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Epigenetics: An explanation for how your diet can lead to disease and even be passed down to future generations

What if we told you that what you ate today could affect the health of your great grandchildren?

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the increased diagnoses of diseases like diabetes, cancer, auto-immune disorders, and infertility over the past ten to twenty years. We’ve discussed how diet may be a huge factor in the overall health of society. But there’s a particular branch of science that deals with how diseases may be propagated and passed down through generations.

Epigenetics is the study of what happens to the expression of a person’s genes over the course of his or her life, and if and how those changes get passed down.

It turns out that what your grandmother ate before she became pregnant with your mother may have had an impact on how healthy you are today.

What is epigenetics?

Let’s start with a simple break down of genetics:  

Each cell in your body contains DNA, which is made up of genes that tell your cells how to make proteins.

Epigenetics controls how genes are read by cells. In other words, the epigenome is like a set of instructions that tell your cells how to read DNA. The epigenome tells each cell in your body whether or not to express certain genes; it doesn’t change your DNA, just how your genes are expressed in different cells. That’s why we can have so many different cells with different functions in our bodies—the epigenome tells some cells to be skin cells, others to be brain cells, still others to be muscle cells by expressing the right genes.

Why should we care?

It turns out that while the genome stays the same over the course of a person’s life, the epigenetic “tags” that tell your cells which genes to express can change throughout your lifetime. And those changes are based on environmental factors. For example, scientists are finding out that a bad diet can lead the epigenome to give the wrong instructions—or the wrong “tags”—to cells. Bad instructions cause the cells to become abnormal, and that abnormality can lead to disease.

What is more, scientists are learning that some of the “epigenetic tags” created in a person’s lifetime may get passed down from one generation to the next. In other words, the bad instructions created by a person’s environment (her eating habits, exercise habits, lifestyle etc.) may be hereditary.

What we eat today affects our future children and grandchildren. It’s time we get back to eating natural, clean foods rather than heavily processed foods.

Remember when we said that what your grandmother ate may have affected your health? There’s a very specific reason for this. You were formed from an embryo that grew from your mother’s egg and your father’s sperm. While a man’s sperm get produced throughout his lifetime, a woman is born with all of the eggs her body will ever produce. That means that her eggs are formed while she is in utero—inside her mother’s body. In other words, the egg that created you was formed inside your grandmother’s body. Therefore, the inherited epigenetic tags you were born with not only came from your mother and father; they are also a result of your grandmother’s diet and lifestyle, while her body nurtured the egg that formed you.

When we look at the rise of diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders in our society, the facts revealed by epigenetics become more disturbing. The mid-twentieth century saw the mass introduction of processed foods into the world’s diet. That means that many of our grandparents and parents were among the first generations to eat processed foods. With the knowledge that comes from epigenetics, and with what we are now learning about the dangers of processed meats and artificial ingredients, is it any wonder that so many more people are suffering from these diseases? This TED talk we posted on our Facebook page reveals some of these startling statistics.

All of this doesn’t mean that we should blame our grandmothers for our health disorders. They, like many of us, had no idea about the dangers of processed foods or the power of epigenetics.

But the news isn’t all bad. The fact that we can alter our genes for the worse also means we can alter them for the better. Even if you’ve inherited bad “tags,” it’s not as though you are stuck with them. You may only need to be more proactive in how you combat those health risks. Clean eating, exercise, and reducing stress are the first steps to a healthy lifestyle.

If anything, epigenetics only drives home the need for a healthy lifestyle, not just for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren. Let’s be the generation that stops the cycle of inherited diseases and that, instead, passes on the “instructions” for healthier bodies.

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Not All Fats are Created Equal

You’ve probably noticed that the fat free fad is fading.

There seems to be an ongoing debate about the healthiness of fat in our diet with some significant differences in the recommendations, depending on which organization you follow. The Weston A. Price Foundation, for example, recommends liberal consumption of whole milk and butter, while the American Heart Association advises you to limit these sources of saturated fat.

Nevertheless, most health experts have come to realize that not all fats are bad for you, and that your body actually needs certain fats to build cell membranes. Healthy fats are vital to proper blood clotting and muscle movement. While bad fats can increase your LDL (considered bad) cholesterol, you need certain fats for healthy HDL levels.

You also need fat to control inflammation – and if you know anything about the anti-inflammatory diet, you know that inflammation is one of the root causes of serious diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some types of cancer.

So, a proper diet is not about eliminating fat but about maximizing healthy fats while reducing your intake of bad fat.

More significantly, our research and experience has shown us that how you raise the animal affects the fat content of its meat. A recent analysis of our pasture-raised pork showed higher levels of healthy unsaturated fat and lower levels of saturated fat than what is commonly reported in pork products.

Here’s a breakdown of the types of fats, with a conservative interpretation of the research: 

Fats to Avoid:

Trans fat: According to the American Heart Association, artificial trans fats “are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.” The process tends to give food a desirable taste and texture and it helps the oils from going rancid. On food labels, this manufactured fat is listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” and it can be found from anything from French fries to commercially produced cookies.

As you probably guessed, trans fats increase your LDL levels and your inflammation levels. You can cut this fat out of your diet by reducing your intake of fast food and processed foods.

While the AHA explains that trans fat can occur naturally in some animal products, it explains that there have not have been studies that show it has the same side effects as artificially created trans fats.

Fats to Limit:

Saturated Fat: This fat, which occurs naturally in some red meat, coconut oil, and whole fat dairy products, is not necessarily unhealthy. Saturated fat can help your levels of good cholesterol, but because it can simultaneously raise your levels of LDL, nutrition experts recommend limiting your intake and/or balancing it with healthier fat options.

Fats to Maximize:

These fats are commonly found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, and grass-fed meat products.

Monounsaturated Fats: Also known as Omega 7 and Omega 9 fatty acids, these fats are found especially in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. They are linked to lower risk of heart disease.

Polyunsaturated Fats: Also known as Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, these are the essential fats your body needs for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation control. Both can help prevent heart disease and Omega 3s in particular can decrease blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and potentially even treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The first table below compares the levels of fat in Wholesome Farms & Gardens Pork and reported levels of pork. As you can see, our meat products contain higher levels of essential unsaturated fat and lower levels of saturated fat. The difference was most striking for poly-unsaturated fat.

The second table lists the top six most abundant fatty acids in our pork. Note the high concentration of monounsaturated fats like omega 7, one of the healthiest fat sources in our diet. Check out this article for more information on the benefits of this often overlooked fatty acids. 

What might be most significant is how a more natural animal husbandry method contributes to a balance of several types of fat.

Table 1 

Source Wholesome Farms & Gardens Pork Reported
Saturated 29% 39%
Mono unsaturated 38% 49%
Poly unsaturated 33% 11%
Total unsaturated 71% 60%

Table 2 

Source Wholesome Farms & Gardens Pork
Oleic acid (Omega 9, monounsaturated) 3g/100 grams of ground pork
Linoleic acid (Omega 6, polyunsaturated) 2.5g/100 grams of ground pork
Palmitic acid (saturated) 1.9g/100 grams of ground pork
Stearic acid (saturated) 0.6g/100 grams of ground pork
Palmitoleic acid (Omega 7, monounsaturated) 0.4g/100 grams of ground pork
Linolenic acid (Omega 3, polyunsaturated) 0.2g/100 grams of ground pork

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The Final Step in Healthy Meat

Cooking Methods Matter

You’ve made sure your meat is carefully sourced and minimally processed, from animals that have been grass-fed and raised without artificial hormones or antibiotics. While you’ve taken the biggest step in ensuring your food is clean and healthy, there’s one more step to making sure you get the right nutrients out of your meat.

The way you cook your food is an important element to a healthy diet. While there are numerous ways to cook a single cut of meat, not all methods are created equal. Some methods can actually maintain the nutrients in meat better than others, while other methods can pose health risks.

Because it makes the meat easier to digest, cooking the meat also helps your body absorb its nutrients. However, nutrients can often be lost in the cooking process, depending on the method used. In addition, heating meat over high heat for long periods of time can produce harmful chemicals linked to an increased risk in cancer.

For a comprehensive breakdown of nearly every cooking method, we found this article from Authority Nutrition helpful. In this post, we want to quickly breakdown five of the most common cooking methods to show you how to maximize health benefits while minimizing health risks.

  1. Pan Frying & Stir Frying

Different from deep frying—which immerses the entire cut in fat to cook it—pan frying and stir frying involve cooking with a small amount of oil or butter over high heat.

Because cooking time is generally short, there is less time for nutrients to escape. However, because of the high heat involved, cancer-causing compounds called Hetorocylic amines (AH) can be produced.

Fortunately, studies have found that marinating or seasoning your meat with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices high in antioxidants can reduce the formation of AH compounds.

Herbs not only add flavor; they can also decrease the risk of carcinogens.

To avoid the drawbacks of this cooking method, season your meat with healthy herbs and spices (it’ll make it tastier too). Also, choose a healthy fat with a high heat tolerance. We like olive oil or organic coconut oil.

  1. Roasting & Baking

Roasting and baking are similar methods of cooking that involve using dry-heat (as opposed to methods involving liquid). They usually involve heats of about 325-400 degrees (F) with cooking times above 20 minutes, depending on the cut of meat.

While these methods involve minimum loss of Vitamin C, longer cooking times and higher heats can result in the loss of Vitamin B when juices drip from the meat.

To keep this method healthy, pour the juices over the meat to get back some of those lost nutrients.

  1. Grilling & Broiling

Grilling and broiling are similar cooking methods that involve using very high, dry heat to cook meat. Grilling, with a heat source coming from the bottom, uses temperatures ranging from 375 to 450 degrees (F). Broiling, with a heat source coming from the top, uses temperatures ranging from 400 to 550 degrees (F).

While these methods are favored for sealing in some intense flavors, they have several drawbacks. When the fat drips off the meat, the high temperatures can produce potentially cancerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that soak into the meat.

In addition, the high heat used may encourage the production of certain compounds in the body, called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), that are also linked to health risks like heart disease.

To avoid all these health risks, never allow your meat to char, as this is the greatest cause of PAHs and AGEs. In addition, flipping the cuts multiple times during the cooking process has also been shown to drastically decrease carcinogens. It’s also a good idea to clean your grill after each use to remove any leftover charred fats.

We have also begun using a lower grilling temperature to further avoid risks. Another useful method is to roast or bake your meat until it is nearly finished cooking and then sear it on the grill for a couple minutes to get that boost in flavor without the harmful chemicals.

  1. Simmering, poaching, & stewing

These methods, which involve moist heat, use temperatures ranging from 140 to 200 degrees (F), depending on the method.

As you might imagine, the low temperatures help prevent the production of harmful chemicals.

However, because these methods tend to take longer, more vitamin B nutrients—like thiamine and niacin—can be lost in the process. The nutrients will often drip off and remain in the juices. Luckily, for something like a stew, that hardly poses a problem.

To keep the nutrients as part of your meal, serve the meat with their juices.

  1. Slow cooking & Pressure-cooking
Slow-cooking also helps bigger cuts of meat become more tender.

While each of these methods involve different cooking times, both utilize low temperatures (190-250 F). Therefore, like simmering, poaching, and stewing, these methods have very low health risks from AGEs.

Slow cooking poses the same issue as stewing because it involves a lengthy cooking time. Once again, you can avoid the loss of Vitamin B nutrients by serving the juices with the meat.

Pressure-cooking may be one of the healthiest cooking methods because it involves low temperatures AND short cooking times (high pressure helps accelerate the process). Because of this, there is relatively little nutritional loss.

Pressure-cooking is becoming more popular again because of its safety, speed, and health benefits. While there are multiple pressure-cookers available, we enjoy using our InstaPot for meat as well as vegetables.

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Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Eating Pork

These Arguments Against Eating Pork are Misleading

It is not uncommon for us to hear news or complaints about how all pork meat is bad. Of course, we understand and respect religious reasons for abstaining from pork. Our concern is with scientific claims about the unhealthiness of pork; in our research, if you raise the animal properly, those claims prove ill-founded. Pork can in fact be one of the healthiest meats to consume.

 

We have encountered four main arguments against the consumption of pork.

  1. Pigs can harbor harmful parasites, diseases, and viruses such as trichinosis and the swine flu
  2. Pigs have a problematic, fast digestive system that allows toxins to stay in the animals’ bodies; we then consume those toxins when we eat pork
  3. Processed pork can lead to an increased risk of cancer
  4. The use of antibiotics in pig production has led to drug resistant bacteria in pork products, which can lead to untreatable illness in humans.

We have addressed the last two arguments in previous blog posts:

What the Studies of the this Cause of Cancer aren’t Telling You: While processed meats, which include nitrates, have been shown to increase the risk of cancer, fresh pork, when properly raised, shows no such risk. That’s why we sell fresh pork belly bacon rather than processed bacon and fresh hams rather than smoked ham. None of our products contain nitrates or nitrites.

We Go Nuts Over Forest Fed Pigs: In addition, we do not treat any of our animals using antibiotics precisely because they can promote drug resistant bacteria. The FDA only recently changed the standards for pork production, discontinuing the use of antibiotics in pig feed. While the change is a small victory, it goes to show how market demand and consumer awareness can change the food industry.

The other two arguments against consuming pork meat can be addressed with similar reasoning.

Parasites, diseases, and viruses:

In 2009, pigs made headlines when it was discovered that the swine flu, endemic to pigs, had been transmitted to humans. That transmission, however, had nothing to do with pork consumption. On rare occasions, and due to close, continual contact, swine flu can be transmitted from pig to person. The illness is then transmitted from person to person. In humans, the symptoms are similar to those of a normal flu; the illness can be prevented with the annual flu vaccine.

Pigs who enjoy large, forested pastures and fresh air are less likely to suffer diseases than animals kept in confined spaces.

Arguing against pork consumption because of the swine flu is misleading because you cannot get the illness by eating pork. What is more, proper and humane treatment of pigs can prevent them from becoming sick in the first place. Diseases breed easily in confined spaces; pastured pigs are less likely to get sick because they enjoy fresh air and room to move around. We also frequently rotate our pigs from pasture to pasture to prevent wallowing spots from becoming cesspools.

While it is true that pork meat can potentially contain parasites, the same is true for chicken and other animal meat if not handled properly. Food safety habits are essential when dealing with any kind of raw meat. Refrigerating or freezing your meat before cooking prevents parasites and bacteria. Proper cooking techniques and food storage can eliminate further risk. Pork should be cooked medium-well to well-done. Pregnant women, children, and elderly should never consume undercooked meat.

Once again, however, proper animal husbandry will help prevent parasites from infecting pigs in the first place.

Toxins:

Compared to cows, pigs have a relatively fast digestive process (about four hours, compared to 24). Because of this, some experts believe that pigs do not have the time to eliminate essential toxins during digestion. They also say that because pigs have very few functional sweat glands, they cannot sweat out those toxins. The toxins remain in the animals’ bodies and are in-turn consumed by humans.

The logic in this argument is faulty because it assumes that all animals need a similar digestion time to properly eliminate toxins. That would mean that chicken meat is extremely toxic because chickens only take 20 to 30 minutes to digest their food (but no one is arguing that America’s favorite white meat is toxic). Every species of animal is unique, with body functions that serve to keep it alive and healthy. If nature endowed pigs with a digestive process that takes four hours, its safe to assume that their bodies eliminate essential toxins in that time frame. The same can be said of the number of sweat glands they use. Plenty of shade and adequate water will also prevent them from suffering heat stress

Conventional farming methods, shown here, typically house multiple pigs in a small cage where they are fed with mostly corn and soybean feed.

What is more, a pig’s diet, more than its digestion or its sweat glands, determines the amount and type of toxins in its body. When an animal eats the diet that nature intended (for a pig that’s pesticide-free grass, non-GMO grain, and foraged mushrooms and nuts), there are fewer toxins and there is less waste in terms of what the body uses for nutrition. 

Ultimately, the arguments against consuming pork are derived from reasonable objections that stem from how many of these animals are often raised. You can eliminate all of these worries when you consume pork that has been raised using natural methods.* 

What is more, pork meat contains many of the essential nutrients we need for a healthy diet, including Omega 3s, high-quality protein, and the healthy type of fat. Take a look at the chart on this blog post about the importance of free-range meat consumption in a balanced diet. 

*Be careful to understand what a label means when it says natural. Not all “natural” labels are the same. We define natural as being minimally processed with no artificial ingredients, hormones, chemicals, or antibiotics. While we are not USDA Certified Organic, our methods come very close to USDA standards. 

 

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Easy Pork Taco Meat

Taco Tuesday (or Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday…) is our favorite day of the week, not only because this taco meat is tastier than what you can get at almost any Tex-Mex restaurant, but also because it’s just so easy to make. 

Ingredients:
Serves 4 to 6 

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 can (6-oz.) organic tomato sauce 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced 
  • 2 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano 

Preparation: 

  1. In a large saute pan, heat a few teaspoons of oil and add pork. Cook until just browed. 
  2. Add diced onion, diced red pepper, tomato sauce, and water. Stir and saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add remaining spices and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. 
  4. Serve on warm tortillas with sour cream and cheese. 

 

Savory Pork Meatballs

Easy to make, these meatballs are hearty, savory, and perfect for a family meal. We serve them in homemade marinara sauce over pasta, but they are also delicious all by themselves.  

Ingredients: 
Serves 6 to 8 

  • 2 lbs. ground pork
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup gluten free flour 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried fennel
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper (optional)
  • (1 egg may be used to keep meatballs moist)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
  3. Roll into even sized balls (1 to 2 inches)
  4. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet with a lip
  5. Bake for 15 minutes or until meatballs are brown and cooked through.
  6. Fold into fresh marinara sauce and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese. Serve over pasta. 

 

 

The Real Reason We Go Out of Stock

It’s Our Commitment to Responsible Sourcing

We would love to be able to provide all of our meat products–especially our popular cuts–every week. But as many of our loyal customers know, sometimes that just isn’t possible. When we sell out of a product, we have to wait to restock, and unfortunately that means sometimes we don’t have the cut you need on a given day. 

But the real reason we can’t always keep our inventory fully stocked has to do with our commitment to responsible sourcing. We are a small, family-run farm and we only sell meat raised with sustainable, natural and non-GMO methods. Our inventory is restocked as whole animals, meaning that when the steak or chops or breasts are sold there are still other cuts from the same animals that must sell before we have room for the next animal. We can’t just call a supplier and order more of a particular cut. 

While we do occasionally supplement our products from other local farms, we only do so after developing a trusted relationship; we make sure that other suppliers maintain the same level of quality as we do. For example, we also source our free-range chicken from Cobb Creek Farm, a sustainable, local farm that is also our butcher. We source baby pigs from another pastured pig breeder.

We never compromise the integrity of our product by buying from questionable suppliers. We have made this decision to stay true to our mission of producing healthy food, even though not always having a fully-stocked inventory goes against conventional business practices. In our experience, some vendors sneak in products from questionable sources to maintain inventory or mislead customers by calling their products organic when they are not certified

We do our best to include a list of our out of stock items in our weekly newsletter. We are improvising to find unique ways to move the inventory evenly and hope to improve availability as we grow. Thank-you for having patience with us.  If you know you are going to need a certain product by a certain date, we encourage you to reserve it one to two weeks before by contacting us or ordering online