Is eating meat good or bad? That depends on who we ask.
Paleolithic enthusiasts say meat is essential to longevity. Vegans will tell us to avoid it at all costs. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently stated processed meat and bacon are carcinogenic, and red meat is most likely as well.
Studies that take a pro- or anti-meat stance often miss the bigger picture. They overlook the sugar and the refined carbs in a typical meat-eaters’ diet, or that most meat eaters consume a highly processed, inflammatory diet.
Admittedly, it would be almost impossible to perform an accurate study about meat. Many studies demonizing meat use subjects who are smokers, drink too much, eat way too much sugar and processed foods, eat very little fruits and veggies, and do not exercise. These are all important but often-overlooked factors about what contributes to disease.
If we look at all the data, about half the studies show meat is a problem; half of them don’t. For the ones who show meat eaters in a whole aren’t a healthy bunch, it’s probably not the meat but smoking, sugar, and sedentary lifestyle that creates heart disease and other problems.
Without sugar and refined carbs and with lots of high-fiber fruits and veggies, meat actually can be a health food, lowering inflammation and improving all of the cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Many meat studies also focus on industrially raised meat, which is full of hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides with more inflammatory omega 6 fats from corn and fewer anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.
Simply put: In the absence of refined sugar and carbs with adequate amounts of omega 3 fats in our diet, grass-fed beef, wild game, and other meats are not a problem. Remember too that a Paleo diet also includes lots of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Depending on those and other factors, eating meat can become healthy or unhealthy. These six rules can help us make the best choices when we eat meat:
- Choose grass-fed, pasture-raised organic meats. They’re more expensive, but ideally we’ll eat less of them and more plant-based foods.
- Stay away from processed meats like deli meats. These are the meats the WHO are talking about that have proven to cause disease, illness, and cancer.
- The way we prepare meats is an important factor to keep in mind. High-temperature cooking like grilling, frying, smoking, or charring actually causes problems. It also happens when we cook fish or chicken that way. All of this leads to the production of compounds called polycyclic-aromatic-hydro-carbons (PEHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which studies show cause cancer in animal models. Changing our cooking methods can reduce our exposure to these toxic compounds. The same rule applies to grains and veggies—cooking these foods too high-temperature can cause the same problems.
- Focus on lower-temperature cooking for meat and veggies including baked, roasted, poached, and stewed.
- Focus mostly on vegetables. Fill a plate with at least 75 percent phytonutrient-rich, colorful, non-starchy veggies and use meat as a condiment or a “condi-meat.”
- Consider combining the best traits of Paleo and vegan, which I’ve called “Pegan.” Learn more about that hybrid diet here.
I’ve gone more in-depth about meat and choosing the right fats in my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin, which can be ordered here.
In what I believe will become the pivotal book about dietary fat, I provide a full run-down on what foods to avoid, what foods to embrace, and how to prepare them. I’ll show how a properly designed diet rich in dietary fats can make us lean and healthy.
Have you become more aware about choosing higher-quality meats like grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, and wild-caught fish? Share what you’ve learned below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Benjamin Faust/Unsplash