The worry of wagyu … compared to kangaroo, it may trigger inflammation, say researchers.
Before you bite into a wagyu burger here’s some food for thought. Last year when Australian researchers looked at how the body reacts after either a meal of kangaroo or wagyu beef there was an intriguing difference: compared to the kangaroo, the wagyu meal appeared to prod the immune system into action, triggering the release of inflammatory chemicals.
Why bother comparing kangaroo with wagyu?
“Because kangaroo mimics the kind of wild meat that humans ate for thousands of years,” explains Dr Gary Egger, Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Lismore’s Southern Cross University, and one of the researchers. “It’s meat from lean animals that run around and eat grass. Wagyu on the other hand is relatively new to the food supply and an example of modern meat from modern animals that are less active and often fed on grain.”
It’s too soon to say whether this might matter to our health, but the ‘roo versus wagyu experiment is the first of more proposed studies at Southern Cross University and the Australasian Research Institute to see if food with a high ‘Human Interference Factor’ is fuelling chronic inflammation, a problem now linked to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases including asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and possibly cancer. Other examples of old versus new foods on the researchers’ list are brown rice versus refined white rice, whole soybean flour versus processed soy isolate, and wholegrain flour versus white.
Inflammation is the immune system’s defence mechanism – and when it erupts on injured skin with redness and swelling it’s a sign that that your body’s repairing itself. But scientists now think there’s also a kind of low level inflammation smouldering inside the body that isn’t so healthy. Unlike the acute inflammation that helps heal a wound, chronic inflammation doesn’t switch off – and Egger thinks our modern lifestyle is the reason why.
Eating a western diet, stress, smoking, inactivity and skimping on sleep, have all been linked to chronic inflammation. And while all these habits have been part and parcel of industrialised societies for years, in the big picture of human evolution they’re new assaults on the body – so our immune system treats them like foreign invaders, he says.
“Modern lifestyles seem enough to cause an inflammatory reaction – it’s as if the immune system is programmed to react to activities in the same way as it does to microbes, but at a lower more chronic level,” Egger explains.
One example of where the immune system gets it wrong is in the blood vessels where it tries to defend the arteries against ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, but in doing so ends up thickening the artery walls – and contributing to hardened arteries.
So how can we live in an industrialised world and still keep inflammation at bay?
“Getting more sleep is part of it. Humans have never had such short sleep cycles as we do now,” Garry Egger points out. “We’re also walking about 15 kilometres less each day than we did 150 years ago. We can’t go back to doing that so we need to have institutionalised exercise to make up for it.”
We also need to choose foods that are less likely to provoke inflammation, and a number of studies point to a traditional Mediterranean style diet – big on plant foods and including olive oil, fish and nuts – as having an anti- inflammatory effect. Australian research from the University of Sydney reported earlier this year backs up the anti-inflammatory benefit of nuts – those who ate the most nuts had a 40 per cent reduced risk of dying from an inflammatory disease, according to data from the Blue Mountains Study, a long running study of residents in the Blue Mountains.
The kind of carbs we eat matters too. Garry Egger suggests that lowering inflammation is another argument for low GI carbohydrates which are generally anti-inflammatory – there’s some evidence that blood sugar spikes from rapidly digested high GI carbs can trigger inflammatory chemicals.