Bad cow, bad!

by Denis Faye | April 7, 2010

In January, I reported on a study out of Harvard indicating that perhaps saturated fat wasn’t so bad after all. Well, hold on a second before you tuck into that blue cheese Big Mac. While saturated fat may still be vindicated, it looks like the naturally occurring trans fat in cow and sheep products may be problematic.

For those of you who weren’t aware of naturally occurring trans fats, they’re created in the rumens of cows and sheep and are passed on to their meat and milk. Two things that bother me about this are 1) it’s trans fat and 2) it serves as a grim reminder that anything cow-related that you eat passed, at some point, through its several stomachs. Gross.

But I digress. Long story short, researchers out of VU University in Amsterdam reviewed several studies looking at trans fatty acids in their various forms and discovered that, regardless of origin, they still appeared to tweak cholesterol.

Based on this overview we speculate that all fatty acids with one or more bonds in the trans configuration raise the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol irrespective of their origin or structure. Thus, our results provide an additional argument besides the high content of saturated fatty acids to lower the intake of ruminant animal fats.

I’m completely fascinated to hear how Atkins and paleo supporters are going to respond to this. They’ve put a lot of energy into vilifying trans fat instead of sat fat and now, ooops!

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing cows are good for is leather, but if we just used them for that, then we’d have a bunch of skinless cows walking around and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone, especially the cows. You can’t win.

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13 thoughts on “Bad cow, bad!

  1. Anonymous

    I can believe it. Having been a fan of the paleo way of eating, I’ve always gravitated towards the Kitavan way of eating. I just couldn’t believe historical Hunter-Gatherers were constantly eating meat, all day long, day in & day out, especially bacon, sausage, eggs, etc. It’s just that the low carb/atkins crowd have decided to put a wolf in sheep’s clothing & people fall for it because paleo/primal has less of a stigma right now & sounds cool & for awhile works. Too each his own, I guess.

  2. D Faye

    I agree. I don’t know who here has ever hunted down an elk with a spear, but I hear it’s hard work. Probably didn’t happen all that often, and even then, there were one or two days at most during which the meat was edible. Meat eating probably didn’t happen all that often.

  3. Mike

    I generally, for the most part, enjoy the science based posts here. This study needs some clarification, though.

    Regarding naturally occurring trans fats: VA (vaccenic acid) and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) are both trans fats with positive health benefits; VA was found in a 2008 study to lower LDL, TC, and Tg. CLA is well known for it’s anti-carcinogenic properties.

    As to the meta-analysis at hand, while the LDL:HDL ratio did change, there was no clarification on the particle size in any study. Therefore, just basing a negative outcome on a rise in LDL is akin to buying into the dogma of high cholesterol = cardiovascular risk.

    As far as hunting down an elk with a spear, well, no, but in this day and age, doing it with a compound bow is quite enjoyable. 🙂
    And hunting everyday, even in modern aged hunter-gatherer populations, like the Hadza, DOES happen.

  4. chiro_ehl

    Thanks for that post Mike. I wanted to check the rest of the study but didn’t have the time yesterday.

    One of my favourite professors always said there is no such thing as “good” & “bad” cholesterol and there are always other factors that are contributing to the problem – the cholesterol is just something the medical profession can prescribe a drug for!

  5. Anonymous

    According to Wikipedia: “Hadza men usually forage individually, and during the course of day usually feed themselves while foraging, and also bring home some honey, fruit, or wild game when available. Women forage in larger parties, and usually bring home berries, baobab fruit, and tubers, depending on availability. Men and women also forage co-operatively for honey and fruit, and at least one adult male will usually accompany a group of foraging women. During the wet season, the diet is composed mostly of honey, some fruit, tubers, and occasional meat. The contribution of meat to the diet increases in the dry season, when game become concentrated around sources of water. During this time, men often hunt in pairs, and spend entire nights lying in wait by waterholes, hoping to shoot animals that approach for a night-time drink, with bows and arrows treated with poison.[4] The poison is made of the branches of the shrub Adenium coetaneum.[5] The Hadza are highly skilled, selective, and opportunistic foragers, and adjust their diet according to season and circumstance. Depending on local availability, some groups might rely more heavily on tubers, others on berries, others on meat. This variability is the result of their opportunism and adjustment to prevailing conditions….While men specialize in procuring meat, honey, and baobab fruit, women specialize in tubers, berries, and greens.”

  6. D Faye

    I don’t know, Mike. I’ve seen positive things about VA, but the research in CLA seems a little mixed. Regardless, you’re knocking down the notion that it’s bad for you because it raises cholesterol, which is what the more traditionally vilified trans fats do. So are you saying the hype against man-made tran fats is unwarranted?

  7. chiro_ehl

    I think you’d agree there is a huge difference between naturally occurring trans fats as opposed to man-made trans fats. That would be like saying fructose from a eating a whole orange is the same as having fructose from Agave Syrup or HFCS.

  8. D Faye

    Yes and no. The study I mention above indicates natural trans fats may have the same effect as the man-made ones, so it’s worth considering. And beef is a far more controversial food than fruit. But if a study came up slamming fruit, I’d mention that too. I’m not about giving answers, chiro-ehl, I’m about asking questions.

    Speaking of which, your question here strays from the question I asked right above.

  9. chiro_ehl

    Sorry about the stray.

    After reading the original study over again, it just leads me to back to the last line of your post. Essentially, how can you argue that a high protein diet (with lots of beef & dairy) be good for anyone? The latest information I’ve heard is cholesterol isn’t the main issue for cardio-vascular risk, it’s actually inflammation that is the initial problem.

    BTW, I really enjoy your blog (just discovered it)! Thanks for the time and effort.

  10. Anonymous

    It’s interesting that milk is condemned by by the paleo/primal crowd for being neolithic/agriculture but beef from cow isn’t. I’ve never heard of a H/G hunting cow. Just wasn’t done as far as I could tell.

  11. D Faye

    I’m not a fan of faux meat products. I get stuck eating soy dogs sometimes, but generally, they’re loaded with sodium and junk like this. I don’t understand the logic of going vegetarian and then eating things that remind you of meat. It’s like saying you’re a pacifist and then playing violent video games all day.


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