Monday, July 29, 2013

Could grain-fed beef liver be particularly nutritious?

There is a pervasive belief today that grain-fed beef is unhealthy, a belief that I addressed before in this blog () and that I think is exaggerated. This general belief seems to also apply to a related meat, one that is widely acknowledged as a major micronutrient “powerhouse”, namely grain-fed beef liver.

Regarding grain-fed beef liver, the idea is that cattle that are grain-fed tend to develop a mild form of fatty liver disease. This I am inclined to agree with.

However, I am not convinced that this is such a bad thing for those who eat grain-fed beef liver.

In most animals, including Homo sapiens, fatty liver disease seems to be associated with extra load being put on the liver. Possible reasons for this are accelerated growth, abnormally high levels of body fat, and ingestion of toxins beyond a certain hormetic threshold (e.g., alcohol).

In these cases, what would one expect to see as a body response? The extra load is associated with high oxidative stress and rate of metabolic work. In response, the body should shuttle more antioxidants and metabolism catalysts to the organ being overloaded. Fat-soluble vitamins can act as antioxidants and catalysts in various metabolic processes, among other important functions. They require fat to be stored, and can then be released over time, which is a major advantage over water-soluble vitamins; fat-soluble vitamins are longer-acting.

So you would expect an overloaded liver to have more fat in it, and also a greater concentration of fat-soluble vitamins. This would include vitamin A, which would give the liver an unnatural color, toward the orange-yellow range of the spectrum.

Grain-fed beef liver, like the muscle meat of grain-fed cattle, tends to have more fat than that of grass-fed animals. One function of this extra fat could be to store fat-soluble vitamins. This extra fat appears to have a higher omega-6 fat content as well. Still, beef liver is a fairly lean meat; with about 5 g of fat per 100 g of weight, and only 20 mg or so of omega-6 fat. Clearly consumption of beef liver in moderation is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in omega-6 fat content in one’s diet (). By consumption in moderation I mean approximately once a week.

The photo below, from Wikipedia, is of a dish prepared with foie gras. That is essentially the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened through force-feeding, until the animal develops fatty liver disease. This “diseased” liver is particularly rich in fat-soluble vitamins; e.g., it is the best known source of the all-important vitamin K2.

Could the same happen, although to a lesser extent, with grain-fed beef liver? I don’t think it is unreasonable to speculate that it could.

Monday, July 1, 2013

An illustration of the waist-to-weight ratio theory: The fit2fat2fit experiment

In my previous blog post, I argued that one’s optimal weight may be the one that minimizes one’s waist-to-weight ratio. I built this argument based on the fact that body fat percentage is associated with lean body mass (and also weight) in a nonlinear way.

The fit2fat2fit experiment (), provides what seems to be an interestingly way to put this optimal waist-to-weight ratio theory to test. This is due to a fortuitous event, as I explain in this post.

In this experiment, Drew Manning, a personal trainer, decided to undergo a transformation where he went from what he argued was his fittest level, all the way to obese, and then back to fit again. He said that he wanted to do that so that he could better understand his clients’ struggles. This may be true, but it looks like he planned very well his experiment from a marketing perspective.

His fittest level was at the start, with a weight of 193 lbs, at a height of 6 ft 2 in. That was his fittest level according to his own opinion. At that point, he had a waist of 34.5 in, and looked indeed very fit (). At his fattest level, he reached the weight of 264.8 pounds, with a 47.5 waist.

As he moved back to fit, one interesting thing happened. Toward the end of this journey back to fit, he moved past the level that he felt was his optimal. He dropped down to 190.1 lbs, and a 34 in waist; which he perceived as too skinny. He talks about this in a video ().

As a self-defined “fanatic” personal trainer, I figured that he knew when he had gone too far. That is, he is probably as qualified as one can get to identify the point at which he moved past his optimal. So I thought that this would be an interesting way of putting my optimal waist-to-weight ratio theory to the test.

Below is a bar chart showing variations in waist-to-weight ratio against weight for Drew Manning during his fit2fat2fit experiment. I included only three data points in this chart because I would have to view all of his video clips to get all of the data points.

As you can see, at the point at which he felt he was too thin, his waist-to-weight ratio clearly started going up from what seems to have been its optimal at 34.5 in / 193 lbs. This is exactly what you would expect based on my optimal waist-to-weight ratio theory. You probably can’t tell that something was not right at that point, because he looked very fit.

But apparently he felt that something was not entirely right. And that is consistent with the idea that he had passed his optimal waist-to-weight ratio, and became too lean for his own good. Note that his waist decreased, and probably could go down even further, even though that was no longer optimal.