Eating beef is a controversial and personal topic. I’ve gone from one extreme (beef almost every day) to another (no beef at all). Today I know that meat is good for our health, and red meat in particular is one of the most nutrient-dense dietary sources available. Meat-eating has been a part of the human diet for more than 2 million years.
Both for health and environmental reasons, the key is sustainably-raised beef in moderate amounts with a heavy emphasis on plant foods.
Why eat meat? Proteins (composed of amino acids) are our bodies’ building block to form organs, nerves, muscles and flesh. Enzymes (specialized proteins) are the catalysts of all our biochemical process. Antibodies are also specialized proteins. Protein is essential for normal growth and the formation of hormones. Animal protein is the only source of complete protein. Red meats supply the best mixture of amino acids to build human tissues and are rich many nutrients:
- iron content is good and more usable by the body than iron from any other source
- other essential minerals like zinc, selenium, potassium, copper and phosphorus
- vitamins A and D, also B vitamins (thiamine, niacin, riboflavin), especially hard-to-get vitamin B12
However, the red meat today is not the same of our ancestors. The main problem is that it is not like the wild animals on which our ancestors thrived. Free-ranging animals (deer, moose, elk, bison) had much lower fat content. They lived naturally on vegetation and were not force-fed grains often containing pesticide sprays and chemicals while experiencing less activity. Also, they used meat for feasts and special occasions, not as a main food. Historically, cattle ranged freely, eating plants and had a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats essential for human health.
The problem with beef is factory-farmed beef
- Cows are meant to eat grass. They are fed corn. Corn is unnatural, but it is cheaper; making them grow faster and fatter. This produces feedlot bloat (responsible for thousands of cattle deaths per year), causes liver abscesses and respiratory diseases.
- Factory-farmed animals are given hormones to grow fast. Hormones are typically packaged in a pellet surgically implanted behind the ear when cattle arrive at the feedlot. These induce estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, zeranol, trenbolone, and melengestrol. When administered to cattle, naturally occurring hormone levels can increase 7 – 20 times.
- Close confinement and unsanitary conditions make animals sick. They’re given antibiotic medications in their daily food to prevent disease outbreaks and to keep animals alive and growing. Antibiotics are potent medications used for fighting bacterial infections. Overuse of meds on animals, engenders antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat. Prevalence of such bacteria promotes food-borne illness and can trigger disease in ways never seen before.
- The unnatural diet and conditions in factory-farmed beef lead to too much of the fat we don’t need (saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids) and too little of the fat we do need (omega-3 fatty acids).
What to Do?
- I choose to eat beef once or twice a month and seeking to always eat grass-fed beef if possible (or not at all)
- Look for products that bear the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) or Certified Humane Raised and Handled (generally known as Certified Humane) seals of approval. Each has its own blue, green and white label on packages of meat, poultry, eggs, that have been certified by a third party that animals are treated humanely and drugs are used only when absolutely necessary (never routinely
- Here’s a resource for Sustainably-sourced meat buy from. It may cost more but our health is at stake
- When dining out ask questions – we have a right to know where our food comes from
- Minimize health and environmental risks by supporting pasture-based farmers
For more health empowerment
Put Your Heart in Your Mouth Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD
The Big Fat Surprise Nina Teicholz
Going meatless at a meal every now and then can help you lower your cholesterol and may reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases. We can still eat meat – just less of it.