I have written before about the importance of eating meat and how meat is a nutrient dense food. While it is possible to be healthy without eating meat, it is quite difficult. There is just too much evidence that clearly shows that most vegetarians are deficient in important micronutrients and all vegans are deficient. And the media-driven craziness about meat causing cancer is just plain ridiculous, because it’s a distortion of the science.
With that, I read a great article recently from Mark Sisson about optimizing meat consumption and it resonated with me. So, I thought that I would pass along his ideas and add some of my own thoughts along with it.
If you have been paying attention since the early 1970’s, you know that conventional wisdom calls for eating as little meat as possible, avoid fats at all costs and enjoy as many carbs as possible, regardless of sugar content.
Well, given the sharp rise in the obesity and Type II diabetes epidemic that we are currently mired in, I think it’s quite obvious that conventional wisdom got it all wrong. However, that doesn’t mean that you should consume nothing but animal flesh all day every day. That would be equally wrong.
Optimizing Meat Consumption
Note: The 10 items below are from Mark Sisson’s article, and I have added my take, along with his opinion.
1. Eat lots of animals, not lots of one animal
The truth is that eating meat can raise certain inflammatory markers in your body, which can be unhealthy. However, the probability of this leading to cancer if very small, unless you eat the same thing every day in excess.
There is some great research being done now by Paul Jaminet about the Neu5GC issue with respect to red meat. So, if the current research is slightly wrong and the risks are a bit higher than currently thought, then what should you do? Spread your risk out by eating different types of animals.
- Eat ruminants (beef, bison, lamb, pork).
- Eat birds (turkey, chicken, duck).
- Eat fin fish (salmon, cod, halibut, sardines).
- Eat shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels).
- Eat cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish, octopus).
- Eat insects.
2. Take steps to mitigate excess iron intake
If you eat a lot of red meat, be aware of your iron status and make adjustments if necessary. Eating calcium-rich foods with your meat reduces iron absorption and, in animal studies, reduces the carcinogenicity of dietary heme. In fact, animal studies that show links between red meat/heme intake and colorectal cancer use low-calcium diets. The cancer won’t “take” on high-calcium diets.
Also, eat more saturated fats than polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-6’s (vegetable and seed oils). Omega-6’s tend to make heme iron more carcinogenic. Saturated fats are protective. This was shown in a recent mouse study.
3. Don’t grill, sear, and char every piece of meat you eat
Healthy people can consume the occasional seared meat with no worries. However, it’s best to mix it up and use gentler cooking techniques most of the time. Gentler cooking methods tend to preserve nutrients better as well.
A good point from Mark Sisson, “don’t stress out over this—despite their love of grilled red meat, Argentines have some of the lowest rates of colon cancer in the world—but don’t ignore it, either.”
4. If you’ve got type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance issues, limit high-heat cooked meat
The evidence is pretty clear that for folks with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and other hallmarks of the metabolic syndrome, reducing intake of dietary AGEs (advanced glycation end products, formed during high-heat dry cooking) can improve outcomes.
Don’t stop eating meat, just be smart about it. Remember, diabetes is a disease that is, at it’s very core, about glucose control. So, the last thing you want to do is eat high carb. You SHOULD be eating a higher-fat, higher-protein, lower-carb diet that includes animal products. Some recommendations from Mark Sisson:
- Use liquid—moist cooking.
- Use lower heats.
- Use shorter cooking times (learn to love rare steak).
- Use marinades, especially acidic ones (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar).
- Cook with spices and herbs, many of which inhibit AGE formation.
- Thinks braises, stews, soups, broths….
5. Eat the whole animal—or as much as possible
This concept grosses out many “modern” people, but there is something very primal and healthy with this recommendation. Consider eating/consuming animal bones (by making bone broth – a daily staple in my diet BTW), eat the marrow from those bones, eat the actual bones from sardines or kippers (yum!), eat the offal (liver, kidneys, heart, which are actually the most nutrient-dense foods in the world).
6. Eat plenty of plants
I realize this is an article about meat, but it’s just as much about balance, and in order to optimize your health, you need to eat lots of plants, particularly vegetables and herbs.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli counteract the formation of potentially harmful meaty compounds in the gut. Coffee, tea, and red wine also have similar effects (although we don’t often think of them as plants, these drinks are made from plants).
When used in marinades, plants like ginger and garlic can prevent the formation of carcinogens in meat exposed to high-heat cooking techniques.
7. Eat plenty of prebiotic fiber
This is another topic that I have written about before several times. Dense sources of pre-biotic fiber include lentils, cold potatoes, squash, garlic, onions, granola, mangoes, and bananas.
There is plentiful research showing that resistant starch consumption makes red meat less carcinogenic. Consider the foods above as good side dishes the next time you have a steak.
8. Eat plenty of collagen
Meat is one of the richest sources of methionine, an essential amino acid. But there’s some evidence, albeit mostly in animals, that excessive methionine can depress lifespan and that putting rats on a low-methionine diet extends their life. Where does collagen come in?
Collagenous cuts of meat, like ears, feet, skin, tails, and shanks. You can also get it by using supplementary collagen (or eating foods that contain it). You can make healthy gelatin snacks with powdered gelatin (I like using green tea as the base).
9. Eat grass-fed and/or pasture-raised
Grass-fed and pasture-raised meat is better for you (more nutrients, better fatty acid profile, more healthy trans-fats), better for the environment, and better for the animal (a grass-fed cow has a happy life and one really bad day). If you intend on making meat a significant part of your diet, you should emphasize its quality.
10. Make sure you’re eating the right amount of protein
Most people should be eating around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. There is a lot of science around this but generally if you strive to get somewhere in the range of .8grams – 1.2 grams on a daily basis, you’re in the right neighborhood. This is especially important for children and older folks.