It seems like every few months when we turn on the news, we are hearing about another meat recall. E coli contamination is an often-used reason and not surprising considering the USDA has reported that 60 percent of the largest meat plants in the US have failed to meet federal food safety regulations for preventing E. coli bacteria in their products. With 73,000 infections and 61 deaths each year, according to the CDC, E. coli is a definite concern, but it is regrettably not the only one for meat eaters.
Eating meat has been linked to a variety of diseases including diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, and I cannot say I am surprised considering meats have been found to be loaded with dangerous contaminates, hormones, herbicides, pesticides, and even antibiotics. All are added in the name of making meat safe for human consumption.
There are several that advocate a diet without meat and point out that humans simply weren’t meant to eat meat. Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of the books Living Healthy and Fit for Life, argue that people are not physiologically adapted to consume animals and that is why we are so prone to cancers and other types of degenerative meats. Others like Dr. T. Colin Campbell of The China Study suggest that we are exposed to small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals on a daily basis, but that cancer doesn’t occur unless we consume foods (like meat) that promote and nurture tumor development. Thus, we intake high amounts of animal protein, in excess of what we need, promoting cancer growth.
These arguments and others, like the one against processed meat consumption (i.e., over 7,000 studies prove that eating these meats isn’t healthy for anyone), do make sense. However, a meat-free diet isn’t realistic for many of us and I’m not advocating one here by any means. Lean, clean, and unprocessed meats play an important role in our health. These types of meats provide essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals and are supported by various research studies including the U.N.’s FAO and Stanford University, which found in one report that “Animal source foods … play an important role in ensuring optimal health and function, and their consumption is particularly important for women of reproductive age, fetuses, and young children.”
What I am suggesting though is a diet where we become more conscious about the selection, preparation, and eating of certain meats, and yes, eating the appropriate servings of meat as well.
To do so, we need to do our homework. How many times have you heard that before, right? Well, it holds true in this and any number of other situations. An informed consumer is a healthy consumer. You need to learn more about the quality and health of the meats you are eating. Granted, this isn’t always easy depending on where you buy your meat. Packaging isn’t always clear and finding out where your meat comes from can be as challenging as winning the lottery! Yet, with the stakes – your health – so high, digging deeper for the answers you need is necessary.
What do you need to find out? Start by asking a couple of questions such as:
1. How was this meat raised? A large percentage of US meat is raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). Unfortunately, CAFOs are known for utilizing various pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals in the raising of livestock. Furthermore, the methods to raise the animals are often cited as less than humane. Finding meat that was raised organically is definitely the better option.
2. How were the animals fed? This refers to grass-fed versus grain fed. An animal fed with grain generally struggles with higher levels of acidity in its stomach. That’s significant for us because E. coli bacteria is known to survive and thrive in such an environment. Grass-fed is a better alternative when available.
Again, finding this information out, particularly if you shop at a large supermarket chain may be difficult, which raises the point that you may want to consider buying organic meat, and if that’s not possible, shopping locally from area farms and farmer’s markets. I’ll guarantee you they can tell you exactly where the meat they are providing you with comes from!
Finally, once you’ve purchased the meat, you have one last important step to undertake and that’s preparing it. How you cook the meat is just as important as where it comes from. For instance, blackening or charring meat releases high levels of Heterocyclic Amines (HCA), which have been linked to cancer. Additionally, cooking meats over high temperatures can form Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) which cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, increasing your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
The appropriate amount of animal protein in your diet can prove beneficial provided it comes from a healthy, disease-free source and is cooked properly. While I think many of us have reached the point where we tune out the announcements of yet another study linking some food item to this cancer or that disease, we cannot ignore them. Instead, we need to become more informed to make the best decisions possible about our health. One great place to start, if you are a meat eater, is here.