I am sure you have heard it for decades: red meat causes heart disease and increases mortality because it contains saturated fat. This is a fallacy created by poor research, incorrect reporting and media fear-mongering. Many have paid a dear price in their health as a result. Animal protein, including red meat is essential for optimum health. As a species, humans have eaten animal proteins for millions of years. How could red meat have become so deadly in the last 50 years?
Over the past few decades, animal protein in general and red meat in particular have been increasingly blamed for everything from heart disease to cancer and certain early death. Newspapers and magazines incessantly post headlines about the negative health ramifications of eating meat, fueling consumer fears. These front page claims could not be further from the truth. Book after book is quoted telling the public about how eating animal flesh causes disease, verifying fears. Eating animal protein is portrayed as unhealthy, even toxic.
Muscle meats are, in fact, one of the most nutritious foods (after organ meats) based upon our biological needs. Vegetables come in after muscle meat although this does refer to food groups as a whole. Some plant foods (including kale and blueberries) are as nutrient dense as muscle meats. This emphasizes the importance of eating a variety of both animal proteins and plants to maintain optimal nutrition.
Well sourced animal protein is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. To qualify, red meat needs to be grass fed (or pastured) and grass finished and organic to confer the most nutrition to the animal. All of Chef Pete’s meals use carefully selected, humanely treated protein sources. Cows, bison, lamb and other ruminants that eat only grass (their natural diet) and chickens and hogs allowed to rummage and scavenge for their nutritional needs (as they evolved to do), produce meat that is much more nutritious. Most people eat meat that is only fed grains, at best, and GMO corn and soy at worst. This has an effect on the fatty acid profile present in the muscle.
Red meat is one of the most abundant dietary sources of vitamins D and B12, iron and zinc, along with many other essential nutrients. To prevent deficiencies in these nutrients, red meat should be eaten at least once a week, although eating it two to three times a week is ideal and most beneficial.
In northern climates, studies show that a large portion of the population is vitamin D deficient, going up in the winter months. If oily fish consumption is less than 2 to 3 servings per week, red meat can support meeting your vitamin D requirements. In climates where adequate vitamin D cannot be obtained from the sun, meat has been shown to be protective against rickets, a softening of the bones caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. The type of vitamin D in red meat (25-hydroxycholecalciferol) is assimilated much easier than other forms of vitamin D. Milk consumption with the same levels of vitamin D does not provide the same protection.
Meat contains primarily heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in foods such as dark leafy greens, but little is absorbed because the phytates in these foods bind to it and prevent absorption. Small amounts of meat can aid in the absorption of this plant based iron.
Iron is crucial for the growth and development of the fetal brain making meat consumption even more important for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive
Due to its ease of absorption; those struggling with iron-deficiency anemia do well when replenishing iron from animal sources as the ionic forms found in most supplements are not well-absorbed. Whole food sources are always better options than supplementation. Synthetic iron supplements can also build up to toxic levels in the liver and cause constipation.
Animal protein is a rich source of vitamin B12 which is vital to the functioning of many systems in your body. B12 deficiencies can play a role in everything from aging to cancer, heart disease, and infertility. The main function of B12 is to support the nervous system while maintaining healthy brain chemistry and synthesizing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These govern mood, energy, sleep, appetite, drive, motivation, movement, cognition and numerous other brain functions.
Even though it is present in abundance, B12 can be challenging to absorb from red meat if your digestion is compromised. Taking digestive enzymes and/or supplemental hydrochloric acid (HCL) with pepsin may be needed as adequate stomach acid is essential for health to break down and absorb all nutrients. It is important to consult with your healthcare professional if you need support reclaiming your digestive health.
Red meat also contains significant levels of other B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. Red meat is one of the easiest ways to ensure adequate intake of your B vitamins.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is an imperative part of body functioning, including structure in many proteins and enzymes and regulation of gene expression. Zinc is used to repair damage in your arteries and if not available, they either absorb a toxic heavy metal called cadmium or alternately your liver must make cholesterol to repair them. As with vitamin D and iron, the zinc present in meat is highly bioavailable, meaning it is easy to absorb and assimilate.
Animal proteins also contain significant levels of other vital minerals such as magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, nickel, and selenium but possibly the strongest argument for the consumption of grass fed or pastured animals is their fatty acid profile. Grass fed meats contain approximately equal parts of saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. Contrary to popular belief, consumption of saturated fats is necessary for optimal functioning. There are many healthy saturated fats found naturally. Unhealthy saturated fats tend to be produced and processed. In order for the body to maintain the ability to absorb minerals from foods, 50% of dietary fats need to be saturated.
Studies that differentiate between processed and fresh red meat have failed to find a link between unprocessed red meat consumption and heart disease. A major Harvard University study of meat eaters found that only processed meat had an adverse risk in relation to coronary heart disease, although I am of the opinion that even with ‘processed’ meats, the ‘devil is in the details’.
Beyond the pale pink, mass-marketed luncheon meats there are better options. Traditionally preserved and cured meats are generally derived from a pig, cow or turkey as opposed to the mass-marketed, highly processed, extruded mystery meats seen at your local deli counter. Many popular cured artisanal meats are made of bits and pieces of the animals (offal, trimmings, and fatback, even the face) in order to wring every last edible drop out of an animal (true nose-to-tail philosophies). It began as necessity, and has developed into a culinary art form. True ‘cold cuts’ are cured, fermented, and dried for months or even years, rarely if ever seeing heat above 100 F and get their flavor from basic seasonings and the unforgettable flavor imparted by the fermentation process and lactic bacteria. Regular meat processors are adept at using secret seasoning blends, brines and added sweeteners to create a watered down (and often unhealthy) weak imitation of the original. Pete’s bacon is dry cured, unsweetened and made from pastured pork. This provides an end product that is truly flavorsome and nutrient dense, a far cry from basic over-processed, manufactured grocery store bacon-product.
We evolved as a species due to our consumption of animal products. It follows that we need them in our diets to enjoy optimum health. Your body is designed to function on the nutrients in meat but paying attention to how the meat was raised and how it has been treated plays a huge role in its health benefits. Meats from grass-fed and pastured animals is biochemically different and promotes optimal health. Traditionally prepared products are also a wonderful addition to your diet and do not cause ill-health and disease.