Wednesday, August 15, 2012

AHS 2012 Part 3: Nutritionism, Denise Minger on Organ Meats, and Terry Wahls' MS

And we're back for part 3 of the AHS talk.  Again, that's the Ancestral Health Symposium, not the American Hemerocallis Society, the American Helicopter Society, nor the American Headache Society, all of which come up ahead of Ancestral Health Symposium in a Google search.  That needs to change.  On to the discussion...

Two Ways of Looking at a Food: Nutritionism vs. A Whole Foods Perspective
This wasn't a topic that was covered specifically at the symposium, but some of the presentations touched on it, and that made it a frequent topic of discussion with my friends and I (Amanda at Inspired. and Matthew at  First there was Mat Lalonde's talk about his new system for measuring nutrient density, in which he made bacon look pretty darn nutritious.  Cool with me.  I liked it far more than the ANDI score system used at Whole Foods, or the NuVal system used at conventional grocery stores, but it was very apparent by the end of his talk that there is no perfect system to quantify the nutrient density of food.  Then there was Peter Ballerstedt's talk about grass-fed meat, his main point being that the nutritional differences between grass-fed and grain-fed meat are negligible.

So these two talks generated some discussion about this reductionist perspective of nutrition.  Or "nutritionism", if you will.  You can measure the nutrients in a food and try to rank its healthiness, but what ultimately matters is the effect this food has on your body as a whole.

A couple of examples... Firstly, I appreciated Dr. Ballerstedt's point, that the nutritional difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat is insignificant.  He mainly focused on the difference in omega-3 fatty acids.  And he may be right, there isn't that much more omega-3 in grass-fed meat.  But does it matter?  A 2011 study, for example, found that eating grass-fed beef significantly increases the composition of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and platelet, while eating grain-fed beef actually reduced their omega-3 content (1).

Then there's the whole grain thing, which I blogged about recently.  Despite being high in antioxidant nutrients (vitamin B6, folate, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and cysteine), whole grains have zero effect on your body's total antioxidant capacity (2). 

So, you can talk all day about a food being more nutritious or less nutritious than another, but at the end of the day you're guessing.  Okay, that's not quite fair.  It's an educated guess.  But nutrient composition isn't everything.  We don't really know how food acts in our bodies until we study it.  Nutrient density can be a great guide, but it's not the end-all-be-all.

Denise Minger is Hilarious/Adorable/Really Super Smart
Denise Minger was great as always.  No blogger makes me laugh like Denise does, and I think I nearly died of laughter during her AHS presentation.  She brought up the cholesterol-fed rabbit model, which many of you are probably familiar with.  A study from the early 1900s fed rabbits cholesterol and observed a rise in their cholesterol levels.  But rabbits don't eat cholesterol; they're herbivores. 

Do rabbits eat carrots?  Or babies?

Point made.  Anyway, Denise's presentation was about the negative aspects of meat consumption.  Many in the paleo world tend to assume we can eat as much meat as we want, but hopefully Denise's presentation will bring us back to earth a bit.  She brought up a few ways meat can be harmful, including overcooking, but the most interesting part to me was on organ meats.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately, so this presentation came at a perfect time.

If you really think about it, it's just common sense that we should incorporate organ meats into our diet.  In hunter-gatherer times, we would have eaten plenty of organ meats, and in fact, traditional societies always place a high value on foods like liver.  We eat far too much muscle meat, and too little organ.  Denise explained that muscle meat is very high in the amino acid, methionine, which can be problematic.  Foods like liver, heart, and bone broths are higher in glycine, and apparently we should avoid an imbalanced intake of these amino acids.  This is something I'll be researching more in the near future, for sure.  And in the mean time, I'll be eating more organ meats!  Here's a little stew I made recently with beef heart and marrow bones:

Mmm, coronary arteries...

Terry Wahls and Multiple Sclerosis
Terry Wahls is just an inspiration.  Long story short, just a couple years ago she had debilitating MS, to the point where she could barely walk, and only with the assistance of two canes.  Since adopting a strict paleo diet, not just any paleo diet, but one with a very high intake of leafy greens and specific micronutrients, she has improved her symptoms so much that she recently biked 17 miles.  Absurd.  And what's more, she is currently conducting research on others with MS, putting them on the same diet she eats, and the preliminary results are astounding.  I was not able to get any pictures of the data, since she asked us not to, but when this information is published it will definitely be groundbreaking.  You can check out her TED talk here and learn all about her story.

Phew, that's it!  The end of my review of the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium.  I may write another in the coming days talking about what it meant to me to be able to attend this amazing event.  And maybe I'll talk about the paleo movement as a whole and how excited I am for the future.  But until next time, ciao!


  1. Thanks for your review of AHS '12. IF we met, I'm sorry I don't remember ... Too much happened it too short a time. There's a number of issues with the study you cite, but you can't discuss everything in a 20 minute talk!

    1. We did not meet, there were so many people I wanted to meet but unfortunately I couldn't get to everybody! I'll take a second look at that study when I get a chance, this post is really just me thinking out loud anyway. Great talk though, I'm looking forward to watching it again when the video is released!