Is meat healthy?

Is meat healthy?

Is meat healthy? I doubt there is a question that stirs quite as much controversy as this one. If you’ve been around these parts for a while then you know I believe in real, traditional food. That means I think saturated fat, cholesterol, and real salt are essential to our diets. And I make no apologies for my diet that is full of butter, raw milk, and lots of eggs.

I will also be the first to tell you that there no single diet that is perfect for everyone. And I mean it. We are all so different. Things like genetics, epigenetics, environment, culture, tastes, gut health, food history, and our bio-diversity make it impossible to say that there is one right way to eat. But there are things we all need to keep our bodies functioning properly: Vitamins, minerals, enzymes, bacteria, carbohydrates, fat, and protein… just for example.

The good news: There is a number of ways we can get these things. This is why people have survived and thrived for thousands of years on a variety of “diets” including meat-heavy and vegetarian diets.

But back to the question at hand…

Is meat healthy?

Here it goes: I eat meat. *phew* So glad to have that off my chest. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend for people to lump us “meat eaters” into one giant category. Anytime I get a comment on this blog about how “us meat eaters” only consume meat for pleasure and that we are destroying the planet, I try to stay calm.

After all, it’s true that most of the meat consumed in America these days is anything but healthy.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

Is meat healthy? It's quite the controversial question. Here's one point of view.CAFOs are one of the saddest aspects of our modern day approach to “food.” Animals in these factory farms are concentrated together within a very confined space. Inside these concentrated operations cows are fed a slurry of corn and soy (which are both most likely GMO). And when the corn supply is low, they are fed candy. (No, seriously.) And because cows aren’t designed to consume this kind of food most of them get sick. In fact, so many get sick that along with their corn, soy, and candy these animals are also fed antibiotics. Mmmmm… sounds nutritious, right?

Broiler chickens spend their 6-7 week lives in windowless sheds, each containing around 40,000 birds. They are selectively bred to grow faster than they would naturally which often causes skeletal problems and lameness. Many die because their hearts and lungs cannot keep up with their rapid growth.

There are about 250 million hens in U.S. egg factories that supply 95% of the eggs in this country. In these facilities the birds are held in battery cages that are very small with slanted wire floors which cause severe discomfort and foot deformation. Between five and eight birds are crammed in cages only 14 square inches in size. Since the birds have no room to act naturally, they become very aggressive and attack the other birds in their cage. To help combat this behavior, the birds have their beaks cut off at a young age.

I could on. Pigs, dairy cows, you name it. There is a terrible story behind each factory farmed animal.

It’s horrible.

Is this meat healthy? No. It’s not good for the planet and it’s definitely not good for you.

Consider these facts about factory farmed meat:

  • The meat from cows fed this unnatural diet is virtually devoid of all Omega-3 fatty acids, and lacking in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is known to fight cancer.
  • Animals in CAFOs are supplemented with extra vitamin E, but their meat is still contained significantly less vitamin E of those raised on pasture.
  • One study indicated that CAFO-raised animals harbor 314 times the amount of E Coli bacteria as animals that are grass-fed.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that CAFOs account for more than 250 million tons of manure every year.
  • In studies of CAFOs, CDC has shown that chemical and infectious compounds from animal waste are able to migrate into nearby soil and water, and the EPA has acknowledged that hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control, pollutants possibly associated with manure-related discharges at CAFOs include antibiotics; pathogens; excess nutrients, such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus; pesticides and hormones; solids, such as feed and feathers; and trace elements, such as arsenic and copper, which can contaminate surface waters and possibly harm human health.

Is this meat healthy? I don’t think it takes a scientist to see how obviously NOT-healthy it is. And yet, most Americans are so far removed from the process of how we get our meat that we don’t realize the inhumane and unhealthy practices that are happening. Instead, we feel blessed to live in a day where we can get “cheap” meat. But when you think about the real costs, I’m not sure we can afford to keep this up for much longer.

Health benefits of grass-fed meat

Now let’s look at grass-fed meat. Keep in mind that not all “grass-fed” meat is created equal (just like “free range” doesn’t mean a whole lot). Whenever possible, I buy from my local farmer. Why? Because I can go and see for myself their practices. I can see that the animals are treated humanely, that they have enough land, that the farm is using sustainable practices. I know what my food was fed. I know it’s part of a more synergistic ecosystem that allows the surrounding environment to flourish instead of die.

So from a purely environmental and humane perspective, local grass-fed meat is what my family chooses to buy. But beyond those reasons, grass-fed meat has a lot of health benefits:

Grass-fed meat is healthy.

Compared to CAFO meat, grass-fed meat is:

  • Higher in antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin E
  • Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  • Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  • Higher in total omega-3 fatty acids
  • A healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (1.65 in grass-fed beef versus 4.84 in grain fed)
  • Higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potential cancer fighter
  • Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  • Meat also provides our body with essential saturated fats (yes, essential).

To top this list off: I’m not worried about growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, pesticides, or bad bacteria.

So yes, grass-fed meat is healthy.

Personal beliefs about eating meat

For many people, meat is an essential part of a healthy diet. Most conscientious meat eaters that I know also have a diet rich in plant foods. After my own experimentation of a vegetarian diet, I found that I needed to add meat back in for health reasons. (And please don’t tell me it’s because I wasn’t doing the whole vegetarian thing “right.”) I’m not saying that everyone needs to eat meat, but I wasn’t surprised to find countless stories like mine online.

Even though I am a meat eater, my family chooses to eat meat sparingly for a number of reasons. Primarily, I believe I can get most of what I need from fruits, veggies, properly prepared grains, pastured eggs, cultured foods, and raw dairy products. We probably eat about 1 – 3 servings of meat a week (less in the spring/summer… more in the winter/fall).

I have a tremendous respect and appreciation for the sacrifice that all animal products represent, and this is why I am so picky about what animal products I will buy. It’s not just a matter of health, it’s about revering life.

Use it wisely.

In my transition from a SAD to real foods diet, the biggest “ah-ha” moment for me was realizing how wasteful I had been about the meat I had previously been eating. Factory farmed meat is designed to give American’s what they want: juicy breasts, thick slabs of steak, boneless, skinless, and all of it packaged and ready to go. What about the rest?

When our ancestors consumed an animal, they used every last bit. Bones for stocks. Organs as nutrient-dense powerhouses. Blood, flesh, and skin. In fact, the actual “meat” was the least prized part of the animal. Some people find these parts unappealing, but I see it as taking responsibility for our place in the food chain. If animals are to be used, nothing should go to waste (especially when those parts are so healthy)!

So yes, I eat meat.

And yes, I think meat is healthy… or at least it can be. If raised unwisely, however, meat can also be very unhealthy. If we are to reclaim our health and our planet, we need to take an active role in our relationship with our food. We need to stop pretending not to see what’s going on. We need get back to basics.

What do you think? Is meat healthy? Do you eat meat? Why or why not?




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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie


    1. Jaime

      Kathleen, just curious… Would you eat meat if it came from a happy farm as stated in the article above? Where cows are free range, eat grass and have a happy life?

      1. Kathleen

        I honestly don’t know if I could eat meat raised humanely. In theory, yes, but I think it would be difficult to do after not eating meat for so long. Something to ponder…

        1. Post author

          I totally hear you, Kathleen. And while I know not everyone will agree with me, I do think it’s possible to be very healthy on a vegetarian diet (done wisely, of course… but that’s true of any diet.) We each need to find what is best for us.

    2. Post author

      That’s great, Kathleen. I totally respect that decision and wish more people were aware of the problem and did something about it. As I mentioned, we choose only to buy humanely raised animal products for the very same reason.

  1. Kate

    I’ve been a vegetarian for a number of years. I actually don’t like the taste or texture of meat so when I moved out of my parents home (and was in control of my own food) I just stopped eating it. Afterwards I learned about some of the terrible stuff that goes on in the meat industry, and I’m glad I made the choice I did. I should add I don’t have any problem with people who choose to consume meat responsibly.

  2. RJ

    I eat meat. I buy half a cow, two pigs, and about thirty chickens each year. All from local, happy, healthy, and humane farms. I like meat and I think it is an important part of my family’s diet. I grew up on factory stuff though. I tried doing vegetarian for awhile and my body simply was not happy.

    1. Post author

      Awesome, RJ. My husband and I can’t wait until we have our own chickens… but since we live in a condo right now it’s just not feasible. But someday. Someday. :)

    2. Rebecca

      RJ — I started doing what you are doing, this year!! I got my first cow, and I know the farm it is from — I get my raw milk there. It is a Jersey farm (healthier milk) and I know the owners, I see the cows, I even play with the babies!! They are free to roam, eat a healthy grassfed diet and during the winter are fed hay that is grown on the farm. No GMOs, no corn, etc. It is reasonably priced, etc.

      My body thrives on animal protein, but we have to be responsible when we eat meat. I travel for work and I admit that when I eat out, I will get meat-based protein that is probably not healthy for me. It is unfortunate, but I just feel sick if I eat all carbs or get protein from plant-based sources. I still can’t drink any milk except storebought cow milk… so I don’t mind drinking almond or coconut milk if it is available. Thankfully I travel only about once a month or once every two months.

      I also am going to be making beef stock with my marrow bones, and I made beef tallow with my suet! IT was so cool, although it stunk up my house totally. Now, I can cook with a healthy animal-based oil to give more flavor to my meals. :)

      I also LOVE animals. It makes me sick to think of the cruelty that they experience at the hands of humans. I am a big part of animal rescue and many folks that work with me are vegan or vegetarian. (Many of them are sickly as well, which makes me think they are requiring animal proteins like me).

      I eat meat 3-4x per week. I use dairy and eggs other days. But even my eggs are from my neighbor, and I have to tell you they are happy hens, oh boy they are spoiled! Like pets! And I have petted (although cows don’t necessarily like to be pet like dogs do, hah!) the cows that supply me my raw milk. They are busy chewing their cud as they are being milked, and it pleases me to be able to at least do as much as I am doing, and that my siblings and friends are starting to go in the same direction. Little by little we can education the masses.

  3. Raia

    Good post, Robin. Our “modern” meat industry is so disgusting. Living in Montana, pretty much all of the meat we eat is wild game. I love it. If we eat beef, it comes from a local rancher. It’s amazing the quality and taste difference between wild/local meat and the processed and packaged stuff in the store. If the processed stuff was all that was available, I wouldn’t be surprised if going vegetarian was just as/if not more healthy.

  4. 'Becca

    Thanks for this very balanced post. It’s beginning to seem very obvious to me that different people thrive on different diets, and there certainly is a difference between factory farming and GOOD farming of meat.

    I am mostly vegetarian–fish about 3 times a month, other meats less often, fish oil supplement daily. I feel it’s simpler and more frugal to avoid all meat than to buy the healthy meat that’s more expensive and harder to find. But the health benefits of fish are too big to ignore, especially since I have reduced migraines by taking fish oil (and plant omega-3 didn’t do it), so I seek out the healthy fish.

    It would be harder to be vegetarian if I really liked meat, but for the most part I don’t. I also don’t like the sanitary precautions that are necessary for storing and cooking with raw meat; it’s more convenient to avoid all that hassle.

    Once in a while I feel a craving for turkey or steak, and at that point I go to a restaurant that I trust and get a sandwich. Just one makes me feel a lot better. There is something in those meats that my body needs sometimes–but that doesn’t mean I need to eat them every day or every week, just once in a while.

    1. Post author

      I love how you listen to your body, Becca. I really think that’s the most important aspect of health because we are so different and our own needs change, too. Awesome.

  5. Mindy

    Awesome post! I just found your website and love everything about it! My family eats very similarly, and we follow the Weston A Price philosophies. However, meat is something I’m still stumped on. I used to be vegan, but quit after developing thyroid problems (too much tofu!). Now we eat meat, but I feel like its too much. I need a balance. We too believe, for religious reasons, that you should eat meat sparingly. My question is, the days that you don’t eat meat, what do you eat? I would love any help i could get!

    1. Post author

      Great question, Mindy! We do eggs quite a bit (it’s our “go to” morning breakfast). We enjoy beans in lots of things, quiona bites, vegetable soups, vegetable pizza on sprouted crust, veggie stir fry… Lots of things. I will try to post more meatless recipes on the blog to help. :)

  6. Jen

    Great post. We eat meat Although I could probably live without it for several days, my hubs who was raised in the Philippines can’t live without his pork, beef, or seafood. He tolerates my chicken meals. :) We only buy local meat from responsible farmers and steer clear of anything fed soy. We are fortunate enough to have farmers local who do this. We had to beg, but they finally came through for all of us who asked (regarding removal of soy feed). Bone broth is something I couldn’t go without. I have some of it almost everyday. Even in veggie soups I think I would be using some form of bone broth.

    1. Post author

      That’s so cool that your farmers came through for you! I feel really fortunate to have local farmers who also feed their animals well.

      We also consume A LOT of broth. Love soup season.

  7. Jenny

    Really liked this article. Grow most of my own meat and have a butcher that pasture raises what I can’t. Would love to be soy free but am in the “working on it” stage. My awesome father in law grew us heritage corn this year but with our drought then cool wet fall I’m just saying daily prayers that it dries in the field. No I can’t pasture year round in northern indiana and this year hay went to 6 to $9 a bale for grass and 9 to 15 for alfalfa. No one I know can afford that. Now I’m working on the rest of the components for gmo free healthy supplemental feed for my animals. We eat meat but can make one pound last for at least three meals. When my kids were home that was harder to do. I also agree that if all I had was conventional meat, eggs and dairy I would b a vegetarian 100%. Just reading articles like this and talking, hopefully will make some stop and think about what they are putting in their mouths. Thanks again.

    1. Post author

      Thanks, Jenny. I totally understand the “working on it” stage. I think it’s a great philosophy for approaching health in general. It can get so overwhelming. Like I always say: Progress not perfection. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Lori D.

    I was raised off the land. When I say “off the land”, my parents had a small farm and every summer a huge garden, which provided us alot of our food. My father and brothers also hunted and fished for our “meat” and with a huge chest freezer and pressure cooker, there really was little my parents had to buy from the store. I live in the city now and a small farm is no longer possible. My husband and I are appalled at the inhumane treatment of cows, turkeys, and chickens. We are not vegetarians, we do not eat red meat or pork at all, and we only eat pasture raised poultry from a local source, or fish 2-3 days per week.

    1. Post author

      Oh, Lori… you are describing my dream. I hope someday to “live off the land” in the same way. :)

  9. Barb @ A Life in Balance

    Thank you for sharing this at Motivation Monday!

    I struggle with buying conventional meat at the store, knowing what I know about how the animals are raised. On the other hand, I struggle with the logistics of getting locally-raised meat that my dh will be happy with. It’s definitely something that we’re working on.

    1. Post author

      I hear you, Barb. It can be tricky if you don’t have a reliable source nearby… or if funds make it hard. I think the important thing is to raise awareness and for all of us to do what we can to be smarter about the choices we make. :)

  10. Post author

    Thanks, Anne! Sounds like you are making some great efforts love it. Just looked over your blog. Love it! (That ecard on the homepage was especially awesome.) :)

  11. Adria

    Thank you for this! I just (like, 2 months ago) began eating meat after 19 years of vegetarianism. I was only 13 when I quit eating meat, so I have never eaten it as an adult (I am sure this well-intentioned yet faulty diet caused long-term issues, particularly the excessive soy intake). I am starting VERY slowly, and ONLY eating local and grass fed. I noticed an improvement in my health very quickly: particularly no longer being constantly tired and a significant decrease in sugar cravings. Yes, I did vegetarianism “the right way”, very few processed foods, balanced diet, etc. but it is inherently lacking and I feel good about my choice! My husband eats meat and we have kept our daughter vegetarian for the first 4 years of her life but we are now introducing meat to her diet as well, hopefully before any long term deficiencies develop.

  12. cindy

    Meat is a tricky deal I only watched Food Inc two months ago, I have been eating Factory farmed Meat one or two times a day my whole life there is nothing I love more than some yummy meat, so I have been torn what to do as my husband is out of work and we cannot afford the grass fed varieties I am trying to take down my families meat consumption by finding soy free meat free meals but It is hard for me and the Hubs doesn’t like it. Eventually we will grow our own chickens and buy our beef by the grass feed cow but it is not possible right now. Baby steps for this family.

    1. Post author

      Love it. Baby steps are the way to go. We are definitely far from perfect, but the baby step approach has got us further than I ever imagined. :)

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  17. Teresa

    This was a great article that I believe sums up exactly how I feel about eating meat. We eat good meat sparingly and I also have become more appreciative of our animals and use everything we definitely don’t eat a lot of steak at our house but make 1 chicken last 5 to 6 meals plus the broth. I use more ground beef than any other part of a cow but can use that sparingly as well. We have laying hens and usually have several meals, lunch or dinner made from eggs. I have become creative in meal planning but absolutely love our way of eating now. I recently became ch leader for weston price in my area so am excited about meeting others interested in this. Really like your site and considering the toxic free book.

  18. Linda

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I always thought mammals cannot create Omega 3’s in their bodies. I even found this on wikipedia:”Though mammals cannot synthesize omega−3 fatty acids, they have a limited ability to form the long-chain omega−3 fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20 carbons and 5 double bonds), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22 carbons and 6 double bonds) and α-linolenic acid (ALA, 18 carbons and 3 double bonds).”

    Though I have to say I don’t really know the difference between omega 3 fatty acids and long-chain omega 3 fatty acids.

    I was always led to believe Omega 3’s can only be found in fish and plants. Is it because it is grass-fed meat?

    Can someone explain?

    1. Post author

      Hi Linda,

      From what I understand, animal products CAN have omega-3 when they are eating plants. Grass is full of good stuff, we just can’t digest it… that’s why it’s best if cows who are designed to digest it do… and then we benefit when we consume those healthy cows.

  19. Tiffany S

    So, what is your explanation for how as humans meat gets stuck in our colon, regardless of how it was raised. Meat will never be a part of our diet for this reason. Every illness/disease out there stems from humans consuming animal products. They are too acidic on our bodies. That’s great you consume only in moderation so your colon may only get clogged moderately. But toxins and waste are still being reabsorbed through your colon walls when you choose to eat animal products.

    1. Post author

      Care to share any information to support this? My research has shown that meat is one of the easiest things for our body to digest and it really healthy for gut healing.

  20. Monika

    I can’t decide how I feel about consuming meat. I’ve been hearing much about the benefits of eating grass-fed organic local beef and I do believe there is something to it. But I have also heard of the China Study which showed that meat eaters had higher rates of cancer (although I’m sure these people were most likely eating conventionally produced meats and thus full of bad stuff). I also recently read Servan-Schreiber’s “Anticancer: A New Way of Life.” In this book he discusses how animal protein makes the body acidic and this results in inflammation and thus disease. Have you read this book? And if so, what are your thoughts about it? It would be so interesting to see some of the studies he discusses be done with organic grass-fed meats compared to conventional meats to see if there is a difference. I’m now of the mindset that our diet needs to be diverse and everything in moderation so you get all your nutrients from many sources and not concentrate anything that may not be so good for you. So, I’ll probably continue to eat animal products, but only once in a while and when I do, it will be quality grass-fed and organic meat so that I get the beneficial nutrients from it.

    1. Post author

      I personally am not a huge fan of the China Study. I think Campbell has good intentions to get people to eat more real food… unfortunately he doesn’t do a very good job of realizing that plants are NOT the only real food out there. His “science” is also not stellar and makes the cardinal mistake: Correlation does NOT equal causation. He left out data from one part of China that DOES eat lots of animal products and still has stellar health. He makes no difference between raw milk (which has enzymes to help your body use the casein protein) and pasteurized milk, etc. If you want to learn more about what I’m talking about read this article:

      As for the other book, I haven’t read it. In reality, if you do have cancer a plant-based diet can be VERY good. It helps detox the body, which is something we all need. Unfortunately, if you look at cultures that have survived throughout history you will not find a single naturally occurring vegan society. And that’s because I think that animal products (whether by eating meat, or doing a vegetarian diet that only consumes eggs and milk) provide the body with the necessary cholesterol and saturated fat and other important nutrients so critical for reproductive and aging health. So while I DO think plant-based diets can be great for short term boosts, I personally don’t think they are very long lasting.

      With all that said, there have been highly healthy vegetarian cultures that don’t eat “meat.” Listen to you body, do what makes sense to you, and remember: Balance in all things. 😉

      1. Monika

        Thanks for replying! I haven’t read the China Study and don’t know enough about it and that’s why I was curious about your thoughts. I recently found some raw milk in my area and I’m loving it! I’m really amazed that it does not bother me :-).

        I just saw an interesting article in the New York Times today (I’ve only read the article and have not looked at the actual study and the study sample size is very small) about a possible explanation for the link between heart disease and red meat consumption. The gist of it is that meat eaters have a gut bacteria that produces a chemical, TMAO, when meat is consumed. These higher levels of TMAO are correlated to heart disease. This TMAO burst was not found in vegans that ate the meat (presumably because they did not have this strain of bacteria). Anyway, just thought it was interesting and wanted to share. What I found rather amusing is the answer the medical establishment comes up with for reducing the TMAO burst. Antibiotics to kill off the gut bacteria. Crazy! Rather than focusing on getting good bacteria into the gut with diet and foods (especially fermented foods) and probiotics, let’s just wipe out all the bacteria in your gut. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But I guess, unfortunately, it’s about treatment and not prevention when it comes to our medical system.

        Thanks for your blog! Love reading it. I’m excited to make my own toothpaste based on the recipe you posted today!

          1. Sara

            Thank you for your facebook site with all the great information and for distinguishing between factory farms and local farms. My husband is a butcher who works on at Thatcher Farms in Rockwood, Ontario. As you shared, the animals are hormone, antibiotic free, and are well cared for. The store/butcher shop/bakery is right on the farm. There are lambs, pigs and cows. It is awesome! The owners, Dana and Adam really care about what they’re doing. It is possible to get quality food.

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  27. Amy

    My husband is a hunter, and I will be going with him for the first time this year. I have helped him butcher but I have never actually hunted myself. Sometimes we get ridiculed for “harming animals”. I feel really good about the meat that hunting provides us. I think that obviously people don’t know about the meat they are buying at he grocery store. I have respect for vegetarians and vegans. I don’t have as much respect for the people who are unknowingly buying factory farm meat and have ill feelings towards hunting. It really brings you to a place where you understand the sacrifice that these animals make and they aren’t “raised” they are just living a normal life in nature. Which of course includes eating grass and avoiding antibiotics, also contrary to popular belief it’s good for the environment. We try for the most part to avoid store bought meats. I can’t afford the high quality meats. So killings high quality animals in nature seems like a really great compromise.

    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      It’s amazing how my ideas of hunting have changed so drastically overtime. I mean, sure, if you don’t believe in eating/harming animals at all that’s one thing… but to think it’s somehow more barbaric than buying meat at the grocery store from animals that have been so mistreated their whole lives… it really makes you look at things differently. We don’t have many hunters in my family, but I think it’s a much more humane way to eat animals.

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