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)
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.
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?