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The Toxins in Meat Every Biohacker & Paleo Dieter Should Know

By: Dave Asprey

If you’ve been reading the blog or listening to the podcast, you’re probably aware that the right kind of meat in the right amount helps to make you feel Bulletproof. Avoiding meat from healthy animals likely contributed to Steve Job’s death, to the performance decline of vegan athlete Carl Lewis, and is often a  reason people become deficient in key nutrients. The right kind of whey protein can boost muscle growth and support your immune system. In Upgraded™ Chef, some of the most popular recipes have enough meat to make any omnivore salivate. However, even the best sources of protein and fat can be bad for you in excess.

This is virtually unknown in mainstream diets, especially because the misguided “war on fat” encourages people to eat more lean meat. People on low fat, low carb diets by definition eat too much protein. I know this because I spent years doing low carb, moderate fat, moderate protein diets – and felt their effects – before biohacking and health what a high healthy fat diet low in toxins did for my energy, my health, and my cognitive performance.

Too Much Protein Can Be a Bad Thing

In an upcoming post, you will learn how consuming too much of certain amino acids can decrease your lifespan, but too much of any protein source can be bad for you in excess. Eating too much protein, especially along with a poor overall diet, can damage your cells, impair your cognitive performance, and decrease your longevity.

When you eat too much protein, your body can become overwhelmed by the task of digesting it. Unlike fats, which are cleanly burned in your cells, your body will try to oxidize the excess protein in your liver. This produces several major toxins that can decrease your performance and damage your health. This post will show you how these toxins are formed, what they do to your body, and how to avoid them, yet get enough protein to support optimal health and performance. Let’s examine our first bad guy…

4-Hydroxynonenal (HNE)

This is actually a derivative of oxidized omega-6 fats found in all of your cells. In small amounts, HNE is actually good for your cells. However, too much can cause serious problems. It’s been linked to chronic inflammation and various diseases including diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis, and cognitive decline. Incidentally, this is one reason the Bulletproof Diet also recommends very low omega 6 oil intake.

The problem is that when you consume too much protein, your body is put into a state of inflammation, which drastically increases the fat oxidation in your cells. This tips your body’s production of HNE into the red zone, and overwhelms your cell’s detox pathways. It’s double jeopardy when that protein is red meat from soy and corn-fed animals, which is inconveniently wrapped in extra omega 6 oils. Yuck.

You can also absorb excess HNE from food. Almost all meat has some omega-6’s, and if you overcook it, you produce a ton of HNE toxins. These toxins are absorbed into your tissues and cause all of the problems listed above. In fact, for most people, overcooked meat is an even greater source of HNE than consuming too much protein.

Yet again, this is a reason the Bulletproof Diet recommends carefully cooked meat prepared at lower temperatures. It’s also one reason most studies on meat consumption and health are woefully inadequate – they fail to consider how the meat is cooked.

Malondialdehyde (MDA)

Malondialdehyde is very similar to HNE, in that it’s also produced from the oxidation of fats both inside and outside your cells. Like HNE, MDA damages your DNA and your mitochondria. Overcooking the fat in meat also produces MDA.

Acrolein

When fats in meat and proteins are heated, the glycerol in the fat breaks down into acrolein. Acrolein is another major toxin that is so volatile; it can even irritate the ears, nose and eyes on contact. It’s also a potent carcinogen and mutagen, which cause damage to your mitochondrial DNA. There is evidence that acrolein is one of the most carcinogenic compounds in cigarettes. We use it industrially at 10 parts per million to kill weeds and algae.

Glyoxal

Glyoxal is a form of advanced glycation end product, but it also comes from burned fats and protein. Glyoxal is another potent carcinogen that interrupts cellular signaling and damages your mitochondria. It’s often found in overcooked meat and oils, and is easily absorbed from your food.

Knowing this, do you really want that deep fried chicken wing?

How These Toxins Damage Your Performance

All of these toxins are different, but they share a few common mechanisms that derail your health and performance. They all damage your mitochondria and deplete your glutathione levels.

Your mitochondria are the power plants of your cells, and they’re essential for cognitive function, maintaining muscle mass, and generally being in a state of high performance. When your mitochondria are damaged, your cells don’t process oxygen as efficiently, and don’t metabolize fats or sugars as well.

As Danny Roddy and Ray Peat have writen, when cells aren’t able to process oxygen efficiently, or don’t have enough oxygen, they switch from oxidation to glycolysis, which is far less efficient. This process also produces lactic acid, which places stress on your liver. This can kick start a dangerous cycle where toxins damage your cells, which decreases liver function, which impairs your ability to remove toxins.

These toxins deplete your body of glutathione, which can place another stressor on your liver, and makes this cycle even worse. Glutathione depletion also decreases your cognitive performance, as glutathione is needed to shield your brain from inflammatory agents and other toxins.

These are some of the reasons I recommend breathing exercises and supplemental glutathione for Bulletproof practitioners.

How to Stop these Toxins from Damaging Your Performance

HNE, MDA, acrolein, and glyoxal are toxins produced from either eating a bad overall diet, too much protein (even the good kinds), and overcooked proteins and meats. Here are three steps to countering these problems:

  1. Eat the Bulletproof Diet. This minimizes your intake of polyunsaturated fats, oxidized fats, denatured proteins, and other toxins that cause inflammation, which makes more of these toxins.
  2. Follow the macronutrient guidelines from the Bulletproof Diet and aim for around 60-80% of your calories from high quality fats and oils. Also read the upcoming series on protein restriction and longevity for even more details.
  3. Cook your food correctly. This is the trickiest part of this process, but as a general recommendation, cook your foods on moderate to low heat for shorter periods of time, erring on the side of less rather than more. However, the right cooking methods really vary for almost every meat. This is why I wrote Upgraded Chef, a recipe book that teaches you exactly how to prepare your food for optimal performance and health. Including antioxidant spices is a great idea too.

High quality grass fed meat and other clean proteins are a part (up to 20%) of the Bulletproof Diet, but consuming too much or the wrong kinds can produce several powerful toxins that damage your performance. Even vegan processed junk like seitan (wheat gluten), tofurkey, and soy burgers will form the same protein and fat toxins.

The main source of these toxins for most Bulletproof practitioners is overcooked meat and animal products, which is why it’s so crucial to use the right cooking methods. Upgraded Chef shows you how to cook your food to keep toxin production to a bare minimum. It also comes with shopping lists, and a diagram of the diet so you have everything you need all in one place. If you’re interested in upgrading your weekly meal plan, click here to learn more.