Onusic lauds grass-fed benefits
NEW BRUNSWICK — Grass-fed livestock are portrayed as being “happier” in promotional material, but the bottom line is that their meat has nutritional benefits.
This is hardly news, nutrition scientist Dr. Sylvia Onusic told a group of organic farmers and others interested in animal nutrition at the 30th annual Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference.
Pasture-raised was the norm for most of history.
Her workshop, “Value-Added Nutrition in Products from Pastured Animals,” described the benefits of products from animals not raised in enclosures.
Onusic has a Ph.D. in public health and nutrition and does research on nutrition, especially in pregnant or breast-feeding women.
She said the ancient Romans pastured their animals and in the Middle Ages peasants had access to pasture, known as the Commons.
Eventually, however, the lords who owned the land got greedy and took the commons for themselves, fencing the peasants and their animals out.
“There was a lot of anger,” Onusic said, “the pasture was sacred.”
In Alpine areas animals are pastured on mountain meadows because of limited pasture, she said.
“The Alpine paradox,” Onusic, who once worked for the Ministry of Health in Slovenia, said, is that these mountain-raised animals are higher in fat but also high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
“In the glacier areas there are a lot of minerals and between 400 and 500 different kinds of plants,” she said.
This results in a more favorable fatty-acid profile in the animals.
Onusic is an opponent of the work of Ancel Keys, the physiologist who hypothesized that dietary saturated fat caused heart disease.
She explained research over the past five to 10 years that shows cholesterol has value in production of vitamin D and bile as well as improving sex hormones and brain health.
“In the last half century (since Keys’ work) we found out saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease and that breast milk has to have cholesterol.”
She is pleased that the trend away from butter and whole milk started to shift in 2014.
Flawed nutrition policy
Onusic blames flawed nutrition policy for the food industry turning to higher carbohydrate foods when they decided fats were the villain.
She said she believes many health problems are caused by vegetable oils, artificial sweetners, soy, MSG and fortified food.
Refined foods with synthetic vitamins and minerals are very bad for health, she said.
Fluoridated water is also a problem, she said, especially in pregnant women.
She said she is also interested in a possible connection between fluoride and ADHD.
A specialty of Onusic is the study of the vitamins A, D, E and K.
“They are activators, they make things go,” she said. They require diets rich in both animal and plant sources, she added.
Much of the research on these vitamins was done by American chemist and nutritionist Katharine Blunt in the 1930s, Onusic said.
Blunt began the research that determined the necessity of K2-MK-4 to human health.
Children born to mothers deficient in this vitamin show a smaller skull, large forehead, small, flat nose — often a deviated septum and tooth defects.
Vitamin K in the brain is necessary for cognition and a lack of it could be a cause of Multiple Sclerosis, Onusic said.
The MK-4 vitamin comes from liver and other organ meats and dairy products, Onusic said.
The best quality comes from pasture-raised livestock.
Another important food for human development is the whole egg, Onusic said.
“Eggs are the perfect food,” she said, noting even in the 1930s, scientists knew that.
In those days, eggs were among the first solid foods that were introduced to babies.
Cereal would not have been considered. Today, nutrients that are good for babies are rare in the American diet, she said.
Another vitamin known to be deficient in American diets is B12, Onusic said.
Anyone with a plant-based diet needs to continually monitor B12 levels, she added.
Onusic also said vegetable oil causes fat storage.
Dr. Joseph Heckman, Rutgers professor of soil fertility, organic crop production and agroecology, pointed out farmers with pasture-raised livestock need to inform their customers of the benefits, beyond nutritional ones.
“Animals on pasture are best for soil fertility,” he said. “Organic production on pasture is even better.”
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