Organic: buy the same thing for twice the price!

CowlidayAs my wife could tell you, I have an almost maniacal antipathy to the claims of “organic” food proponents. Perhaps it stems from the use of the term organic itself, as if all the other food was inorganic (which is preposterous, for those who fell asleep that day in Organic Chemistry). Or perhaps its just that many of these organic people also believe in the healing power of crystals and Feng Shui. I find these new religions even more tiresome and annoying than the old ones. For me, its all hokum; new-age snake oil. And yes, I made a tidy sum short-selling Whole Food Markets stock over the last year. Now with all that said…

What brings all of this to mind this fine Sunday morning in sunny Florida, is that one of our New Year’s resolutions in the Roberts household this year is to lose some serious weight. As we have reached middle age our metabolisms have slowed down significantly whilst our eating has continued apace. We have therefore accumulated <ahem> reserves which we prefer we did not have. As know-nothing 20-somethings with their metabolisms in overdrive would say, we have “let ourselves go“.

We chose the South Beach diet as it seemed better for a person with a family history of heart issues. And, as a matter of fact, we have just completed our first week on it. One unexpected side effect is that I have turned a little cranky. Ok, some might say its a bit more than just cranky.

A few days ago I was complaining aloud about how we didn’t have enough of the approved phase 1 foods to actually comply with the diet and yet not starve to death. My wife gently suggested (ha ha) that I sit down and read the freakin’ book on the premise that I would learn that many of the food items we did have in the refrigerator were indeed on the list. So that’s what I decided to do this morning.  I didn’t make it more than a few pages into the preface.

In the preface, the good doctor Arthur Agatston, M. D. says as a country we are both obese and malnurished, in part, by our consumption of factory-raised as opposed to free-range meat products. Ok, this seemed — well — stupid and mythical to me. So I dropped the book and went searching on the Internet to see if this was really true. And, amazingly, I found no shortage of pages proclaiming the truth of these claims. They all referred to “numerous studies” that assured me that this hypothesis was “scientifically proven”. But search as I might, I actually could not find any reference to any specific study whatsoever — except one guy who said he and his wife switched to free range meat products and now feels a whole lot better.

At last I found this little tidbit in web comment to an article on beefmagazine.com on irradiation, of all places. Oh my… SNAP!

Letter to Connie Krause from Steve Smith of Texas A&M University:

Dear Ms. Krause:

There is an excellent article by Dan Rule and others in the Journal of Animal Science, 2002, volume 80, pages 1202-1211. I have known Rule for 20 years, and he does excellent work.

In his article, the author describes fatty acid composition in meat from bison, cattle, elk and chickens. The animals (except elk and chickens) were range- or feedlot-fed.

For beef loin, omega-3 fatty acids were 0.64% of the total in feedlot cattle and 2.90% in range-fed cattle. This is quite a difference, but the concentration in range-fed cattle still is too low to be of practical significance to people wanting to increase their omega-3 fatty acid intake.

Omega-6 in beef loin was 5.66% in feedlot cattle and 3.92% in range-fed cattle. So omega-6 fatty acids are lower in range-fed cattle, according to this study done by a reputable laboratory.

There still is quite a bit of omega-6 fatty acids in range-fed beef, and not very much omega-3. The values I give you are percentages of total lipid. As you would guess, meat from feedlot cattle contains about four times as much lipid as grass-fed beef. That means your total intake of omega-3 fatty acids would be about the same from a serving of feedlot and grass-fed beef.

You also would be taking in about six times as much omega-6 from feedlot beef. But even this amount is small compared to what we get in the diet from other sources (primarily foods made with vegetable or soy oils).

I have calculated the amount of beef that you would have to eat to meet your daily adequate intake recommendation of 1.6 g./day of omega-3 fatty acids. For feedlot beef (5% lipid, medium Choice), you would have to eat 14 lbs. of beef daily. For grass-fed beef (1% lipid, Standard), you would have to eat 12 lbs. of beef daily.

If you were able to achieve good marbling (5% lipid, low Choice) in grass-fed beef, then 2.4 lbs./day would provide your adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids. The problem is that grass-fed beef cannot marble to this extent.
Steve Smith
Texas A&M University

Ah, the irony. The claims are true, at least for the Omega-3′s. True but minuscule and meaningless. I can now continue my day….

This article is posted with the idea that hate comments are better than no comments at all. I know I am challenging your most beloved mythology. Let ‘er rip!

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