There is controversy in the nutrition world when it comes to meat consumption. Epidemiological studies in the past have found correlations between red and processed meat consumption and the heightened risk for certain cancers, heart disease and high cholesterol. Other studies have failed to find an association and it must be emphasized that correlation does not imply causation There are many outside factors that can influence even the most well-designed research study and the media is quick to put out health recommendations without ample scientific support. Without going into too much detail about the different types of research studies, I can confidently say that there is not enough evidence to prove that all meat is bad for us, even red meat. The real culprit is more likely conventionally raised meats and eggs, meats cooked at high temps, and high-fat processed meats like hot dogs or store-bought sausage and non-organic, nitrate containing bacon.
In the context of a healthy plant-based diet, it’s my opinion that meat can be safely and healthfully consumed by most individuals. In fact, I would argue that certain nutrients found in animal flesh are more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain through plant sources alone. Some of these nutrients include zinc, iron, creatine, vitamin D3 (from fish), carnosine, and vitamin B12.
Despite the likely positive role of meat in our health, the average American tends to consume more meat than needed. We also tend to be lacking in fish intake, which is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids an essential nutrient to our health. The overabundance of calories consumed from meat also tends to “crowd” out other nutrient dense options we should include from vegetables and fruits. Additionally, meat is expensive and it’s rare to find a carnivore who consumes only the highest quality meats, fish and poultry on the market. Increased consumption of conventional and processed meats, raised on large farms that mainly depend on grains, soy and corn to “fatten” their animals up contain unhealthy fats which can indeed increase our risk of chronic disease over time.
So what’s an omnivore to do? We want to keep meat in the diet, but don’t want to over do it. Here are a few tips for a healthy omnivore…
Tips for the Healthy Omnivore
- Limit your portions of animal products to 3-5 oz per meal. This is approximately the size of your palm (without your fingers). Most restaurants serve twice this amount at a meal, if not more.
- Choose organic grass-fed beef or bison, pastured cage-free poultry and eggs, wild fish or other game animals whenever possible. You are what you eat and so are the animals you consume. Choose wisely.
- When eating out and you don’t know the source of your meat, opt for lower-fat options like chicken breast or sirloin tip or top round. Toxins accumulate in the fat of animals (including humans) so we want to reduce our exposure of animal fats from unknown sources that could be contaminated with herbicides, pesticides and other man-made chemicals.
- Source your meat from the local farmers market. Talking directly with the suppliers at the markets are a great way to learn more about your food and what the animals were fed. Bonus, you get some sunshine while you are at it! Here in Hawaii, there are many farmer’s markets to check out.
- Make meat a side dish instead of a main dish. In traditional cultures, meat is considered a luxury food and was eaten in small amounts to add flavor to dishes plentiful in mostly grains, legumes and veggies. If you focus on filling half your plate with vegetables and some fruits, the meat will have less room and will ideally take up only 1/4 of your plate.
- Go Meatless on Mondays! Meat can be nourishing, but consider being a vegetarian one day/week. If everyone in the world did this, it would save a tremendous amount of money on natural resources and might also inspire you to find some new and creative recipes. You just might be surprised at how full you will feel after eating a vegetarian meal.
Do you have any other questions about health? Connect with me today or visit me at a class this month to learn more!