The Dish About Meat

The latest data on meat sales from 2020 shows robust growth vs. previous year at +19.2%. This is impressive given the amount of visibility, news coverage and distribution expansion of plant-based meat substitute products.

Consumer attitudes toward meat consumption is also interesting to note, as those defining themselves at “meat eaters” actually declined from 2019, from 85% to 71%? What’s driving that decline? The growth of those calling themselves “flexitarian”, choosing to eat more of a vegetarian diet with occasional meat consumption. Consumers identifying as flexitarian grew from 10% to 19% between 2019 – 2020.

All Meat Is Not Created Equal

Meat is a very broad and generic description, and has become a lightning rod for controversy. Contribution to chronic disease and global warming are common arguments against eating meat, while others lament the animal welfare issues and either cultural or philosophical issue of consuming animal protein. If we’ve learned anything, grouping a broad category like meat into an “all or nothing” designation (ie, “all meat is bad”) is not only false and misleading, but dangerous. All meat is not created equal, and if you’re concerned about eating meat for reasons other than cultural or philosophical concerns, the important path to take is to become educated about meat quality, nutritional value, and the trade-offs associated with consumption vs. alternatives.

Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Meat

Meat is typically defined as “the flesh, or other edible parts of an animal, used as food.” This means all animals such as cattle, steer, bison, deer, pig, chicken, turkey, lamb, game or fowl & sheep would account for the bulk of what we would define as sources of meat. Fish and seafood are typically not considered meat, even though they can be caught, raised and eaten in a similar fashion.

As we see in all foods, including vegetables, eggs, spices and fruits, how food is raised, and how it is prepared, is imperative in the judgement on whether it is healthy or not. In the case of meat, let’s take the example of beef from cattle. Which do you think is healthier?

  1. Beef from cattle that has been raised in a crowded, dirty pen, fed with huge amounts of corn and soy meal to fatten, injected with hormones to create more mass and scale, injected with antibiotics to ward off bacteria, then as it is processed to be sold, is filled with additives before being bought and consumed
  2. Beef from cattle that is pasture-raised, in a natural environment, where it eats a natural, grass/plant diet, never has any hormones or antibiotics injected, and has no post-processing or additives infused prior to being bought & consumed

It’s obvious the second option is more healthy, but estimates from experts on the percentage of quality beef (using the above example) being offered is a mere fraction of the total beef being sold. In a 2017 article, according to Dr. Dale Woerner, assistant professor with the Center for Meat Safety & Quality at Colorado State University, 97% of the beef produced in the U.S. is grain-fed feedlot beef, while the other 3% is grass-fed.

Avoid Processed Meats

We’ve covered the importance of avoiding processed foods at The application toward meat is no different. Consuming meat from animals loaded with antibiotics, fed corn & GMO soy, and processed with sugar, fillers and nitrates is a terrible idea if you’re trying to pursue a health and wellness lifestyle.

Conversely, consuming high-quality meat that is grass-fed/grass-finished, with no antibiotics, no nitrates, no sugar and as close to zero processed as can be found (other than with some spices), can be an important aspect of your diet to ensure essential amino acids (protein), critical vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats are helping fuel your body’s needs. Remember, though, you can erode the nutritional value of high quality meat very quickly by how it is prepared. Using inflammatory vegetable oils, adding sugar and sweetened sauces or syrup, and combining with poor nutritional products like bread crumbs can defeat the purpose of choosing quality foods.

An example of complete proteins

What about plant-based meat substitutes? While you can absolutely consume protein from plant-based foods, and I recommend you do consume protein from a variety of sources, the attention to minimal processing must still be a focus. Pea protein, nut protein, lentils, beans, quinoa, tofu and other plant-based foods can be a substitute for meat, but keep in mind the following:

  • Plant-based meat substitutes are highly processed, and sometimes are made with terrible ingredients that should be avoided. I highlighted this in a previous article.
  • Part of the power of protein is the completeness of it. When we use the term “essential” next to a food, in this case 9 essential amino acids, that means your body must have them to operate efficiently, and consuming copious amount of protein that is not complete is not only a waste, but will have negative effects on your health and physiology. Meat, fish & eggs are all complete proteins, while most plant-based proteins are not. Soy, tofu, quinoa and chia are examples of plant-based proteins that are complete, but you will need to consume quite a bit to acquire the amount of amino acids required for proper health, and consuming a lot of soy has significant risk between the GMO status of most soy AND the hormonal affect (especially among men).
  • Plant-based proteins can be carbohydrate-heavy, which is a problem if you are pursuing a low-carb lifestyle, or concerned about insulin response and insulin resistance. It’s absolutely true that any very lean protein (including whey protein & lean chicken breast) will cause an insulin response, where-as high-quality protein that is complete (9 essential aminos), with extremely low carbohydrates and high in quality fats will have a minimal insulin response, provide a better nutritional combination for overall health and is a much better choice for a low-carb lifestyle.