Meats

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Meats can be a healthy part of your diet. The question is how much do you eat and what cuts to eat. We should eat two servings of meat per week as part of a healthy diet. One serving of meat is 3 ounces, which is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards. The best cuts of meat are lean and extra-lean cuts, which come from the Round and Shoulder sections of red meats like beef or Bison. For two legged animals, breast meat and drumsticks are lean cuts as well. Organic meat is the best kind of meat to get because these meats are from free-range animals that have not been genetically modified and have not been given hormones or antibiotics.

 

The Good

Meats are very nutritious. They can be packed with B-vitamins. In some cases, meats can contain well over 100% of your daily value (DV) of vitamins B6, B12 and Niacin. Meats are also a great source of iron, zinc, selenium and phosphorus. They can also be a very good source of protein, providing 40% or more of your DV in one serving. The proteins found all the meats are great sources of complete proteins, which are proteins that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that our bodies need but can’t make on their own.

Meats are one of the best sources of glutathione available. This super antioxidant is also made by the cells in our body in order to protect them from damage caused by free radicals like peroxides. This antioxidant also helps other antioxidants work better.

Meat, particularly grass-fed beef, is a great source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This fatty acid can help reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure as well as help your fat cells burn off fat when you exercise. So, organic meats, like beef, can be a useful weight loss food. Grass fed animals also tend to have more omega 3’s than non grass-fed animals and they contain fewer saturated fats than non-grass fed animals.

Creatine is a compound that helps our body make more energy and also store it. Red meats are high in creatine, which is essential for building up your muscles when you exercise. When combined with the high protein content, meats can be a great addition to your diet if you’re trying to build lean muscle mass. This allows it to be a great food if you want to lose weight or gain weight.

 

The Bad

Meats themselves are not unhealthy but it’s the amount and quality of meat we eat that can lead to health issues. Meats, especially non-lean cuts, are high in saturated fats and LDL cholesterol, which are linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Organic meats are higher in nearly every healthy compound and nutrient normally found in meat. However, most of the meats we eat are not organic and they lack nutrients. Most livestock, like cows, are not built to eat grains but they are built to eat grass. They are not able to fully digest grains like corn and this is why they (especially cows) produce gas. The by-products can get into their bodies and become part of the meat we eat.

Food manufacturers add compounds to the meat or packaging that prevents the meat from spoiling or browning. Two of these compounds making headlines are BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytolulene). These two compounds are preservatives found in meats as well as many different foods. It’s one of the reasons why packaged foods can sit on the shelf for several weeks or months before they expire. BHA in food has been shown to cause cancer in mice and rats. The Department of Health says it may be listed as a carcinogen in the near future. Some people are also allergic to compounds like these and may not know it.

Although livestock are not given hormones, they can be given antibiotics. Animals that are usually crammed together are more likely to spread diseases between each other. Farmers tend to overuse antibiotics to ensure bacteria don’t have a chance to make the animals sick. Unfortunately, bacteria that are overexposed to them can develop a resistance to the antibiotics. We, in turn, can get those antibiotics and possibly some of the resistant bacteria as well. So, when you’re buying meats, look for packages that indicate the meat is free of antibiotics.

In addition, to help kill off any bacteria that may be in the meat, food manufacturers pump up the meat with saline. This kills the bacteria but it increases the amount of salt in the meat.

 

The Ugly

Processed meats, like cold cuts, are on the bottom of the meat totem pole. They are very unhealthy because they are cured, which greatly increases the salt content. Meats are cured with nitrates, which is a compound used as a preservative and taste enhancer for the meat. Nitrates have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Regularly eating processed meats can increase your risk of digestive tract cancers by 40-50%.

Chickens may contain a high amount of salt and other chemicals like MSG, sodium erythorbate, trisodium phosphate (a cleaning agent), and a drug that causes animals to grow faster called roxarsone (organic arsenic). You can avoid this and other potentially unhealthy compounds by eating organic.

 

Summary

Go for the leanest cuts and go organic. Round cuts have the least amount of fat while the flank or sirloin cuts may have the most fat. Organic is the best quality you get from the store because it implies that the meat is not genetically modified (Non-GMO) does not contain hormones or antibiotics, the animal was free range, and the animal was grass fed or ate its natural food (Chicken are omnivores).

Meats can be a healthy part of your diet if your meat is:

1. Organic
2. Lean or extra-lean
3. Limited to 2-3 servings per week

Keep an eye on the packaging for BHT or BHA preservatives. If possible, get your meat freshly cut and wrapped in butcher paper so you can avoid the preservatives found in packaging.
 

Meats

 

Beef
Lamb
Bison
Ostrich
Chicken
Pork
Emu
Quail
Goat
Turkey

 

 

References

1. Higgs, Jennette D. “The changing nature of red meat: 20 years of improving nutritional quality.” Trends in Food Science & Technology 11.3 (2000): 85-95.

2. Westhoek, Henk, et al. “Food choices, health and environment: effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake.” Global Environmental Change (2014).

3. Oostindjer, Marije, et al. “The role of red and processed meat in colorectal cancer development: a perspective.” Meat Science 97.4 (2014): 583-596.

4. Albenberg, Lindsey G., and Gary D. Wu. “Diet and the intestinal microbiome: associations, functions, and implications for health and disease.” Gastroenterology 146.6 (2014): 1564-1572.

5. Marshall, Teresa A., and Connie C. Mobley. “Impact of Dietary Quality and Nutrition on General Health Status.” Nutrition and Oral Medicine. Springer New York, 2014. 3-17.

6. Albenberg, Lindsey G., and Gary D. Wu. “Diet and the intestinal microbiome: associations, functions, and implications for health and disease.” Gastroenterology 146.6 (2014): 1564-1572.

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