When I start digging into my patient's diet, the most common response I get when they mention what they don't eat is red meat. I always follow up with "why"?
Red meat is often considered meat that comes from a 4 legged animal like beef, bison, venison, elk and lamb and is red in color.
There are a few reasons red meat has been vilified over the years. Many argue it's too high in saturated fats. Saturated fat is, by definition, a fat that has no double bonds. Typically a fat that is solid at room temperature is saturated. Dairy, margarine, coconut oil, cakes, pastries, deep fried foods and meat all contain saturated fat. Humans have been eating the saturated fat from red meat every since we have been eating meat. What's wrong with it now? When saturated fats come from highly processed foods like margarine, cakes and pastries, you will be on the receiving end of the damaging affects of any highly processed, carbohydrate dense foods. They are low in nutrients, provide poor building blocks to a healthy body and severely effect your insulin levels. It's not necessarily the saturated fat that is the problem, but the food as a whole. It's rare that a nutrient in and of itself is beneficial or a problem, but rather how the foods works wholistically within the body.
The "saturated fat is bad for you" case has been debunked multiple times now. This study "showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD."
When your red meat comes from an animal that is grass fed, the nutrient density has been found to be higher. It will contain omega 3 fatty acids (which are anti inflammatory and an essential fatty acid which means your body can't make them; you need to get them from your diet), magnesium, potassium, natural sodium, folate and other B12 vitamins, choline and more. This site does a good overview of the nutrient profile of grass fed beef. And this research article concludes, "animal protein improves maternal and infant health globally."
But, aren't cows destroying the earth by releasing carbon and greenhouse gases? According to the research that the Meatless Monday movement is using to support their claims, the water and greenhouse gas emissions are actually coming from the agriculture foods (corn, wheat, rice and soy) we are feeding them, not the actual cow. The same article states that grazing our cattle actually sequesters (reduces) carbon in the atmosphere!
Ruminant animals (often animals that provide red meat and have four stomachs) have the ability to convert food that humans cannot eat and convert it into food (the meat they provide) and nutrients we can eat! If done properly, through sustainable agriculture, they can also help regenerate land. It's estimated that if we keep farming mono crops, we only have about 60 years left in our farm land. When we purchase foods from local farmers who promote these sustainable farming methods, we are not only promoting health of our bodies, but the health of the world.
What about eating local? It's much easier to find a local cow than it is to find a local banana. Meat is one of the few things that can be produced as food in Canada year round.
The last thing I love about animals that provide red meat is their size. One cow, pig or sheep can provide many, many meals when compared to one fish, chicken or turkey. That means less animals are slaughtered at the end of the day.
As you probably already know, I'm a huge advocate for eating well. That includes getting quality protein from animals to help regenerate all of the cells in your body and help with satiation (keep you full). Protein can also help mitigate sugar cravings that we often have living in a society with too many carbohydrates at hand. When insulin is stabilized (because protein intake is adequate), it is much easier to obtain a normal weight and decrease your risk of any chronic disease.
Please don't be afraid of red meat. When produced well, it can not only be part of a healthy, whole food diet but can also help heal the earth.