Meat has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. Everywhere you go, the “Beyond Burger” and plant-based entrees are advertised and touted as the ultimate healthy meal. But there is more to the debate than just ‘meat is bad, plants are good’.
Is Meat Really Bad for Me?
Chances are you’ve seen, read, or heard something about how red meat, or any meat, is bad for your health. Documentaries villainize foods like beef for clogging arteries and taking years off of your life. This is simply not true. Researchers have found that animal foods, including beef and eggs, do not increase cholesterol. Despite the fact that the USDA has been steering people towards low-fat, cholesterol-free foods for the better part of 30 years the rate of high cholesterol, obesity, and heart attacks has yet to decrease. Instead, we’ve actually seen a rise in health concerns since the government put out these guidelines back in the 1980s. The short answer is: no, meat is not bad for you. Including the best quality meat you can afford (organic or grass-fed might be worth the splurge) ensures you are eating a healthy ratio of different fats, including saturated fats!
For more reading on this, check out these books The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz or Good Fat Bad Fat by Romy Dolle. You can also talk to your dietitian at your next appointment about this!
Are Plant-Based Protein Sources Really Better for Me?
You may have seen Netflix shows telling you eggs will take as many years off of your life as smoking cigarettes and you’ve likely heard and seen lots of people promoting a more plant-based way of eating. When it comes to meat alternatives, 2 main categories emerge: grain-based or soy/pea protein-based. For those with normal (i.e. not insulin resistant) metabolism, eating whole grains or starchy veggies (think black bean burgers or quinoa cakes) is just fine. If you’re insulin resistant, these types of foods considered “whole” and healthy may not be a good fit for your health and could contribute to weight gain. What about the soy/pea protein? Made from Genetically Modified (GMO) crops, there is very little research on the safety of consuming such large amounts as people do when they swap to meat alternatives. Another factor to consider is the type of fat found in many of these processed plant-based protein sources. A good example is the Beyond burger that can be found in so many restaurants. This “burger” contains GMOs and canola oil, a type of industrial vegetable oil, which is known to increase inflammation and worsen cholesterol numbers.
Is Meat Really Bad for the Environment?
Conventional agriculture is absolutely taking a toll on our environment. “Factory farming” cattle and chickens produces meat that is sub-quality and puts a strain on the land. Emissions from these types of operations do contribute to global CO2 levels and water usage is an issue. The story changes when we compare this to grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Cattle raised on sustainable farms actually sequester (remove) more CO2 than they contribute! They also use less water because the majority of what they take in is rain water.
This is an incredibly complicated and nuanced topic this blog can’t even begin to unravel. Check out these resources to learn more: The Sustainable Dish blog (and soon to be book) and Robb Wolf’s Blog, especially this podcast episode.
Are Plant-Based Protein Sources Really Better for the Environment?
In short, not really. Many plant crops are water intensive. In fact, almonds seem to be the reason California suffers from such severe droughts. In an over simplification of this study, we can see that raising grass-fed beef takes about the same amount of water as most plant products do. If you buy and eat sustainably raised beef and other meats, your environmental impact is much smaller than when consuming factory farmed meats.
We want to be clear we aren’t arguing with anyone’s ethical or religious reasons for choosing to avoid meat. If you chose to be vegetarian for animal welfare reasons, we absolutely understand and this blog isn’t trying to convince you of anything else. Instead, we want consumers who might be thinking that swapping their beef burger for a beyond burger will improve their heart health or positively impact the environment to be better informed so they can make the decision with all the facts. Check out all of the resources linked above; there is so much great information out there to help you decide.