Chronic pain warriors often find themselves at the crossroads of dietary decisions, pondering whether to include or exclude meat from their plates. It's a question that echoes in many minds, fueled by the contradicting landscape of nutritional advice. As a naturopathic doctor and chiropractor specializing in chronic pain, I encounter this query frequently, and today, we dive into the meaty details.
Ethics and Personal Feelings: The Starting Point
Let's establish a crucial baseline – personal values matter. If you have ethical reasons to avoid meat, that choice aligns with your principles, and it's commendable. We do not have strong farming practices in this country which fuels this dilemma. Similarly, if consuming meat makes you feel sick or sluggish, there might be an explanation for that discomfort. The meat controversy arises because not all meats are created equal.
Why Is Nutritional Advice So Contradicting?
One day eggs are healthy, the next they are not. One study says red meat consumption leads to cancer while another doctor says it's loaded with health benefits. No wonder you don't know what to eat anymore! There are a few reasons for this:
Nutrition is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to study. When scientists study anything, it is important to only alter one variable at a time in order to get accurate results. However, this is not possible when studying nutrition on humans. The best we can do is to isolate age, gender, and ethnicity. But that is not enough. Humans are incredibly complex and the confounding variables are uncontrollable. People have different genetics, diets, lifestyles, exercise routines, sleep schedules, stressors, exposures to environmental toxins, etc. You cannot control all of these variables in a laboratory setting and they ALL make an impact on the results of the nutrient you are trying to test.
All food is not created equally. If you are studying fruits and vegetables; what conditions were they grown under? What was the composition of nutrients in the soil. How much sunlight did they get? Were they organic or sprayed with pesticides? Or if you are studying eggs; what was the diet of the chicken? Where they pasture raised, allowed to get plenty of exercise and sunlight, or where they stressed out and confined to a cage their whole life? All of these factors play a role in the nutrient composition of your food, and they are not disclosed or kept consistent between research teams and studies.
The Two Faces of Meat: Conventionally Raised vs. Naturally Raised
Animals, just like humans, evolved to live in a certain way and eat a certain diet to get all the nutrients they need to survive and thrive. Animals evolved to graze and eat naturally occurring, organic grasses, bugs, etc. The nutrient in food are the building blocks for every single part of our body. Eating their natural diet, being allowed to graze and getting plenty of movement, sunshine, and interactions with other animals provides an optimal internal environment. One that is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The same can be said for wild caught fish.
When we alter their diet and lifestyle, we alter their biochemistry. Like I mentioned, farming practices in the country are poor. When we remove animals from their pasture, confine them indoors, and feed them an unnatural diet of non-organic grains it shows up in the quality of meat they produce. Confinement, a lack of sunshine and social interaction produce stress which, in combination with their poor diet leads to nutrient deficient meat that is high in omega-6 fatty acids. The same is true for farm raised fish.
The Fatty Acid Factor: Omega-3 vs. Omega-6
Fat is an absolutely vital nutrient but is very misunderstood. It gets a bad rap because dietary fat is associated with visceral (body) fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are very healthful. They fuel our cells, decrease inflammation, and provide holistic health benefits. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in the aforementioned and processed foods are very inflammatory and contribute to most health conditions prevalent in the US like heart disease and cancer.
The Chronic Pain Connection: Tackling Inflammation through Gut Health
When it comes to chronic pain, we must confront the common denominator – chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is at the root of all chronic pain and disease. The most prevalent source of chronic inflammation comes from our diets. Addressing this inflammation at its source, the gut, emerges as the most effective strategy. If your dietary choices amplify inflammatory fatty acids, your pain may persist. Conversely, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids is an ally in reducing chronic inflammation and, therefore, pain. Your diet can either be your greatest source of health or the greatest contributor of illness.
Decoding the Meat Dilemma: Quality Over Quantity
The reason some individuals feel discomfort consuming meat and why research seems unfavorable to meat is rooted in the quality of the meat consumed. Opting for omega-3-rich foods might demand a bit more effort and come with a slightly higher price tag, but they transcend mere sustenance – they act as medicine! You want to look for organic foods whenever possible. The glyphosate in pesticides alter genetics and can make harmful foods even more harmful. Meat should be grass-fed and pasture raised whenever possible.
In navigating the meat dilemma for chronic pain, it's not about completely eliminating or blindly embracing meat; it's about making informed choices. Choosing pasture-raised, organic options and incorporating omega-3-rich foods into your diet could be a transformative step in your chronic pain management journey. Remember, your plate is the starting place in your quest for a pain-free life!