers who were unable to sell their milk, to sell their cows in the next 15 days.
In exchange, the cooperative promised the farmers a 100% equity payout in the coop from 2010 to 2019. The coop was trying to reduce production because grocers had begun limiting sales.
Produce Is Rotting in the Fields
The pandemic has also affected produce distribution. Strawberries, zucchini and tomatoes are just some of the fruits and vegetables left to rot in the field in Florida and California as farmers don’t have an outlet to sell their produce.7 Tony DiMare, tomato grower from south Florida, spoke to WTSP News 10, telling the reporter:8
“This is a catastrophe. We haven’t even started to calculate it. It’s going to be in the millions of dollars. Losses mount every day.”
Shay Myers is a large onion producer who recently posted a video describing losses on his farm in millions of pounds of onions.9 The onions were destined for restaurants and the food service industry but with the pandemic, demand has fallen. Myers aptly describes the disconnect in the ability get the produce to the end user during the pandemic, likening it to bridges being destroyed:10
"The way I've been describing it to people who aren't as accustomed to the normal supply chain is that imagine a freeway that is connecting a farm to the city. That freeway has a massive bridge that goes over a massive river and that bridge gets knocked out. If that bridge is knocked out you can't rebuild immediately.
Now, are there other routes to get there? Yeah, but it takes longer. And if it takes longer that means the normal product that's in that supply chain cannot make it. And that's what we're seeing today. Normal shipments in the United States, loads of onions, normal U.S. consumption is 350 loads a day.
We saw sub-200 shipments, 200 loads per day every single day last week. And the most recent number that I've seen is 127. That's one-third of the normal U.S. consumption of onions is being shipped.
That's the shift in the supply chain. That's why you're seeing milk being dumped, tomatoes being dumped, squash in Florida being dumped …”
Florida farmers had expected a huge bumper crop in spring, but for some, 80% or more of the crops are still in the field. It costs more to pick and pack the vegetables than what they’re being paid.11 Some farmers have developed direct-to-consumer services and are experiencing a boost in sales, however. Evan Wiig, from the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, told The Guardian:12
“We’re using this as an opportunity to encourage collaboration and farmers working together to try to fill the gaps in this disruption. It’s been kind of a mad rush to figure out supply and demand and who needs what, who has what. This is usually something that you do carefully over the course of an entire year. And here we are trying to do it in a matter of a week in order to prevent the closure of the farms, and also a lot of food waste.”
Meat Packing Plants Shutting Down
Several meat processing plants around the U.S. have closed after multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19.13 While CNN14 tells their readers not to panic shop, Smithfield chose another tactic, warning the country’s meat supply is “perilously close” to15 being depleted.
Although the closings are devastating to some producers and could result in animals being housed in inhumane conditions, Steve Meyer, with commodity firm Kerns and Associates, believes consumers won’t notice the shutdowns. He said,16 "We have a lot of pork, we have a lot of chicken, we have a lot of beef in cold storage. We can draw on that should we have some shortages."
Some of the plants are diverting the work to other meat processing plants. Christine McCracken, analyst with multinational Rabobank, said the plant closures from staffing shortages may mean fewer options in the short-term, but not less meat on the grocery store shelves.
Seafood Industry’s Efforts to Keep Supply Chain Open
The fishing industry has also felt the pinch from dwindling demand as two-thirds of the seafood in the U.S. is consumed in restaurants.17 Fishing is a billion-dollar industry, paying the salary of 34,000 people. As the market for lobster, oysters and other shellfish has taken a downturn it’s left many without an income.
Much of the fish caught off the U.S. coastline is sent overseas where monkfish and dogfish are more popular. This has led to 90% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. being imported, while much of what is caught in the U.S. is exported. Red's Best is a wholesale company that purchases solely from small fishermen. It is led by founder and CEO Jared Auerbach.
Along with Marder Seafood, another wholesaler, they are buying, cutting and freezing fish to keep the fishermen in business and hedging their bets they'll have inventory to sell when the market opens in the coming months.
Auerbach is using another tactic to sell more fish to the U.S. market, partnering with a top chef from Boston, Jeremy Sewall, to shoot videos showing how to prepare fish at home. The objective has been to keep the supply chains open and functioning since restarting may be challenging if businesses must close their doors.
Supply Chain Interruptions Have Dangerous Consequences
The pandemic has exposed underlying problems within the fishing industry: Warming ocean temperatures have changed the fish population; overfishing has nearly extinguished some species;18 and U.S. supplies go to foreign markets while imports are sold to U.S. consumers.
Jason Delacruz, fisherman and wholesaler in Florida, spoke to Civil Eats about the current situation. One concern has to do with the snapper and grouper caught in the Gulf of Mexico. The fish are expensive but considered important to restaurants. Losing just 20% of that market could change the way they sell fish.
Meat is currently stable, but prices may rise if farmers go out of business.19 One of the largest meat processors, Tyson, put an exit plan in place nearly four years ago. In 2016, the company launched Tyson Ventures with $150 million. By 2018 they had partnered with four emerging food companies, owning less than 20% in each.
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Juston Whitmore, the head of the Tyson Ventures team, acknowledged there had been a shift in corporate goals after the new CEO took over. Tyson's new mission is to be a protein company, not just a meat company. He went on to say:20
“I can’t express enough that we do see a world where there will be multiple types of protein products available. That could include (plant)-based protein next to pork, next to maybe even lab-grown protein and consumers will have a choice."
Beyond Meat is one of the food startups that is moving plant-based products (which resemble meat) into mainstream consumer purchasing outlets.21 Other backers for the plant burger that bleeds like meat are Bill Gates, General Mills venture capital organization and the Humane Society.
The company had its sights set on the fast food market when they named McDonald’s past CEO to their board of directors.22 By 2018, Beyond Meat burgers could be found at Epic Burger in Chicago, TGI Friday's and several grocers.
As if bleeding, plant-based, meat-like burgers isn’t enough, Reese Schroeder, the managing fund director for Tyson Ventures, said the company had a particular interest in automated food technology, which may include:23
"3-D printing of food … It sounds kind of crazy, but there are companies out there trying to do that. There's a lot of cool tech and we're just scratching the surface."
Is It Time to Grow Your Own Food?
This short spoof published in 200924 was one way of preparing the public for the new “cool tech” in edible food, including GMO food and “green alternatives” with documented evidence it uses more resources than regenerative farming.25
Glitches in the distribution of food products compounded by a food supply covered in pesticides and herbicides may be the impetus you need to plant your own garden at home. There are a wide range of personal and community benefits including increasing your activity, strengthening environmental health using organic principles and realizing significant stress reduction.
You don't need a big yard or farm to grow some of your own food. In fact, you can grow sprouts in an apartment near a window and potted vegetables on a balcony. Discover more in, "Is It Time to Start Growing Your Own Food?"
Dr. Mercola Interviews the Experts
This article is part of a weekly series in which Dr. Mercola interviews various experts on a variety of health issues. To see more expert interviews, click here.
Dr. Paul Saladino trained at the University of Arizona with a focus on integrative medicine. He completed his residency in psychiatry at the University of Washington in 2019, and is a certified functional medicine practitioner through the Institute for Functional Medicine.
In this interview, Saladino discusses the surprising benefits of the carnivore diet, which is the topic of his new book, "The Carnivore Code," which is currently available for preorder.
I view him as one of the leading experts on the health benefits of an animal-based diet. Saladino takes it to the extreme, though, advocating a carnivore diet to the exclusion of all vegetables or plant materials, which may strike many as debatable.
The evidence he presents for it, however, is quite compelling. I don't know anyone personally who has reviewed the literature more carefully and can put together a coherent argument for this strategy. (This is in part a side-effect of having gone through the basic medical sciences twice, as he went through medical school to be a physician's assistant and later an M.D.)
Saladino is likely to challenge your beliefs in this interview. This is not meant to offend anyone. If you believe you should avoid animal foods for ethical reasons, that's certainly your choice. If you're struggling with health issues that a vegetarian diet has not been able to resolve, however, or perhaps even made your condition worse, you may want to listen to what he has to say.
Busting Nutritional Dogma
In his book, Saladino states he's going to bust nutritional dogma, which he does in spades. Saladino, who struggled with asthma and eczema, was actually a vegetarian and then a vegan for a time. It didn't help. In fact, it made things worse.
His health problems didn't resolve until he went on an exclusive carnivore diet, and he recounts the various twists and turns in his personal journey at the beginning of the interview. After hearing Jordan Peterson talk about the carnivore diet and how it improved his daughter's autoimmune symptoms, Saladino was intrigued enough to look into it. The rest, as they say, is history.
"The more I thought about it and dug into it, I started to realize, maybe there's something to this," he says. "I'm at least going to try it. And so, the first time I tried it, within a few days, my mood changed, and my outlook on life got to be significantly better and more positive.
I thought, 'There's something to this.' A few weeks later, the eczema had completely resolved and hasn't come back since. I've been eating a carnivore diet for the last year and a half.
But there really was this sort of personal quest throughout to find out what the triggering food was, and it was just so striking for me to see the eczema go away when I cut out all plants — and then the added benefit.
The mental clarity, the psychological benefits were surprising. That kind of hooked me, and I thought, 'OK. I need to just pour myself into this and understand this because this is going to help a lot of people, or it potentially could.'"
According to Saladino, there's a clear ancestral history of eating an animal-based diet, which he details in the interview. In a nutshell, the evidence suggests we are descendants of omnivores, and that the increase in brain volume coincides with a transition to hunting for animal game and eating large amounts of animal foods.
Some vegetarian advocates have argued that it was tubers that caused our brains to grow. Saladino disagrees, noting that the levels of nitrogen and carbon in fossilized remains from 60,000 years ago are actually greater than those in hyenas, which suggests our ancestors were eating more animal protein than known carnivores.
He also points out genetic evidence suggesting Homo sapiens were not eating significant amounts of starch, as they developed a salivary amylase mutation.
"What we see now is that all living people on Earth have a salivary amylase duplication because we're all descended from a Homo sapiens group that left Africa 80,000 years ago that appears to have had an amylase duplication," Saladino says.
"So, they were eating more tubers 80,000 years ago. But up until that point, there's no evidence for an amylase duplication, arguing strongly against the notion that we've been using tubers for any significant amount of nutrition."
In the interview, Saladino also goes into the findings of Dr. Weston A. Price, a pioneering dentist who traveled the world to document the diets and health status of indigenous cultures. A big take-home point was that Price never found a culture that was thriving on plant foods alone.
"The other point I highlight in the book is that there were some instances where he could directly compare African tribes that were more plant heavy and tribes that were more animal heavy, and the tribes that ate more animals were stronger, taller and had better health than the tribes that ate more plants.
So, he had a direct comparison looking at the overall health, strength, virility of people in Africa in the 1930s and 1940s, and he saw that people who favored animal foods were doing much better than the people that favored plant foods," Saladino says.
The Problem With Phytonutrients
One of the most controversial issues relates to the health benefits and hazards of phytonutrients, i.e., plant-based nutrients. I was under the belief that phytonutrients were largely responsible for activating profoundly powerful pathways for longevity.
Saladino's work caused me to seriously reevaluate my views on phytonutrient supplementation. As Saladino explains, phytoalexins are plant defense compounds that may be causing more harm than good. A corollary to this is the issue of xenohormesis, which Saladino covered in a November 5, 2019, podcast interview with David Sinclair, Ph.D.1
"I don't think anyone debates that plants make defense chemicals," Saladino says. "I just think we're not familiar with how pervasive they are, and how many of the plants we eat contain thousands of them …
You could get really sick from the oxalates in rhubarb, for example. We're aware that some plants are so toxic that they're frankly poisonous. We could die [if we eat them]. Basically, every plant in nature is part of a delicate balance, a delicate exchange system with other animals.
And [plants have] had to develop plant defense chemicals — phytoalexins. I think the part of this that is so radical and challenges so many of our long-held beliefs … is that so many of the chemicals that we imagine to be phytonutrients or to be hormetics in plants are actually phytoalexins. They're plant defense chemicals …
If I'm going to suggest a carnivore diet … one of the things that people often question is: What about all the nutrients in plants that I'm missing? And there's a chapter in the book where I talk about the actual vitamins and minerals [found in animal foods] …
In terms of vitamins and minerals, you can get everything from animals. Animals are a better source of all the vitamins and minerals than plants. But then people say, 'What about all the polyphenols and these phytonutrients?' … And this is where we get into the realm of phytoalexins, the plant defense chemicals …
So many of these chemicals that people think of as beneficial are plant defense chemicals. The majority of polyphenols are plant defense chemicals … Resveratrol, for example … is a defense molecule. It's produced in response to the botrytis fungus … Resveratrol is an oxidative stressor to the fungus organism and does other things negatively for the fungus …
Resveratrol … definitely does activate SIRT1, which appears to be a good thing, but it has other negative effects in the human body. Specifically, there's a good amount of research on resveratrol suggesting that it affects hormonal metabolism negatively.
It decreases androgen precursor, specifically DHEA, leading to lower levels of DHEA and testosterone and other androgens. Many polyphenols do this in the flavonoid class of molecules … Curcumin is another one.
And I'll clarify this briefly just so people understand my position. It's not that I'm saying these molecules have no value in humans. It's my urging, my suggestion when we're thinking about these molecules, that we think about them like pharmaceuticals, because they really are.
Pharmaceuticals are really powerful and can be lifesaving molecules. But if I'm going to prescribe or recommend ibuprofen or metoprolol or a psychiatric drug to a patient, I'm always going to have a conversation about the potential side effects.
What we've forgotten about with these plant molecules is that they too … have side effects. Those side effects are what I'm calling attention to in 'The Carnivore Diet.' I think that for some people, plant molecules can have a medicinal value. But when we're using them as food, every day, my concern is that we can be getting too much of a medicine and the side effects start to outweigh the benefits.
That is where I think the elimination of them becomes valuable for people, and the cutting out of all the plants can be a game changer in terms of inflammation and autoimmunity."
The Biochemistry of Plants and Mammals
In the interview, Saladino also offers a descriptive analogy that helps explain why plant nutrients aren't necessarily necessary in human biochemistry. The biochemical difference between plants and animals can be likened to the operating systems of PC and Mac. While their apparent functions are the same, their operating systems are different and incompatible.
Your body has its own antioxidant system, which is different from that of plants. Your immune system is your primary defense, and you have innate and adaptive immunity. Plants do not have that. They only make molecules to defend against invaders.
The common belief is that plant molecules act as antioxidants in humans, but according to Saladino, plant molecules do not act as direct free radical scavengers in our body. They can trigger your antioxidant response system, however, which is hormesis.
"We have glutathione, we have the enzyme, superoxide dismutase, we have uric acid, we have vitamin E. We have molecules that do the free radical scavenging the human body," Saladino says.
"What we're talking about here is the movement of electrons … Unpaired electrons are free radicals. They run around the body and pull electrons off other molecules … We have our cellular police force at glutathione to go and say, 'Hey, I'm going to give you an electron so you can calm down.' That's what glutathione does. That's our antioxidant system.
Plants don't do that. Plant molecules do not come into us and donate electrons. They're the reverse. Because they're plant defense molecules, they're pro-oxidants. Plants and animals have different operating systems and the molecules don't act in the same ways. The same is true of the vitamins and minerals in plants versus the vitamins and minerals in animals."
The Unacknowledged Downside of Xenohormesis
Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard whom I have previously interviewed, and others have advanced the concept of xenohormesis, which means molecules that are outside of us are good for us because they contain tiny amounts of poison.
Saladino's problem with that theory has to do with the side effects. In the interview, he illustrates his objection using the example of sulforaphane, the primary glucosinolate in broccoli.
When an enzyme called myrosinase degrades glucoraphanin, it becomes sulforaphane, which acts as a pro-oxidant, not an antioxidant. By acting as a pro-oxidant, it triggers the antioxidant response system — the Nrf2 pathway. NRF2 is transcription factor that controls the activation and deactivation of genes.
It will activate genes such as glutathione peroxidase, involved in the antioxidant system. When NRF2 rises, glutathione rises, which is a good thing in the short term, as it decreases DNA damage. However, there is collateral damage.
"The side effects of this molecule are what people are missing," Saladino says. "We don't need sulforaphane to protect our DNA. We don't need sulforaphane to have optimal antioxidant status.
We can do things like heat exposure and cold exposure and exercise, which can also turn on the antioxidant response system and increase our supply of glutathione and protect our DNA.
They don't have any [deleterious] side effects. But sulforaphane has side effects … [When] sulforaphane circulates in your body, it can oxidize membranes of cells and create 4-HNE (4-Hydroxynonenal) [and] acrolein, which are products of oxidation.
These are lipid peroxides, which can be very damaging. It also interferes with the absorption of iodine and competes with iodine at the level of the thyroid … So xenohormesis, for me, the concept falls apart because of the side effects. We don't need these things. There are no examples of plant molecules that I have seen.
Again, we're all learning, but I am not convinced the plant molecules provide any net benefit. They don't let us do anything we can't otherwise do … and they have all the side effects which kind of drag us down."
The Unique Health Benefits of Animal Foods
According to Saladino, animal foods are uniquely healthy for humans, and this is a topic he covers in great depth in chapter 8 of his book. One example is vitamin B12. Research cited in the book shows that B12 levels appear to be related to brain size, with low vitamin B12 equating to smaller brain volume.
"We know the brain size has been declining over the last 15,000 years," Saladino says. "Certainly, when humans stopped hunting, they started farming more. Their B12 and many other nutrients went way down. And that's a compelling hypothesis for this decline in brain size …
[B12] is critically important in the folate cycle. It's needed to convert homocysteine to methionine and it's needed to make succinyl-CoA for the Krebs cycle. It's needed for all growth in our neurons. It's really important."
Saladino also covers "the three C's," which are entirely or close to entirely lacking in plant foods:
• Creatine — Creatine, found only in animal food, not plants, is part of the phosphagen system in your muscles. It stores a phosphate item as creatine phosphate and donates that phosphate to ATP when it gets used up during intense exercise. It's also part of your body's energy metabolism.
"There are incredibly striking studies that I talk about in the book where vegetarians and vegans were supplemented with 5 grams of creatine per day, which is the amount of creatine in 1 pound of meat; invariably they had improvements in working memory, intelligence, decision-making tasks," Saladino says.
• Choline — Choline is important for the membranes of every cell in your body. It's also been shown to protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, as explained in "Choline Is Crucial for Liver Health."
• Carnosine — Carnosine is important because of its ability to limit oxidative stress by preventing the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and advanced lipoxidation end products (ALEs), both of which correlate to aging in humans.
Carnosine is not present in plant foods, and in his book Saladino cites research showing vegetarians have higher levels of AGE formation in their bodies. There appear to be dozens of clinical conditions for which carnosine is useful.
This includes heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's. It's also a precursor for histamine, and mitigates damage caused by ALEs, which are even more destructive than AGEs, and helps combat mitochondrial dysfunction, which is at the heart of aging and chronic disease.
Vitamins A and K
Animal foods are also a good source of retinol vitamin A, which is better absorbed than beta carotene from plants, which must be converted into retinol. Many lack the enzyme required for this conversion, which means they cannot break down the beta carotene to make the active form of vitamin A.
"Again, this is the operating systems concept. Retinol vitamin A is not found in plants but is exclusively found in animals. Egg yolks and liver are very rich sources. We have to eat 20 times more beta carotene to get the equivalent biological value of a molecule of retinol.
To get the right amount of vitamin A, you have to eat something like close to a pound of sweet potatoes a day. And if you ate 3 pounds of broccoli earlier today to get your choline requirement, I don't know how you're going to eat another pound of sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are also very high in oxalates, so it's very misleading when people say you can get all the vitamin A you need from beta carotene. It's pretty hard to actually … So, we have to get it from animal foods …"
Vitamin K is another example. Vitamin K1 is primarily found in plants while K2 — which seems to provide most of the benefits — is found in animal foods and fermented foods. I go into greater detail about the different forms in "Are You Getting Enough Vitamin K?"
As noted by Saladino, research shows a clear correlation between higher K2 levels and lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. No such correlation exists for vitamin K1. Unfortunately, most nutrition calculators look only at K1, which is why many are under the mistaken belief that there is no vitamin K in animal foods.
"Any nutritionists or anyone that tells you there's not enough vitamin K in animal foods is 100% wrong," Saladino says, "because there's actually more of the good type of vitamin K [i.e., vitamin K2] in animal foods that we can't get other places."
The same goes for vitamins E and C. Neither is properly measured in animal foods, thus leading to the mistaken belief that you need plant foods for these nutrients. However, Saladino presents ample evidence in his book showing meat and animal foods contain sufficient amounts of both vitamin E and C.
A Note on Safety
Importantly, Saladino has performed extensive blood testing on himself and others who are on an exclusive carnivore diet, showing consistently good results and no adverse biochemical consequences. He explains:
"We've looked at a lot of stuff. There's individual variation. But I was just looking at one of my clients yesterday who was on a carnivore diet for months.
Her hs-CRP is 0.3. The F2-isoprostanes were very low, which is a marker of oxidative stress. There's no evidence for DNA damage with 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine, et cetera. They're incredibly insulin sensitive. There's no damage to the kidneys. BUN is usually normal if people are getting adequate sodium … There's no impairment in [blood] clotting."
Another important side note relates to meal timing. If you're eating a carnivore diet 18 hours a day, you're probably going to run into problems — just as with any other diet. Saladino covers the importance of time-restricted eating in his book as well.
What About Gut Microbiome Diversity?
In the interview, Saladino also covers the common perception that fiber and plant foods are essential for a healthy microbiome, and the prevention of constipation and cancer. This being an unusually long interview, I cannot cover all the details in this article so, for more in-depth information, please listen to the interview in its entirety.
With regard to fiber and microbial diversity, Harvard researchers demonstrated that people eating an exclusive carnivore diet have the same alpha diversity of gut microbes as those eating an exclusive plant-based diet for one week. In fact, the carnivore diet increased beta diversity, which is another measure of diversity, so total diversity actually increased.
Carnivore Diet Excels in Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases
While the carnivore diet may benefit anyone, it appears particularly useful for those with autoimmune diseases.
"I can't even tell you how many cases of psoriatic arthritis I've seen go away from it," Saladino says. "There are multiple stories on my Instagram. I've posted lots of testimonials from people who had bad plaque psoriasis, fibromyalgia, eczema, asthma and lupus …
I can't claim that the carnivore diet cures 100% of people, but it's a really powerful intervention. I think for some people, there's other things going on, GI dysbiosis or gut infections or heavy metal toxicity. Who knows? But it's a pretty darn effective intervention.
Generally, this is what the book is about: 'Hey, look, plants have toxins. Eating animal foods is safe. Don't fear them. If you're sick, if you're not kicking as much bud as you want to, then try the carnivore diet, especially if you have an autoimmune disease.'
It's incredible. I mean it totally resolved my autoimmune disease and I've seen it happen for people over and over and over. It's pretty cool. I think it's going to change medicine."
What About the Blue Zones?
Saladino even dispels the idea that plant-based diets are what makes Blue Zones, areas where people are known to be particularly long-lived, stand out. Blue Zones include Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, Okinawa, Japan and the Nicoya region of Costa Rica.
Crazy enough, these areas actually have the third highest consumption of meat per capita in the world, Saladino says. And they have the longest life expectancy. In the interview, Saladino delves into the specifics of each of these five areas, reviewing the local diets which, contrary to popular belief, are heavy on meat and animal foods.
"Probably the most interesting one is Loma Linda. There's a big Seventh Day Adventist population there. Within the Seventh Day Adventist's population, there are a number of things that are advocated for. They suggest avoidance of smoking and drinking, and they don't believe in eating meat …
They believe that meat creates carnal desires in humans, which is probably true because it allows us to have healthy hormone levels, right? … They believe that if we eat a vegetarian diet, it will control our carnal desires, which it probably will because our hormones will tank in a negative way.
The Seventh Day Adventist region of California is a zone of longevity. They live about 7.3 years longer than the average Californian. But what's so interesting is that the California Mormons also live seven-ish years longer than the general population, but they don't shun meat at all.
So it's probably not the shunning of meat … that's leading to longevity. In the case of Loma Linda and the Mormons, what they have in common is that they don't smoke, they don't drink and they have a tight community. And that will be our takeaway from the blue zones eventually."
The Problem With Epidemiological Studies
Saladino also goes into more detail about healthy user bias and the problem with epidemiological studies (which are observational, not interventional, and therefore cannot determine causation), both of which have contributed to the belief system that plant-based diets are better than meat-based ones.
"There's a great website that I referenced in the book, called spuriouscorrelations.com.2 I would encourage people to go to that website," Saladino says.
"[It shows there's] a very strong correlation between cheese consumption and death by getting tangled in the bed sheets and things like this … It's just so silly. You can make correlations between anything that don't have a causal relationship …
What we're probably seeing is that people who eat more fruits and vegetables are also doing other healthy behaviors. And this is the takeaway from the Blue Zones too. People in Loma Linda live longer because they don't smoke or drink. The Mormons live longer because they don't smoke or drink.
The people who can do the exercise, be in the sun — those are healthy behaviors that are going to create longevity. But when it comes to diet, we really can't tell because that's a very complicated thing.
There's one study in the book that really drives this point home. It's called the UK Shoppers Study. They compared the standard mortality ratio of vegetarians to the general population. And the vegetarians live longer.
But then they compare the death rate of vegetarians to other people in the population who ate meat. They were omnivores, but these people did healthy behaviors. So, they were actually able to compare two groups of people who listen to health advice and do healthy behaviors, and they had equivalent death rates.
So it's probably not the exclusion of meat that's causing these health outcomes to look good. It's the other things they do. This is healthy user bias …
So what do we do? We generate a hypothesis. We go back and we test the hypothesis. It's just very hard to test that hypothesis because how do you do a study long enough where you're giving some people more fruits and vegetables?
So, what has been done is a series of five studies that I talk about in the book where fruits and vegetables were removed from the diet. This is an interventional study … The other group ate like a pound and a half of vegetables a day … At the end of four weeks they looked at oxidative stress, inflammatory markers and markers of immune activation.
What did they see? They were completely the same between the two groups. Meaning that when we remove fruit and vegetables (these are fruit and vegetable depletion studies), there is no detriment. There's no change. There's no benefit to having them in there."
I've only covered a portion of what we discuss in this interview, so if any of this has piqued your curiosity, please listen to the interview in its entirety. Saladino delves into many details that have not been covered in this text, including:
- The issue of cholesterol
- The impact of the carnivore diet on insulin sensitivity and heart disease
- Why you don't need to worry about excessive mTOR activation
He also discusses the importance of nose-to-tail eating as radically exemplified by Glenn Villeneuve of Life Below Zero in his recent 3.5-hour interview3 with Joe Rogan. A carnivore diet is not just eating steak. You should eat the whole animal. This includes animal fats, organ meats and collagen from bone and marrow, for example.
It's also important to make sure the food is from grass fed and grass finished animals, opposed to factory farmed, as their diet differs tremendously, which in turn affects the nutrition you get from it.
A carnivore diet also is not exclusive to bovines. You can include seafood, eggs, chicken, turkey, pork and dairy, including goat and sheep milk. If you cannot stomach the idea of organ meats, there are ancestral supplements that contain freeze dried organ components.
"In terms of basic macros [macro nutrients], people can go to my website, carnivoremd.com. I've got a carnivore diet pyramid there which has a lot of this laid out that you can download. What I recommend for people is thinking about how much protein you want to get in a day.
We may differ a little bit on these recommendations. I generally recommend 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight, and then a reasonable amount of fat to go with that. Then some organ meats and eggs and a lot of salt.
I think it's important to get a lot of good salt so the electrolytes don't get out of whack. I go into detail about all of that in the book, in chapter 12 and chapter 13, and I've got meal plans and everything in there.
I recommend that people avoid [plant-based fats] when they're doing a carnivore diet because of something called oleosins. Even in oil, we can find proteins that can be immunogenic. People could reintroduce these just like they would an elimination diet later.
But if you really want to see how your body does with no plant compounds at all, [then] you want to get rid of the all the plant oils because of oleosins … I really believe that animal fat is more nutritious in general for people."
To get all the information Saladino discusses in this interview, and then some, be sure to pick up a copy of "The Carnivore Code." It will be released February 2020 but is available for preorder.