Just for the record, I’m not on a raw meat diet. I didn’t do a raw pregnancy. I get a lot of emails and comments from people assuming I eat a raw meat-Aajonus Vonderplanitz type Primal diet. I don’t… anymore. About six years ago I experimented with a raw meat diet and adhered to it for a while. I eventually moved on to just raw sea food, rice, and raw juices. Then I moved to low carb. Yada yada. I’ve experimented with just about everything.
That said, I still think there is a lot of value in including raw animal foods (and juices) in the diet. That’s why I write about it a lot – not because I think everyone should quit cooked meat and start eating raw.
The question most everyone has about eating raw animal foods is how they can eat it safely and avoid getting food borne illnesses. Doesn’t eating meat cause infection of certain pathogens?
The answer is yes and no.
E coli and salmonella
- E coli develops in grain fed cattle
- Salmonella develops in caged chickens
E coli is a bacteria that multiplies when fermented carbohydrates become acidic. Cattle are not designed to digest low fiber, high carbohydrate foods. Ruminant animals (like cows) lack the enzymes needed to digest starches. Grass and other leafy, low-lying plants are not starchy and are exactly what their bodies were meant to ruminate. Research shows that when high carbohydrate grains are fed to the cattle to fatten cattle up, the health of the animal declines.
Salmonella is a pathogenic bacteria that is present in caged hens. According to the Humane Society,
“There have been sixteen studies published in the last five years comparing caged and cage-free egg operations, and they all found higher rates of Salmonella in the caged facilities.”
When hens are raised outdoors, the threat of this bacteria diminishes or is eliminated completely.
Tapeworms are parasites that humans can pick up from under-cooked meat or fish, human or animal feces, from infected water, or even from shaking the hand of an infected person (and eating from it). Tapeworms can grow inside the intestines and live for up to 20 years, growing up to 12 feet long.
Pretty gross. I don’t want to support one of those guys either.
While tapeworms don’t always cause problems for the host (that’s you, the human), they can cause anemia, nausea, weakness, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weight loss. Honestly, though, they don’t always. Many people have tapeworms and are totally asymptomatic.
The good news is, you really aren’t likely to get a tapeworm if you drink clean water, wash your hands, and follow a few rules for consuming meats.
How to avoid getting tapeworms:
- Eat meat free of tapeworms: You can only get tapeworms from animals who are infected with them – if there are no worms and there is no larve, there is no transmission – and, since tapeworms are rare in the US due to inspection practices, your chances of getting one from beef isn’t very high.
- Eat grass fed meats – The likelihood is even lower if you eat only grass-fed meat. Cows living in a clean environment are less likely to have them in the first place. In cattle, parasites become more of a problem when the animals crowd together. Even on the pasture cows tend to stick together but the degree of crowding is nothing compared to that of feedlot animals.
- Freeze foods first. You eliminate your risk of getting a tapeworm if you freeze the meat or fish first. Freezing kills the worms and their larvae so says the FDA (smoking, as in bacon, does not).
If you fear you might have gotten them from somewhere at some point, you can have a stool test done after the worm has had a chance to grow a bit.
Additional references: King CH, Fairley JK. Cestodes (tapeworms). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases . 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 290.
Keeping pathogens in check naturally
Dr. Chris Kresser is not one to hide behind the theory that what we catch makes us sick. Sure, there are ways to avoid pathogens as described above, and we definitely should strive to do this – it’s better for our immune systems, plus eating healthier animals is better for our bodies in many ways. But contact with parasites shouldn’t be the end of the world. In fact, it is quite natural and expected that a human in its natural habitat, i.e. not our modern environment, would come into contact with parasites all the time. In general, this is fine as long as our own bodies contain enough good guys to fight bad guys.
Kresser goes on to explain why this would be beneficial in this article. He says:
There are over 100 trillion microorganisms living in our gut alone. That’s 10x the number of human cells in our entire body. When you look at it from this perspective, we’re actually more bacteria, parasites and yeast than we are human.
In health, there’s a balance between the pathogenic organisms and the beneficial ones. It’s not that healthy people don’t have pathogens in their body; it’s that they have a lot more of the beneficial micro-organisms that keep the harmful ones in check. This is how it works in ecological systems. An invasive species is much more likely to proliferate in the absence of other species that normally inhibit its growth…
Likewise, we evolved in concert with parasites. There’s even evidence that certain parasites play a beneficial role in “tuning” our immune systems, and may be necessary for health. This theory is called the “hygiene hypothesis”. It’s based on the observation that autoimmune diseases are much more prevalent in developed parts of the world where standards of hygiene and sanitation are higher, and much lower in undeveloped parts of the world where sanitation and hygiene are poor…
There’s also some intriguing evidence that H. pylori, the bug that causes peptic ulcers, paradoxically may protect against several other gastric diseases. Studies indicate that H. pylori was once more common, perhaps nearly universal in humans, than it is in our postmodern society. Even today, it’s estimated that 1 in 2 people around the world have H. pylori.
This brings the current strategy of completely eradicating pathogenic organisms like H. pylori into question. If we eliminate H. pylori completely, that might help the peptic ulcer to heal, but it could potentially cause other problems. The same dilemma may very well exist for other pathogens.
So, to avoid or safely live with parasites, follow some clean living strategies such as washing your hands, freezing meat that might be less than optimally cared for, and eat a nutrient dense diet which includes fermented foods.