When I was a child, red meat was demonized. Everyone knew that eating well meant eating chicken — lots of chicken. “Heart healthy” cookbooks cropped up everywhere, each one full of the same advice.
We now know for example, that our bodies use cholesterol to heal and repair damage to our cell walls. Simply because cholesterol is present at the site of the injury, doesn’t mean that it’s responsible for the harm done. It’s like saying our white blood cells cause infection, when in fact they are our body’s defense mechanism to fight infection and keep it at bay. Because most cell wall damage happens in the form of inflammation (which can lead to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries), you can think of cholesterol like firemen. They’re on the scene to put out the fire, and are not themselves responsible for the fire.
If you’re still hesitant to eat more traditional levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, try reading this in-depth series of articles by Stephen at Whole Health Source:
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Stuck At The Starting Gate
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: A Little Perspective
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Subdividing Lipoproteins
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Oxidized LDL, Part 1
Thus far in the series, Stephen has demonstrated using multiple scientific studies that:
- Dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol levels in humans,
- That cholesterol levels in the blood are not predictive of, nor do they cause, heart disease,
- That what matters in blood cholesterol lipoprotiein levels are the size of the molecule, not the kind (fat, fluffy LDLs protect against heart disease, whereas small, dense, oxidized LDLs seem to cause it).
- That eating more saturated fat — not less — increases levels of the protective kinds of LDLs and HDLs
I can’t wait to read how the series concludes, but I have an instinctual feeling he will tell us all to eat a healthier balance of fats. Based on all the evidence we have, the key factors to eating a healthier balance of fats are:
- Keeping our Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio at less than 4:1, and
- Keeping our polyunsaturated fat intake to less than 4% of our diets
What does all this have to do with eating healthy meat?
Everything! As it turns out, industrialized meats have an Omega 6:3 ratio of 20:1, whereas traditionally raised meats that have been pastured, foraged, or wild caught have an Omega 6:3 ratio closer to 1:1.
What else is wrong with industrialized meat?
Besides the abnormal fat content of industrialized meat, there are a host of other problems that make it less than ideal, including: the levels of antibiotics used to raise them, the heavy environmental impact of manure lagoons, and the vast sea of monoculture crops used to feed animals in feedlots that strip off inches of topsoil per year. Whatever the concern, there’s a lot of evidence that industrialized meats are the product of cruelty and environmental irresponsibility.
What to Buy
Looking at all the evidence above, and considering the health benefits of pastured/foraged/wild animals, this part is rather simple. As with most food choices, it turns out that the best ones cause us to eat the kinds of foods our ancestors have been eating for thousands of years.
BEST CHOICE: The meat from grass-fed/pastured/foraged/wild animals. This can often be expensive if you’re buying it by the cut, so I can not stress highly enough the need to get your hands on a large freezer and buy in bulk directly from farmers. With your grocery savings alone, you’ll probably pay for that freezer in less than a year or two. Economize even more by hunting wild game. Or, if you have land, consider raising your own animals to feed your family and a few neighbors. If you’d like to find out more places to buy good meat in bulk, check out these online resources.
SECOND CHOICE: Buy meats that are certified organic or specifically claim to be “raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones.” I say this because one very deceptive practice that totally gets me angry every time I think about it is labeling meat, such as chicken, “naturally raised,” “hormone-free,” or “antibiotic-free” with a tiny little asterisk after the claim. First of all, “naturally raised” is not a regulated term and doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Furthermore, the modifying language for the asterisk often isn’t even on the product packaging. You have to go to the company’s website or read their literature to find out that they simply mean they don’t use hormones or antibiotics in the processing of the animal. This has nothing to do with how the animal was raised, and everything to do with how it was cut up and packaged. In other words, it’s a completely empty claim. For who uses antibiotics or hormones when packaging meat? A couple major brands near me that do this are Fran’s Fryers and Buddy’s Natural Chicken. I’m sure there are others. Don’t be deceived! You’re paying a premium for something not substantially different than any other industrialized meat.
So, by sticking to a certified organic meat or one that specifically claims to be “raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones,” you are at least guaranteeing that these potentially harmful and toxic substances aren’t in the fat, marrow, or meat of the animal you’re eating.
THIRD CHOICE: Buy meats that are additive and preservative free. Avoid MSG, nitrates & nitrites, etc. by carefully reading labels. Sometimes even these labels can be deceptive, particularly in the case of lunch meats and sausages. (For this reason, my family doesn’t buy deli or lunch meat any more. Instead, we’ll make our own using roasts. Or, we sometimes slice up liverwurst, braunsweiger, or other organ meat sausages from grass-fed animals. To find roasts or sausages, check out these online resources.)
Where to Buy Healthy Meat
The best place to begin looking is at your local farmer’s markets. Ranchers and farmers are often there, selling meat by the cut. Ask them about their bulk rates. You can also find individual cuts of meat at upscale natural food stores, although they’re a bit too much on the pricey side for my budget. It’s also a good idea to contact the chapter leader of your local Weston A. Price foundation chapter, as they’ll often have a list of local farmers and ranchers that may not come to farmer’s markets, but still sell directly to the public. If finding local sources comes up short, you can always find online listings of quality meat retailers on my Resources page.)