The Maasai Paradox- High Fatty Meat and Milk consumption, But, No Signs of Cholesterol

by Joshua Arimi on March 8, 2011

Maasai paradox

This is the second part of the Maasai paradox. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.

Miraculous herbs

After walking a round trip looking for food, the Maasai people usually enjoy it in style. They spice it up either by adding herbs, leaves, barks or roots of certain plants to their soup, meat or milk. These additives act as flavouring, stimulant and sometimes as medicine. These plant materials contain chemicals that are thought to play a significant role against heart diseases. Among the many herbs added by the Maasai to their foods include bark of magic gwarra, locally known as olkinyei, branches of Jacket Plum (oldimigomi), root and bark of East Africa green heart (Olsokonoi), and thorn mimosa (Olkiloriti).

A comprehensive study by Mc Gill University, Canada, examined 19 plant food additives used by the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania in relation to their possible role in lowering cholesterol. The findings were startling, a very big percentage, 82% of the Maasai food additives screened were found to contain potential chemicals that lower cholesterol, including polyphenols, phytosteroids, water soluble dietary fibres, antioxidants, flavanoids and saponins. Based on the strength of the known biological activities of the identified chemicals, it is very possible they play a full-size role in lowering rate of coronary heart diseases among the Maasai.

High fat/low carbohydrate versus High fat/high carbohydrate diet

Due to the low level of farming activities and income, the rural Maasai eat low amounts of carbohydrates, especially the processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white maize meal, cakes, breads, etc. If at all they eat them, these carbohydrates are boiled and not fried. This translates to a diet high in milk and meat fat with small amount of processed energy giving foods (carbohydrates).

Low carbohydrate diet may not attract the attention of the reader quiet easily, but when compared with the diet of urbanites including urban Maasai, it abruptly dawns that this is a decisive factor. Urban Maasai and other urbanites show comparable signs of cholesterol and heart disease with westerners who consume equally high amounts of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, cakes, rice and high fat foods such as fried foods, meat and cheese. This is simply because urban Maasai and other urbanites eat high processed carbohydrates and high fat foods.

The diet of developing countries’ urbanites is composed highly of processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white maize meal, potatoes, bread and other white wheat flour products. Most of these processed carbohydrates are ether baked or fried making them dreadfully high in fat. If not fried, they are consumed with stew made up of fried vegetables or fried meat. The frying fats are mostly, the so called bad fats, consisting of saturated and Trans fats. These bad fats are commonly used for frying because they are miles much cheaper and can be reused several times compared to the healthy alternatives which are unsaturated oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil.

Is there a possibility of enjoying the tasty fried food without worrying about heart diseases?

The fact that the Maasai and the French can enjoy their high fatty foods and show absence of heart diseases, it is also very possible for urbanites in developing countries.

The bad saturated fats are found in foods like butter, hard margarine, lard, cream, cheese, fatty meat, cakes, biscuits and chocolates. Checking the food labels on processed and ready-made meals can easily reveal the amount of the unwelcome saturated fats. The word hydrogenated fat on the label of any food means that food contains trans-fats. Avoid these foods like plague.

Since not any average Kamau, Otieno or Ema can walk 19 kilometers to burn the same calories as a Maasai warrior, then it is wise to go to the gym and/or lower the amount of calories consumed. Cut down the amount of processed energy giving foods such as white rice, chips, white maize meal products, wheat flour products (cakes, breads, doughnuts etc), sugar, beer and soft drinks. Replace the processed white flour products with visually unattractive but healthy alternatives such as wholegrain/meal products, brown alternatives such as brown bread, cooking ugali with traditionally ground maize flour which neither the germ nor bran are removed during processing and eating brown rice. In the place of soft drinks and other sugary drinks, water or real fruit are health substitutes.

With the deforestation, modern farming and advancement of towns, most herbs and medicinal plants have been either got rid of or nobody knows them anymore. Even if these plants can be found, they are pessimistically viewed as outdated, archaic or primitive. Good substitutes to them are vegetables and fruits rich in good boys; the polyphenols and antioxidants. Some of the fruits and vegetables recognised for their benefits of lowering cholesterol or providing the so called good cholesterol are whole grains and oats, blue berries, walnuts, almonds, avocado, olives and olive oil, soy products, fish and fish oil and yoghurt with live bacteria (probiotics)-no wonder fermented milk is good for Maasai.

Nowadays, there are products which have been fortified with cholesterol lowering plant sterols and stanols. These products include some yoghurts and spreads. The fortified products are a good bet, since they provide the recommended quantities over small amount which otherwise would require consumption of large amount of foods rich in these compounds.

To paint a clear picture, in 1982, Sir Richard Doll in his Harvean Oration, a yearly lecture held at the Royal College of Physicians of London, made a simple declaration that is worthy memorising, “if the objective is to avoid cancer, heart diseases, blood pressure, diabetes, the type of diet that is least likely to cause these diseases is one that provides a high proportion of calories in whole grain cereals, vegetables and fruits: provides most of its animal protein in fish poultry; limits the intake of fats and, if oils are to be used, gives preference to liquid vegetable oils; includes very little dairy products, eggs and refined sugar; and is sufficiently restricted in amount not to cause obesity.’’

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