Simple and Unprocessed

As I’ve been advising private equity clients and consulting on category expansion projects, I’m struck with how process becomes a blocker to success.

  • In some cases, there is too much process, so steps in an innovation pipeline, a decision to hire outstanding talent, or the ability to capitalize on a commercial opportunity get bogged down in complexity.
  • In other scenarios, I’ve seen such a lack of process that the “to do” list evolves literally by the hour, and employees are not really sure what the priorities are or how to focus their efforts and resources for maximum efficiency.

Either scenario is detrimental to a business, and leaders have to relentlessly re-assess their culture and interaction to improve the speed, efficiency, yet quality of their process. In food, however, there is a general rule of thumb. The more process the food goes through, the poorer it is nutritionally. And no where has that gained more visibility than in the area of meat.

Processed vs. Unprocessed Meat

The below article by Dr. Michael Lam highlights the nutritional benefits of unprocessed meat and the health risks associated with consuming meat that is full of additives, preservatives and unnecessary ingredients.

Processed foods are loaded with ingredients that not only contribute to insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances, but can trigger autoimmune responses. Your small intestine has a thin wall to keep digested food away from the blood stream, but certain foods can cause breaks or “leaks” in that wall which enables non-desired particles to enter the bloodstream. Hence a diagnosis called leaky gut. The body senses these non-desired or foreign materials and activates the immune system to ward off the invaders, which can trigger a wide range of immunogenic responses. The more this happens over years of consuming the wrong ingredients, the higher the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease. The seven ingredients/additives Dr. Lam highlights are sugar, gluten, salt, nanoparticles, an enzyme called microbial transglutaminase (functions as glue for proteins), emulsifiers, and fat solvents.


The primary macronutrient beef, chicken or fish provides is protein. Good quality versions of these foods also provide healthy fats, especially in grass-fed beef and wild, cold water fish. Protein provides essential amino acids that the body cannot manufacture itself, so these need to come from food (or supplements) in order to enable the body to build & repair muscle & tissue, grow hair & nails, enable the body to carry oxygen through the blood, strengthen the immune system and create antibodies, and help organs to function properly. It’s not a question of whether you need protein; it’s how much do you need and from where do you get it?

Grass-fed beef; wild, cold water fish; organic, free-range eggs and natural cheeses are all great sources of protein

Unprocessed vs. Processed Protein Sources

What do we mean when we say processed vs. unprocessed? This link outlines some good advice on what to look for when choosing meat or fish, but below are three major considerations:

  1. The Source. Unprocessed meat or fish in its most natural form is ideal, without additional sugars, fillers, breading, preservatives or other additives that are foreign or damaging to the body. But that does not mean it’s healthy. Cows that have been fed grain or hormones, chickens that have been injected with hormone treatments in close, unclean quarters or fish that have been farmed in unhealthy environments all offer health risks to the consumer. Preferred: Grass-fed / Grass-finished beef; Free-range, organic chicken; Wild, cold-water fish.
  2. The Storage. A good rule of thumb is if you are buying meat in a can or a box, it’s going to be highly processed. Buying fresh is always best! However, if you are concerned about storage, your best bet is to buy frozen. Major retailers like Costco offer very good quality meats and fish that are frozen, and you can subscribe to a delivery service like Butcher Box for a quality selection of frozen meats.
  3. The Preparation. How you cook meat and fish is critical. If you start with high quality meat, then cook it in vegetable oil, you’re destroying the nutritional value of your meal. Adding rubs that are full of sugar and nitrates are also detrimental, so if you want to create a marinade, use natural ingredients like lemon and lime juice, olive oil, turmeric, garlic, oregano & sea salt. You can also use high quality bone broth (chicken or beef) to enhance the flavor and taste experience.

What About Plant-Based?

Plant-based meat substitutes have been all the rage for the last few years, with brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods experiencing high demand for their products. While they are touted as healthy, keep in mind these products are highly processed, and the ingredients used can be concerning. This article from the Food Network gives a dietitian’s point-of-view on both of these products.

Take a look at the ingredients in two of the most popular options:

Beyond Burger:

“Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Pomegranate Fruit Powder, Beet Juice Extract (for color)”

Impossible Burger:

“Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.”

Based purely on nutritional grounds, comparing these two burgers to a grass-fed, grass-finished burger, and saying these are healthier is simply laughable. Soy protein, food starch, dextrose, canola oil and potato starch are poor nutrient choices that do not belong in any diet. The grass-fed, grass-finished beef I buy has one ingredient: grass-fed/finished beef.

If you are against eating meat for any reason and want to eat vegetarian, by all means do so, but seek ways to make your vegetarian protein solutions more healthy through minimal processing and better ingredients. There are ample ways to make vegetarian burgers using black beans, mushrooms, and other natural ingredients. Check them out but keep away from the soy, fillers and processed variants that offer little in nutritional value and can actually contribute to poorer health. Whether meat or a meat substitute, limit the process, simplify and focus on clean, natural ingredients.