Eating meat – it’s nothing new. In fact, it’s estimated that we’ve been doing it for more than 2 million years. Through the ages, we’ve come up with endless ways to season it, cook it, and enjoy it, and if you were a child of the 1970s and 1980s when American meat consumption was hitting its peak, you may have grown up eating quite a lot of it.
I’ve always said that eating animals is a personal choice, but I also believe that when it comes to meat-eating, there are ways to be smarter about it. And, the smarter you are, the better for your health.
So, what’s the way forward? Here are my top three meat-eating strategies:
Eat the Happiest, Healthiest Critters Possible
Hankering for some beef, lamb, or bison? Look for meat from grass-fed animals who’ve spent their lives doing what they do best — grazing. In other words, skip the industrial feedlot animals raised on grains and antibiotics. Meats from pasture-raised and grass-fed animals also tend to be higher in beta-carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t have access to pastured or grass-fed meats, then organic would be my next choice. Keep in mind though, that organic meats may still come from animals that have been raised in confinement and fed grains. (For more about why you should learn how your meat was raised and treated, check out my 5 reasons to avoid factory-farmed meats.)
Say ‘No’ to Faux
Some people think they’re being virtuous by replacing real meat with faux meat crumbles, Tofurky ‘roasts,’ veggie bacon, veggie burgers, and more. Bad move. Though the raw materials for these meat substitutes may include vegetables, by the time they make it in the package, they are ultra-processed, lab-made Frankenfoods. Most faux-meat products wind up offering little in the way of nutritional value, but lots in the way of chemical preservatives, fillers and other additives, as well as unhealthy fats. For example, here’s a complete ingredient list for a popular brand of veggie bacon strips:
EGG WHITES, SOYBEAN OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, TEXTURED SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, WHEAT GLUTEN, HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (CORN GLUTEN, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOY), CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF GLYCERIN, SALT, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SODIUM CITRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SUGAR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, TORULA YEAST, CARAMEL COLOR, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVOR, MALIC ACID, GUAR GUM, YEAST EXTRACT, LOCUST BEAN AND GUAR GUM, SODIUM SULFITE, CARRAGEENAN, RED #3, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, NIACINAMIDE, IRON [FERROUS SULFATE], AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, NONFAT DRY MILK, YELLOW #6, VITAMIN B1 [THIAMIN MONONITRATE], VITAMIN B6 [PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE], VITAMIN B2 [RIBOFLAVIN], CITRIC ACID, CYANOCOBALAMIN.
Yikes! My advice: Keep it simple and just say ‘no’ to faux.
Make Room for Veggies
While well-sourced meat is a good way to fill up on protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients like vitamin B and zinc, we still need to leave plenty of room on our plate for disease-fighting plant-based foods such as veggies, nuts, seeds, and possibly some legumes. Instead of thinking of meat as the centerpiece of your meal, why not build around it? Take your traditionally meat-heavy chili and throw in a bunch of veggies. Instead of that humongous steak you were going to have for dinner, slice up a portion to throw on a Southwestern-style salad of Romaine lettuce, avocado, red onion, and pumpkin seeds. Seek out plant-based foods that have a meatier mouth feel, such as beans and even mushrooms like shiitake and enoki. An added bonus of rightsizing your meat consumption? It will be easier on your wallet. Pastured and grass-fed meat are definitely more expensive than factory-farmed meats. However, if you’re making more room for veggies and eating less meat, the cost differential will be slight – and well worth the extra health benefit.