Since the mad cow disease scares began in the 1990s, people have been increasingly afraid of consuming red meat. Some even go so far as to say that red meat is inherently bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. Today, red meat is blamed for everything from obesity and heart disease to arthritis and violence.
In our haste to label real foods as good or bad foods, we’ve inadvertently invented myths about their nutritional value. Let me set the record straight.
While I would never say that everyone needs to eat red meat, it is important to realize that nutrients in animal foods are more efficiently absorbed than those in plant matter. For example, we often hear that spinach is a great source of iron. While spinach does contain ample amounts of iron, that iron is only about 2% absorbed versus 25% absorbed from beef. This is partially because of the inherent low absorption of iron from plant matter, but also complicated by the fact that spinach also contains a substance called oxalate, which inhibits nutrient absorption.
In addition, nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin A are only available in animal foods and animal foods perform a very important role in the absorption of nutrients from plant matter.
It is particularly crucial to take optimal absorption into consideration when we are talking about pregnancy. When children with serious and chronic childhood illnesses such as allergies and ear infections are assessed for nutritional status, they are ALWAYS deficient. Another side effect of nutritional deficiencies is heavy metal toxicity — a key issue with autism. When nutrient requirements are not met, the body holds onto less healthy substances such as heavy metals and environmental toxins instead. I see this all the time with my clients (who haven’t followed my program) and their children.
The take home message here is not that everyone should eat red meat, but that there is value to all real foods. Similarly there are negative aspects to “good” foods.
What we should be contemplating, however, is the cause of unhealthy, diseased meat and attempt to weed that out of the diet. Diseases such as mad cow or BSE are a side effect of factory farming. According to my many friends who have worked in or visited these farms, they are no better than the concentration camps of WWII. Animals are crowded into buildings where they are fed a diet of corn and soy (which harm their digestive tracts) as well as a wide variety of antibiotics and bodily wastes. Imagine how your health would fare if everyone in your neighborhood lived in your house with little to no chance to walk outside.
Don’t think this means you can’t give in to your cheeseburger cravings. Grassfed meat is a wonderful alternative to its factory-raised counterpart. Not only are these animals raised humanely on grass — their natural diet — this meat is a powerhouse of essential nutrients. Grassfed beef contains the ideal ratio of the omega 6 to omega 3 essential fatty acids that we hear so much about in the media. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid known to promote healthy weight loss. These animals are often treated with holistic techniques, if necessary, rather than antibiotics.
Don’t think that this nutritional powerhouse is beyond your reach. Grassfed meat is getting easier to find around the country. You might be surprised at what you’ll find in your local supermarket. Additionally, many companies will ship their vacuum-sealed, flash frozen grassfed goods to your door.
If you’ve been used to buying factory meat, the price may seem a little high at first. Look at this as a small investment in your baby’s future and a huge step towards relishing the flavor of your food. Making this small change now will go a long way to averting long term health crises down the road.