Low-carb, high-fat a low blow

By Rob Symons

This is an article I wrote for the Mercury Food and Wine supplement and it also appears in “Verdant Life“.

I have been at a number of functions lately where talk has drifted to diet,  most particularly to the low carb / high fat (LCHF) diet , also known as the “Tim Noakes” diet. Most on this diet are claiming impressive weight loss and are defending its merits most vociferously. This diet depends heavily on eating meat and particularly animal fat.

It is interesting to look at this diet in the context of sustainable food production and ethical treatment of farm animals. I am not going to go into the human health aspect as that is not my area of expertise. I do however have one observation here. Most people espousing this diet claim rapid weight loss as a justification for its efficacy. I contend that most diets have this characteristic. I lost considerable weight on the “low fat diet”, the opposite of the LCHF diet. Anecdotal observation is a poor source of evidence.

In this age of a warming planet, CO2 and methane emissions are a source of concern and every effort must be made to curtail them. Livestock farming is a major contributor to these emissions and by some estimates contributes more to emissions than the entire transport sector. There has been great concern recently with the rise in meat consumption the world over. Developing countries have seen their populations adopt western-style diets that have increased the demand for meat.

This has led to the large-scale industrialisation of livestock agriculture, which has had a deleterious effect on the health of the natural world. In addition to the greenhouse gas emissions, intensive meat production is a massive source of water contamination.

We also have the problem of antibiotic use in these operations. It is suspected that the recent phenomena of antibiotic resistant bacteria can be linked to the massive use of antibiotics in meat production.

Proponents of the LCHF diet argue that they only eat hormone free, grass fed meat. That’s great, but this form of meat production can only work in a sustainable fashion if the demand is low. Grasslands can only carry a certain amount of livestock before being overgrazed. Grass fed animals are normally slaughtered at a much older age than feedlot animals, thus limiting the amount of meat that can be produced.

There is now growing recognition of the rights of farm animals to compassionate and ethical treatment.

In my last column I touched on the ethics of industrialised chicken farming. Other forms of industrialised livestock farming are the same. They all reduce animals to mere units of production and as a result terrible acts of cruelty are committed on these animals in the name of profit.

A campaign was started a few years back encouraging people in western countries to adopt a “meat free Monday”. This was hoped to create awareness of the need to reduce meat consumption. The popularity of the LCHF diet effectively negates this effort.

As an organic farmer my preference for a diet is one based on the rule set by author Michael Pollan, in his book “An Omnivores Dilemma”, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

This simple rule models the balanced production of a mixed organic farm. We produce mainly vegetables and herbs, with livestock production being the cream on the top. To skew the production to mainly livestock will unbalance this model and make the farm unsustainable.

The key to Michael Pollan’s rule is that you eat real food, not anything processed or refined. It also allows you to eat meat if you so choose but in the correct proportion to the fruit and vegetables that we need as omnivores.


About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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