Meat gets a bad rep—particularly in consideration of the recent NETFLIX documentary, “What the Health” that hit streams this year, depicting meat and protein consumption as a primary cause of our country’s modern day disease epidemic.
“What the Health’s” claims that meat causes cancer, diabetes and heart disease is nothing new though.
For years, vegetarians, vegans, carnivores and omnivores alike have debated the ethics and “truths” about the “right way” to eat—to meat or not to meat?
Michael Pollan’s best selling book The Omnivores’ Dilemma, The “China Study” and beautiful blogs and Instagram feeds of plant-based foodies make it seem as though, “NOT to meat” is the answer.
However, always remember: There are always two sides to the same story.
TO MEAT OR NOT TO MEAT?
When I was 11-years-old, I gave up meat.
Vowing to become a vegetarian because it was “healthier” (i.e. a way to diet) and I “felt better” without chicken, turkey, eggs or heaven forbid, beef, in my life.
Six months in to my new healthy lifestyle, my skin was pale, I easily lost more hair in the shower or my hairbrush, bumps broke out on my skin, my nails broke, I developed dark circles under my eyes, and I experienced bloating after most meals.
(Talk about feeling great).
Nevertheless, I was in denial, and despite not feeling on top of my A-Game, had you told me I was “missing out on some key nutrients,” I would have eaten a black-bean-veggie burger with extra lettuce and tomato on a gluten-free bun in yo’ face!
In other words: I began finding my identity in my diet—and no one or nothing could take me away from the self-righteous gold star I earned (in the back of my mind) for “eating clean” or “being healthy.”
It wouldn’t be until a hospitalization for malnutrition and forced-fed meal plans by a dietitian, consisting of undercooked chicken nuggets and salisbury steak on my hospital cafeteria tray later, that meat and protein would become part of my daily diet again. As I got out of treatment, I began introducing home-cooked proteins—chicken, turkey, fish, etc.—and restoring lost nutrients that I simply could not get from anywhere else.
Despite the imbalances I suffered to make non-meat eating work for me, my experience of vegetarianism taught me a valuable insight in later years:
Sometimes we get more caught up in what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat based on rules or identities we’ve created for ourselves, rather than asking: How do I really feel?
Looking back on those vegetarian days, I also laugh a little bit now.
In my efforts to “save the animals” and practice healthy humanitarianism (through my own denial of meat sources), I actually ended up treating my body JUST LIKE the factory farmed animals I did not want to eat. The animals fed a poor quality, grain-based diet, with low energy and health expectance mimicked exactly how I was feeding myself.
However, I did not see it.
The amino acids we find in proteins are the only source of complete protein that we can fully absorb. Complete proteins are necessary for:
- Brain firing and prevention from degeneration
- Muscle building and toning
- Mood balance and natural anti-anxiety medication
- Healthy skin, nails and hair
- Blood sugar balance
While beans + rice, peanut butter + wheat, or nuts and seeds may have “complete” proteins when served together, these foods also contain anti-nutrients—lectins and phytates—on their outer shells that bind to nutrients (and proteins) in your gut, preventing the digestion of their nutrients in the first place.
From a straight up physiological perspective, animal protein sources are the body’s preferred primary source of protein—just like fruit may have some fat or protein components in it, but the body sees fruit as a carbohydrate and fast acting sugar; or just like avocados may have from carbohydrate or protein in them, but your body views avocados as “healthy fats.”
And from a scientific perspective, there’s no denying science. Just like a plant needs water, sunshines and soil to thrive, our bodies require carbohydrates, fats, water and protein to thrive.
While the majority of the “optimal human diet” appears to be plants, when we neglect entire food groups (be it fat, carbs, or proteins) for a long time, eventually things often go awry.
WHY MEAT IS “BAD”
So, then, if protein is ACTUALLY “necessary,” why does meat still get such a bad rep in the media?
The Missing Link: Bad meat (conventional meat) is bad for you (NOT “good” meat—sustainably raised, pastured, grass-fed, organic meat).
This fact, my friends, is the pink elephant left out of most equations—research studies, books and NETFLIX documentaries.
When authors, studies or movies make broad claims about “protein causing cancer, heart disease” or other side-effects, an essential ingredient most of these miss is looking at the differences in conventional meat vs. sustainably raised meat.
We eat what our animals eat, and if our animals were administered hormones, antibiotics and/or ate a diet similar to Big Macs and Chili Cheese Fries, what nutrients do you think we’re getting when we eat conventional animals? Not as many.
In addition, another pink elephant very few—if any studies, books or movies—are discussing is the fact that diseases…STARTS IN THE GUT.
If there is inflammation in the body, that is a key indicator something is going on underneath the hood (i.e. the gut).
Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes have all been linked to inflammatory diseases, which many people assume is caused by things like smoking, sugar, vegetable oils, protein consumption.
However, the bigger piece to the puzzle?
Poor GI health and inadequate breakdown of that protein (i.e. low stomach acid) is what caused disease. Your gut is the gateway to health, producing 80% of your immune disease fighting cells alone inside of it. If we eat gut irritating foods regularly (i.e. conventional meats, grains, sugar, conventional dairy), along with stress, not chewing our food well, eating on the go, medications, surgeries, etc., then of course “poor digestion” will be present—along with a higher risk of disease
SO SHOULD YOU OR SHOULDN’T YOU EAT MEAT?
The answer is truly up to you, but here are 4 things to consider when deciding
- How do I feel? (body signs and symptoms of health and disease)
- What is my food identity?
- What type of meat am I eating? (conventional vs. quality pastured raised)
- How is my gut health?
What does a “balanced” diet look like for a human?
If you’re still dead-set on not eating protein in your diet, or reaching for plant-based sources, to each her own.
No one knows your body better than you!
Plant-Based Nutrient Essentials
As a vegetarian or vegan advocate, here are some essential key nutrients to make sure you’re getting in order to prevent imbalances, plus my top 10 recommend list of protein sources to take care of yo’ self:
Must-Have Nutrients (Foods & Supplements)
- Raw Pumpkin Seeds and Soaked Nuts
- Soaked Beans, Lentils and Chickpeas
- Homemade Hummus
- Wild-caught fish
- Fermented Grass-fed Yogurt/Goat’s Milk Yogurt and Kefir
- Fermented Tofu, Tempeh
- Bone Broth or Collagen Powder (if you can muster it up)