Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects a person’s behavior and impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can range from mild to severe. The cause is unknown.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately, including:
Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
What are the early signs and symptoms of autism in infants and babies?
Some children may show symptoms of autism disorder in infancy, but many do not show any signs until 24 months of age (2 years) or later. Some signs and symptoms that an infant or baby may have an autism spectrum disorder include:
Lack of eye contact
Not responding to his or her name or to familiar voices
No back-and-forth gestures, such as reaching, pointing, waving, or showing
Does not make noises to get attention
Does not initiate cuddling or respond to attempts to do so
Absence of visually following objects or gestures
Does not imitate facial expressions or movements
Lack of interest in playing with other children
Does not share interest or enjoyment in activities
Seems not to notice if others experience pain or discomfort
In addition to the common symptoms that infants with autism may exhibit, some developmental red flags may also indicate autism spectrum disorder in infants such as a lack of smiles or other joyful expressions by 6 months of age, and no back-and-forth sharing of smiles, facial expressions, or sounds by 9 months of age.
What Causes Autism?
Autism is recognized as a set of a wide variety of signs and symptoms, and may have many causes. Autism is caused by, for example:
Fragile X syndrome (inherited disorder)
Cerebral digenesis (abnormal development of the brain)
Rett syndrome (a mutation of a single gene)
Some of the inborn errors of metabolism (biochemical defects)
Strong association between:
Autism and seizures
Autism and Landau-Kleffner syndrome
Acquired epileptic aphasia
What are the early signs and symptoms of autism in toddlers?
A toddler is a child age 12 to 36 months (1 to 3 years), and often this age is when parents start noticing the first signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Studies have shown up to half of parents of children with autism noticed signs before their child’s first birthday, and almost 80%-90% noted symptoms by 24 months.
In addition to the symptoms that infants with autism may exhibit, some developmental red flags that may indicate autism spectrum disorder in toddlers by 12 months old include:
Not responding to their name
Lack of babbling or “baby talk”
Absence of back-and-forth gestures, such as reaching, pointing, waving, or showing
By 16 months, a red flag that a toddler may have an autism spectrum disorder is a lack of spoken words, and by 24 months, an absence of meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating may be noticed.
What are the early signs and symptoms of autism in older children and teens?
For older children and teenagers, signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorders usually involve problems with speech and language, impaired social skills, non-verbal communication difficulties, and inflexible behavior. Symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some children may be severely disabled by symptoms, while others may be high-functioning.
Signs of speech and language difficulties include:
Starts talking later than other children
Problems communicating needs
Lack of understanding of simple questions or directions
Takes things literally (does not understand humor, sarcasm, or irony)
Speaks in an unusual tone of voice, or with a strange cadence
Repeats words and phrases over and over
Repeats, rather than responds to, questions
Does not use language correctly
Refers to him- or herself in the third person
Signs of social communication problems include:
Seems aloof and detached from others
Difficulty connecting with others and making friends
Seems disinterested or unaware of what is going on around them
Does not like to be touched, cuddled, or held
Difficulty playing “pretend” or using toys creatively
Doesn’t share with others
Doesn’t seem aware when others are speaking to them
Difficulty understanding or expressing feelings
Have trouble maintaining a conversation
Talk a lot about a specific topic but have difficulty talking about a range of topics
Find it hard to follow instructions with a lot of steps
Signs of nonverbal communication difficulties include:
Difficulty picking up on subtle nonverbal cues from others (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice)
Avoidance of eye contact or unusual or inappropriate eye contact
Facial expressions do not match what is being said
Rarely makes gestures and may seem cold or robotic
Has abnormal posture or eccentric ways of moving
May be overly sensitive to sights, smells, textures, and sounds
Signs of inflexibility include:
Insistence on a rigid routine
Has problems adapting to changes in schedule or environment
Forms unusual attachments to strange objects (such as keys or light switches)
May obsessively line up or arrange objects in a particular order
Becomes preoccupied with one narrow topic of interest, often that involves symbols or numbers such as train schedules or sports statistics
Spends long periods watching moving objects or focusing on one part of an object
Repetitive movements (called self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming” – believed to soothe children with autism):
Flicking light switches on and off
Are the early signs and symptoms of autism the same for girls and boys?
There are some differences between girls and boys with autism. Not every child shows (or does not show) certain behaviors, and certain aspects of behavior and interaction are more common in one gender versus another.
Girls with autism
Tend to have at least one close friend – more sociable
Are not demanding
Auditory hallucinations (hears things others can’t)
Speaks her mind
Can hide feelings
Shows some affection
Speaks on time and few problems with speech
Speaks in high pitch
Apologizes a lot (sometimes to excess)
Boys with autism
Often have no friends – more reclusive
Are very demanding
Typically no auditory hallucinations
Does not speak his mind
Speaks late and has speech impairment
Rarely, if ever, apologizes – doesn’t seem to care
What are the early signs and symptoms of autism in adults?
In adults, signs and symptoms of autism are similar to those in older children and teens, including:
Difficulty understanding what others think and feel, lack of empathy for others
Anxiety in social situations
Difficulty making friends or maintaining romantic relationships
Preferring to be alone
Coming across as rude or disinterested without meaning to be
Problems with nonverbal communication (difficulty maintaining eye contact, interpreting facial expressions, or using gestures)
Difficulty expressing feelings
Trouble maintaining conversations
Takings things literally (difficulty understanding humor, sarcasm, or irony)
Sticking to a strict routine and getting anxious if anything changes
Not understanding social “rules”
Avoiding eye contact or showing inappropriate eye contact
Invades personal space, or gets upset if others come too close to them
Preoccupations or hyper-focus on certain subjects or activities
Anxiety and sleep problems
Temper control issues
Autism may be different in women and men. It may be harder to tell if a woman is autistic. Women with autism may hide their feelings, may be quieter, and may appear to handle social situations more easily.
On the positive side, adults with autism may excel at a particular skill, have an abundance of knowledge in one specific area, or have an exceptional memory.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds — we hear a lot about the “best” food groups for health. But what about the worst ones? What foods should you be eliminating or at least cutting back on?
Research published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at dietary intake and 318,000 deaths from diabetes, stroke and heart disease. In addition to not eating enough omega-3 rich seafood, nuts and seeds, two problematic factors stood out.
These deaths were associated with eating too much salt and too many processed meats. The two go hand-in-hand in sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat, meat sauces, lunch meats and bacon. Eating too much salty food was associated with nearly 10% of those deaths. Processed meats are a key source of salt, but so are snacks, prepared foods and even packaged vegetables, especially those canned in salt.
A separate study of 400,000 deaths related to heart and blood vessel diseases presented at an American Heart Association scientific meeting came to similar conclusions — finding 9% of these deaths were due to too much salt. The very unhealthy trans fats were also on the dangerous foods list.
Fortunately, these are being phased out of packaged foods.
But again, what you’re not eating makes a difference, too. These researchers also found that not getting enough whole grains, vegetables, and nuts and seeds was detrimental, with each missing food group being linked to between 10% and 11% of the deaths.
When planning your best diet, remember that eating healthy is a balancing act — you want to increase good foods and cut back on the bad ones to make sure that the scales tip in your favor.
• 1 cup of coarsely crushed unsalted saltine
crackers (about 23 crackers)
• 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp of garlic powder
• 1 tsp of onion powder
• 2 cups of cubed Italian bread
• 2 tbsp of chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
• 2 tbsp of chopped parsley
• Half a tsp of black pepper
• Half a tsp of dried oregano
• Half a tsp of dried sage
• One-quarter of a cup of diced bell pepper
• One-quarter of a cup of diced celery
• One-quarter of a cup of diced onion
• One-quarter of a cup of unsalted butter
• Three-quarters of a cup of low-sodium chicken
• Three-quarters of a lb of small raw shrimp (25
to 30), peeled and deveined
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.
2. In large sauté pan, melt butter on mediumhigh heat. Add shrimp and cook for three to
five minutes or until slightly pink and slightly
raw in the middle. Remove shrimp from pan
and place on a plate to cool, then chop into
3. Put pan back on heat and add onion, celery,
and bell pepper, and cook while stirring until
soft—about three to five minutes.
4. In a small bowl, mix all dry spices, add to pan
and stir. Add chicken stock, cubed bread,
and crushed crackers, and stir until well
incorporated and bread is moistened. Turn heat
to low and add shrimp back to pan and stir for
an additional two to four minutes.
5. Turn off heat and serve. For a crispy top, bake
in a 4×7-inch casserole dish at 350˚F for
approximately 15 minutes or until top begins
Serves four to six.
Nutrient Analysis Per Serving (3
Calories: 126, total fat: 6 g, saturated fat: 3 g, trans
fat: 0 g, cholesterol: 16 mg, total carbohydrates: 16
g, protein: 3 g, potassium: 108 mg, phosphorus: 38
mg, sodium: 155 mg.
• 1 tablespoons (tbsp) of chopped fresh garlic
• 1 teaspoon (tsp) of chili powder
• 1 tsp of cumin
• 1 tsp of smoked paprika
• 2 tbsp of unsalted butter
• 2 tbsp of chopped fresh scallions
• Half a cup of Mexican blend natural shredded
• One package of eight taco shells**
• One-quarter of a cup of chopped fresh cilantro
• Three-quarters of a pound (lb) of ground chicken
* Make sure to choose a low-fat (less than 20%
M.F.) cheese. Also, choose natural cheeses compared
to processed cheeses. They tend to be lower in
sodium and phosphorus.
** Some shells can be close to 200 milligrams
(mg) for the two shells compared to only about 5 mg
for other brands.
1. Brown the ground chicken in butter on medium
heat along with the seasonings.
2. Fill two taco shells for each person with
meat mixture, cilantro, scallions, and cheese.
Measuring the cheese is the key! It should be
one-eighth of a cup per two tacos. Remember
to read the food labels, as shells can have quite
a bit of sodium.
Serves 4; one serving = half a cup of chicken
mixture and two taco shells.
Optional Serving Suggestions
Ingredients can also be served in a lettuce wrap,
pressed between flour tortillas to make a quesadilla,
or tossed with spaghetti or rice.
Nutrient Analysis: Chicken Mixture
Calories: 270, total fat: 20 grams (g), saturated fat:
7 g, trans fat: 0 g, cholesterol: 85 mg, sodium: 146
mg, protein: 19 g, carbohydrates: 2 g, potassium:
264 mg, phosphorus: 82 mg.
Nutrient Analysis: Two Taco Shells
Calories: 122, total fat: 6 g, saturated fat: 0.8 g,
trans fat: 0 g, cholesterol: 0 mg, sodium: 4 mg,
protein: 2 g, carbohydrates: 16 g, potassium: 46
mg, phosphorus: 64 mg
Are you looking to add some kidney-friendly foods
to your diet? Do you want to try a variety of tasty,
healthy, nutrient-rich foods? Try the following top
five foods that are friendly for those with kidney
disease (or at risk of developing it).
If you have not heard it before, cranberries are
a great natural way to help prevent and treat
urinary-tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries contain
an abundance of proanthocyanidins (PACs), which
are a type of compound that prevents infectious
bacteria—especially E. coli—from sticking to your
urinary-tract lining. Fortunately, this prevents the
bacteria from populating and, therefore, prevents
infections from developing.
Cranberries are even thought to play a role in
maintaining good heart health by lowering your
bad cholesterol levels and increasing your good
Cranberries can be found fresh in season between
October and December; however, it is likely that your
grocery store may be importing them from elsewhere
year round. Choose berries that are firm, plump, and
rich in red color. The deeper the red coloring, the
more anthocyanins are present. Cranberries can be
stored up to 20 days in your refrigerator—or for years,
if kept properly frozen. Discard any berries that end
up soft, discolored, or shriveled.
Cranberries are a rich source of manganese,
vitamin C, and fiber, as well as lots of phytonutrients.
Remember: the extra fiber can help manage those
blood-sugar levels, thus reducing your risk of kidney
You gain their maximum nutritional benefit
while enjoying them fresh, as many of their nutrients
are destroyed in high heats. Consider replacing
vinegar or lemon juice in recipes and incorporate
cranberries into your salad dressing. They can even
be added to your salads, with their tartness balanced
out by something sweet like mandarins. You could
also use dried cranberries in salads and trail mixes or
add them to hot or cold cereals.
Fish that are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids
(such as salmon, mackerel, rainbow trout, and
herring) are kidney-friendly protein sources. Their
healthy fats help reduce inflammation, lower blood
pressure, decrease bad cholesterol, and increase
good cholesterol. All of these are important factors
not only for improving your heart health but for
improving your kidney health, as well.
Garlic is an excellent way to add great aroma and
flavoring to many dishes. More so, it is a great way
to reduce your sodium intake by avoiding salt and
replacing it with garlic. Just make sure not to use garlic
salt. Since your kidneys are responsible for regulating
a healthy balance of minerals, including sodium,
this kidney-friendly alternative helps relieve some
pressure from your kidneys without compromising
Garlic is a good source of manganese, vitamin B6
and vitamin C. It may moderately reduce your blood
fats and your overall cholesterol levels. Furthermore,
it can help protect against oxidative stress and
inflammation, which are both responsible for causing
damage to your blood vessels. By incorporating garlic
into your diet, you can improve your heart health
and ensure that you are keeping your blood vessels in
top condition. You want them to be able to properly
filter your blood!
Garlic bulbs are available year round in your local
grocery store. You can store garlic uncovered in a
cool, dark place for about a month. Make sure that
when you are selecting bulbs, they are firm and free
from any mold or sprouting. You also want them to be
free from cracks. Avoid bulbs that appear shriveled
and feel soft.
Garlic can be easily added to many dishes—
especially when pureed. Add it to sauces, soups, or
mashed potatoes, or incorporate it into a hummus dip
in combination with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and
lemon juice. You can even sauté it along with steamed
spinach and a drop of lemon juice.
4. Egg Whites
If you are looking for a pure protein source with all
of your essential amino acids, then look no further
than egg whites. They’re a great protein option that is
lower in phosphorus than other good-quality protein
sources such as egg yolks and meats. Remember that
phosphorus is one of those minerals that the kidneys
need to regulate in your blood. If you have kidney
disease, you want to account for food choices that
have higher levels of these minerals to help manage
You can purchase egg whites in a carton or
separate the eggs on your own. Egg whites can be used
in omelets, mixed with veggies, enjoyed on their own,
or incorporated into a sandwich. You can also add
them to shakes or smoothies to increase their protein
If you are using whole eggs, consider hard-boiling
them, removing the yolks, and adding them to your
favorite green salad.
Cabbage is known to help reduce your cholesterol
levels. Upon consuming foods containing fats, your
liver releases bile into the small intestine to help
break down and digest the fats. Cabbage binds the
bile salts, which contain cholesterol, preventing
it from being reabsorbed by the small intestine.
Therefore, the cholesterol is eliminated through
Cabbage is rich in many different types of
antioxidants, including phytonutrients, polyphenols,
and anthocyanins, as well as being a rich source of
vitamin C and manganese. These all help reduce
inflammation and oxidative stress, thus reducing
damage to your blood vessels, and play a protective
role for your kidneys.
Nutrition Plays An Important Role In Brain Shrinkage
Those with diets high in a number of vitamins as well as omega 3 fatty acids are not as likely to get the brain shrinkage linked to Alzheimer’s disease than those whose diets aren’t high in these nutrients. According to the research, elderly people with higher amounts of a number of vitamins as well as omega 3 fatty acids within their blood had much better results on mental acuity tests and also less of the brain shrinkage found in Alzheimer’s disease – whereas “junk food” diets resulted in exactly the opposite.
These omega 3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D are found mainly in fish. The B vitamins as well as antioxidants C and E are found mainly in vegetables and fruit. The research also revealed that those that had diets that were high in trans fats were more prone to have brain shrinkage as well as lower scores with the memory and thinking tests than those that had diets that were low in trans fats. Baked goods, prepackaged food, fast food, fried food and also margarine spreads are the main foods that trans fats are found in.
The research involved 104 individuals with an average age of 87 with very few memory and thinking problem risk factors. Blood tests had been made use of to ascertain the amounts of various nutrients within the blood of each person. Each of the participants also took memory and thinking skill tests. Forty two of the people had MRI scans to determine their brain volume.
On the whole, they had good nutritional status, but 7 % were vitamin B12 deficient and 25 % were vitamin D deficient .
The nutrient levels within the blood accounted for a lot of the variation in both brain volume as well as memory and thinking scores. The levels of nutrients accounted for 17% of the score variations for the memory and thinking tests. Other factors like age, amount of years of education as well as hypertension accounted for 46 % of the variation. The levels of nutrients accounted for 37% of the variation for brain volume. The potential to help stop brain shrinkage just by adjusting diet is exciting.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, create roux by whisking butter and arrowroot starch until it bubbles, about 2 minutes.
Add broth, whisking continuously to thicken for about 10 minutes.
Once the mixture is visibly thicker, add goat milk and continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, allowing to thicken a bit more.
Combine all ingredients except for goat cheese in a casserole dish, mixing thoroughly.
Top with goat cheese and bake for 40 minutes.
I think you’ll find that not only is this chicken and rice casserole recipe super tasty and comforting, it’s also energizing, filling and gentle on your stomach.
The week nights can get very busy, and we often find ourselves rushing to make dinner choices that are quick, easy and inexpensive. When you need to throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot and call it a day, there’s nothing better than slow cooker recipes and casseroles.
Unlike most casserole recipes that are made with refined carbohydrates and other processed ingredients that can be hard on your digestive system, my chicken and rice casserole is made with gluten-free wild rice, chicken thighs, mushrooms, kale and goat cheese. It’s also made with a tasty roux that’s made with arrowroot, one of my go-to gluten-free flours, and goat milk.
The Healthiest Rice Option
When you roam through the rice options at the grocery store, you may be a bit confused about all of the options. There’s white rice, brown rice, black rice, wild rice, jasmine rice — the list goes on. Do you need some help choosing the healthiest rice options for your home cooking? Well, I’ve got you covered.
One of the healthiest rice options out there is wild rice. Did you know that wild rice is actually a grass and not a grain? It’s a semi-aquatic grass that grows naturally in waterways throughout the United States. It’s completely gluten-free and rich in antioxidants.
Wild rice has a nutty flavor and texture, so it really adds depth to a recipe. Plus, you may notice that after eating a meal with wild rice, you feel energized, which is because of the magnesium content.
Aside from the wild rice in my chicken and rice casserole, some other ingredients that make this a healthy and filling dinner option are the goat milk, chicken broth and arrowroot flour that makes up the roux. You get a creamy texture and rich flavor, but this roux is easy on your digestive system.
Plus, the combination of mushrooms, kale, garlic and shallot gives this chicken and rice casserole a boost of vitamins and minerals that will support your immune system and help to reduce inflammation. Who knew a casserole can do so much for your health?
In a medium-size frying pan over medium heat, add coconut or avocado oil.
Add the asparagus to the frying pan and pan fry until for tender, about 8–10 minutes.
In a small pot, bring 2–3 cups of water to a boil.
Once boiling, gently lower the eggs into the water and allow to boil for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs once finished and set them aside for assembly.
Divide the asparagus on two separate plates and add sliced tomato and avocado on top.
Add the eggs and drizzle on the hollandaise.
Top with chives.
Eggs Benedict is one of those items that you’ll always see on a breakfast or brunch menu. It’s a breakfast classic. But, when prepared with the traditional ingredients, it can be hard on your waistline, heart, brain and digestion.
In my eggs Benedict recipe, I use immune-boosting, heart healthy, anti-inflammatory foods like avocado, asparagus and tomato. This low-carb breakfast is also high in healthy fats that are key for maintaining optimal health. So give this eggs Benedict recipe a try — you’ll never go back to the traditional dish again.
5-Minute Blender Hollandaise Sauce Recipe
2 tablespoon grass-fed butter or ghee
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ tablespoon water
In a small sauce pan, melt the butter or ghee over medium-low heat.
Add all the ingredients into a high-powered blender until well combined.
Chicken Scarpariello With Sausage and Peppers Recipe
Looking for a healthier take on the classic sausage and peppers recipe? This chicken scarpariello dish has both chicken breasts and chicken sausages and is overflowing with delicious flavor. Of course, I recommend using organic, free-range chicken products, which I personally think taste better in addition to being healthier options overall.
This chicken scarpariello with sausage recipe takes less than an hour to make and can feed at least six people. It’s a perfect choice if you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing dish that only requires one pot and minimal effort. Before we dive into the how-to’s of this recipe, what is chicken scarpariello exactly?
3 tablespoons avocado oil
4 chicken breasts
3 chicken sausages
2 sweet cherry peppers, halved and de-seeded
1 orange pepper, sliced
1 cup dry white cooking wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot, sliced into rounds
1 cup okra, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sage
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven 350 degrees F.
In a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat, warm avocado oil.
Brown chicken and sausage separately and then remove when braised but not fully cooked.
Reduce to medium heat and add garlic, peppers, mushrooms, shallots, okra, oregano, sage, salt and pepper.
Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.
Add wine and broth to deglaze the pan.
Scrape bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to incorporate the flavors.
Place chicken and sausage on top of the vegetables and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
Are genetically engineered food and lab-grown meat the most sustainably regenerative choices available? Impossible Foods, creator of the meatless bleeding Impossible Burger, made with GMO soy, would like you to think so. After the release of its 2019 Impact Report,5 senior manager of impact strategy, Rebekah Moses, told FoodNavigator-USA:6
“We have done a tremendous amount of diligence and we’re confident that in using GMO soy, we are not taking a step backward in terms of sustainability.
Soy is really high yielding, it’s a good source of protein and it’s more efficient than wheat. You get so much more protein in a given harvest vs the amounts of water, energy and inputs needed to grow it.
Everything is very field-based, but at a high level, there is very little difference if any difference in the environmental impact of conventional vs herbicide tolerant soy and in some cases using herbicide tolerant soy enables you to adopt more sustainable practices such as the ability to reduce tillage, which is a win for the soil.
Similarly, the chemicals you spray to manage pests — that includes insects and weeds — in herbicide tolerant crops are lower toxicity than the alternatives [used to grow conventional soy].”
Impossible Foods takes aim at regenerative farming
Impossible Foods also points out that since meat from cows require about 30 pounds of corn and soy for every pound produced, GMO soy burgers reduce the net use of herbicides.
However, while this is true for livestock raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), it’s absolutely not the case for organic grass fed beef production, as pastured cattle eat grasses and never lay a nose to GMO grains of any kind.
So, while GMO soy burgers may have an environmentally competitive advantage over CAFO beef, it cannot compete with regenerative grazing as far as herbicide usage (or toxicity thereof) is concerned.
Despite such well-established facts, Impossible Foods takes aim directly at regenerative ranching in its report, claiming grass fed cattle ranching generates higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions than cows raised in CAFOs.7,8 What it fails to include is evidence9 showing grass fed ranching actually has net negative emissions after all relevant factors are taken into account.
Is fake food really the answer we’re looking for?
Impossible Foods’ impact report is hard to reconcile with other established data showing GMO soybean and corn farms are a primary source of water10 and air pollution.11 GMO soybeans and corn have also been identified as primary destroyers of grasslands and forests.12,13
Regenerative grazing is also a key activity required for the optimal sequestering of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into our rangelands and pasturelands, while GMO soy production is associated with resistant super weeds14 and super pests and uncontrollable cross contamination.
Impossible Burger also skirts the issue of nutrition by focusing solely on the intake of protein in general, ignoring the fact that grass fed beef contains a complex mix of nutrients (including healthy fats) and cofactors you simply cannot recreate by mixing together an assortment of plant-based components.
GMO soy linked to ecological devastation
To learn more about the ecological impact of soy, check out the Greenpeace documentary “Soy: In the name of progress.” Also take a look at Dan Charles’ 2013 NPR article,15 “Pictures don’t lie: Corn and soybeans are conquering U.S. grasslands.” He writes, in part:
“Grasslands are disappearing … They’re being replaced by fields of corn and soybeans … A study16published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows actual pictures — derived from satellite data — of that changing landscape.
The images show that farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska converted 1.3 million acres of grassland into soybean and corn production between 2006 and 2011.
‘This is kind of the worst-kept secret in the Northern Plains. We just put some numbers on it,’ says Christopher Wright, from South Dakota State University, who got funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to take a close look at this phenomenon …
Wright’s images are striking, and these changes are having profound effects on the environment of this region. For instance, it’s bad news for wildlife, because corn fields are much less inviting habitat for a wide range of wild creatures, from ground-nesting birds to insects, including bees.
Corn and soybean fields are increasingly encroaching into the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas and Minnesota, the most important breeding habitat for waterfowl in North America.
In southern Iowa, Wright says, much of the land conversion is taking place on hillsides. The soil of those fields, without permanent grass to hold it in place, is now much more likely to wash into streams and ponds.”
Modern agriculture largely responsible for death of our oceans
Chemical runoff is indeed among the most significant threats posed by these gigantic monocrop fields. As noted by National Resources Defense Council:17
“Nutrient pollution, caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water or air, is the number-one threat to water quality worldwide and can cause algal blooms, a toxic soup of blue-green algae that can be harmful to people and wildlife.”
Similarly, a June 11, 2019 PBS News Hour article18 warns that “A ‘dead zone’ the size of Massachusetts could hit the Gulf this summer,” based on the latest forecast19 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“If this prediction holds true, this event would be the second largest on the list of Gulf dead zones in more than three decades,” PBS reports, noting this dead zone “would be 50% larger than the average seen in the last five years.”
The reason for the massive increase in algal blooms that kill marine life by sucking up all the oxygen is blamed on heavy rainfall increasing chemical runoff from fertilizer-enriched farmland — in the case of the Gulf, farmland surrounding the Mississippi River. As reported by The Washington Post:20
“Analyses from U.S. Geological Survey monitors in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya watersheds showed that discharge from these rivers was 67 percent greater than the 1980-2018 average. The amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus spilling into the Gulf were 18 percent and 49 percent above average, respectively.”
What’s more, “Even if nitrogen runoff was eliminated today from the Mississippi River, a 2018 study in the journal Science found, it would take at least 30 years for the Gulf dead zone to recover,” The Washington Post notes.21
Savory Institute responds to Impossible Foods’ attack
Impossible Foods specifically mentions the Savory Institute in its report, boldly claiming that Savory’s regenerative grazing theories have been “thoroughly debunked.” In response, the Savory Institute issued a statement saying:22
“This is not the first, nor will it be the last, attempt to discredit Holistic Management as a sleight-of-hand for promoting and profiting off of large scale industrial agriculture …
Claims that our work has been ‘debunked’ disregard not just the millions of acres that have been regenerated globally and the tens of thousands of farmers, ranchers, and pastoralist communities who have stewarded this land transformation and witnessed it firsthand …
[T]hey also overlook the growing body of peer-reviewed evidence documenting that properly-managed livestock can be a net positive for grassland ecosystems,23carbon drawdown,24wildlife habitat,25 and rural communities.26”
Savory also highlights a third-party lifecycle analysis27 (LCA) of a holistic ranch, showing properly grazing livestock “when taking a full accounting of all greenhouse gases in and out of their farming operation,” is a net carbon sink. As noted in the analysis, “Carbon footprint evaluation of regenerative grazing at White Oak Pastures”:28
“Traditional LCAs don’t account for soil carbon sequestration and therefore don’t take into account the full carbon story for regenerative agriculture systems … Soil samples were taken and evaluated to quantify soil carbon sequestration and allow a highly credible inclusion of this information into the LCA …
As there is little information published on this topic and the outcomes challenge much conventional thinking on beef’s carbon footprint, careful consideration should be given to the conclusions and messaging.”
According to this analysis — notably performed by the very same company that conducted Impossible Burger’s LCA — the carbon footprint of beef from White Oak Pastures is 111% lower than conventional CAFO beef, as the “system effectively captures soil carbon, offsetting a majority of the emissions related to beef production.”
Regenerative grazing creates net carbon sink
All things considered, including enteric emissions, manure emissions, soil carbon capture, vegetation carbon, miscellaneous farm activities, slaughter and transport, the total net carbon emissions from the beef production on White Oak Pastures was found to be a negative 3.5 kilos of carbon emissions per kilo of fresh meat, making this integrated, holistic system six times more carbon efficient than the average CAFO production model. Importantly, as noted by Savory:29
“What Impossible Burger seems to have conveniently omitted is that their GMO soy-based product is still a net carbon emitter in comparison to White Oak’s properly-managed livestock that create a net carbon sink.
Could it be that GMO soy-based Impossible Burger feels threatened by the regenerative movement? In a world where current agricultural practices have eroded soils to the point of having less than 60 harvests left (according to the UN FAO30), the solution is not to maximize efficiencies in the broken, extractive, industrial model …
Rather, as environmentally-conscious businesses and individuals, we must address the root cause and adopt land management practices that honor the symbiotic relationships of plants and animals. One cannot exist without the other, so we must reevaluate our preconceived notions and return to farming in nature’s image.”
White Oaks Pastures invites Impossible Foods for a visit
Will Harris, owner of White Oaks Pastures and president of the American Grassfed Association, has taken matters a step further, issuing an open invitation to Impossible Foods’ officials to visit his farm to get a thorough understanding of how regenerative grazing actually works. In a statement, Harris writes:31
“As an independent professional rancher, who has practiced regenerative land management on our family farm for more than 20 years, I can state unequivocally that Impossible Burger’s claims about regenerative grazing are incorrect.
Not only is our business financially successful on a large scale, but we are accumulating data showing that our practices are enhancing the carbon sequestration potential of the soil on the lands we manage.
Today I am publicly inviting Impossible Foods representatives to visit my farm and see for themselves the many social, economic and environmental benefits of regenerative grazing.
I would be grateful to share our recent Life Cycle Assessment that clearly demonstrates that the carbon footprint of our farm results in a positive impact on the environment — a claim that imitation meat companies cannot make.”
Meat replacement companies need to demonstrate superiority
On his website, Harris also highlights some of the other benefits of regenerative farming and why we need it:32
“Land is meant to be a living thing. It contains the natural order of all living things: Life, Growth, Death, Decay, Life, Growth, Death, Decay. The land is our teacher. Looking back to the evolution of our ecosystem informs the way we manage land today.
The energy cycle, carbon cycle, mineral cycle, microbe cycle, water cycle have all co-evolved with plants, microbes, and animals since our planet’s creation. Our passion is to create an environment that allows these cycles to flow freely: microbes feed plants which feed the animals which spread urine and feces to microbes which feeds the plants which feed the animals.”
Just how exactly does cultivating fake meat in an industrial facility improve the ecology of our environment? Again, we’re not just talking about which strategy is the least destructive, we’re talking about which one actually improves the environment the most.
“Talk is cheap” they say, and in the case of Impossible Burger’s claims that certainly rings true. They (and other meat replacement companies) really need to tangibly demonstrate how their system is better, overall, and not just on some minor point, than the regenerative system.
Grazing livestock is integral to ending ecological destruction
In the podcast above, Sustainable Dish interviews Ronnie Cummins, executive director and co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association, about the importance of grass fed livestock farming for climate stability, environmental health, sustainability and regeneration.
As explained in many previous articles, livestock are important components that make farming truly regenerative, as they help build healthy soils. Lab-derived meat substitutes do not actually contribute anything to this healthy ecological cycle.
When animals are raised according to regenerative agriculture, a healthy ecosystem is produced and then more or less effortlessly maintained. So, eating meat is not synonymous with environmental harm; it’s industrial farming practices — CAFOs — that inflict the damage.
Some also believe eating meat means ripping out more forests so animals can graze, but I’m certainly not advocating for that. U.S. cropland is currently dominated by a two-crop planting cycle of corn and soybeans, largely for animal feed. Like CAFOs, these monocrops are devastating the environment, and even though they’re plant foods, they are part of the problem, not the solution.
Getting rid of these large swaths of corn and soy fields — which are laden with chemicals and largely devoid of life — is key, as is reverting them back to what they were before, namely grasslands for grazing animals.
Grasslands are key to fixing many environmental problems, and herbivores are a necessary part of this ecosystem. By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals — meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns — farmers can support nature’s efforts to regenerate and thrive.
Long-term health effects of fake meat are still unknown
Aside from the fact that fake meat production doesn’t have any regenerative capabilities that would benefit the ecosystem, there’s also the issue of health effects. A number of studies have highlighted the risks of ultraprocessed foods, showing they raise your risk of cancer, and the more ultraprocessed foods you eat, the greater your risk.
In one,33,34,35,36 which included 104,980 participants followed for an average of five years, 18.74% of the men’s diet and 18.71% of women’s was ultraprocessed, and each 10% increase in ultraprocessed food raised the cancer rate by 12%, which worked out to nine additional cancer cases per 10,000 people per year.
The risk of breast cancer specifically went up by 11% for every 10% increase in ultraprocessed food. While sugar and unhealthy fats are key staple ingredients suspected of causing these effects, there’s reason to believe fake meat might have a similar impact, for a number of reasons.
For starters, the Impossible Burger meat substitute is the epitome of a highly-processed food — seeing how it’s manufactured from start to finish, and involves the use of man-made ingredients — placing it squarely in the higher-risk category.
Secondly, GMO soy has been shown to have a number of health risks all by itself. Third, the human body is not designed to process fake meat and there’s no telling what the long-term health ramifications might be. Even the liberal U.S. Food and Drug Administration has raised concerns over the soy leghemoglobin in the Impossible Burger being a possible human allergen.37,38,39
Fourth, GMO soy is loaded with glyphosate, the health risks of which are of increasing concern as it’s now being found in most processed foods, including non-GMO foods. Recent testing by Moms Across America (MMA) revealed concerning levels of glyphosate in the Impossible Burger.40
Fake meat isn’t about humanitarianism; it’s about profit
You really need to question the rationale for creating expensive fake meat alternatives when a far less expensive and more reasonable answer is readily available. What’s worse, fake meats may ultimately create more problems than they solve, as laboratory derived meat substitutes are not part of the ecological cycle and health hazards are as yet entirely unknown.
This basic lack of understanding affects safety regulations pertaining to processing and manufacturing as well. Commenting on the open questions pertaining to fake chicken production, Al Almanza, former acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted that we still do not know “what’s normal or abnormal, and thus potentially unsafe, in a cultured-chicken plant.”41
Without this knowledge, food inspectors have no idea what to look for, companies cannot devise and implement proper safety protocols and regulators cannot make regulations to ensure safety. The same applies to fake beef,
In its report “From Lab to Fork: Critical Questions on Laboratory-Created Animal Product Alternatives,”42 released in June 2018, Friends of the Earth calls for more stringent safety assessments, regulations and labeling requirements.
The report highlights a number of health and safety concerns and environmental impacts hidden beneath “climate-friendly” claims. It also points out the lack of substantiation for “clean meat,” “animal-free,” “plant-based” and “sustainable” claims.43
All in all, it seems that, contrary to the PR being churned out, the creation of fake meat products is not about feeding the world or eliminating animal suffering. It’s about dominating billionaires looking to put patents on the food system.
Go grass fed, not lab bred
While many view lab-created meat substitutes as the lesser of two evils when comparing it to the CAFO meat that currently dominates the market, taking nature out of the equation altogether is not the answer, especially since holistic herd management is an integral part of the regenerative agriculture equation.
Ultimately, creating fake food is not the answer to solving the problems associated with conventional meat. For health reasons as well as ecological reasons, I recommend skipping the meat alternatives and opting for real beef raised the right way instead.
When you do shop for meat, go to a local organic farmer or look for Demeter (biodynamic) and American Grassfed Association (AGA) certifications. Both indicate high-quality, sustainable and environmentally sound food.