Meat is controversial; from raw vegans to hard core paleo dieters, there are arguments for both sides of the spectrum from health and environmental points of view. As a nutritionist, meat eaters often assume that I am vegetarian and plant-eaters worry that I am not. In truth, I'm neither. RASA was founded on the belief that we are all unique individuals; we have different preferences, lifestyles and moral/ethical values. Vegetables are my favorite food, so if you’re vegetarian/vegan and feeling good, keep doing that. I’m into it!
Biologically speaking, humans are omnivores and benefit from eating some animal protein, whether it be from fish, poultry, eggs, red meat or dairy. But when it comes to eating meat, I have saying: eat better, eat less. Here’s why:
It matters so so much. The food industry (especially in the US) is f*ed up, and we eat what the animals we eat ate. If you don’t want to eat genetically modified corn and soybeans, you shouldn’t eat animals that were fed that. So if you’re not 100% sure of the quality, I would say you’re better off not eating it. Here is what to look for when buying animal products:
- Seafood: Wild fish and seafood ONLY! Nothing farmed. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an excellent resource to learn more about the quality of seafood, what to buy and what to avoid, and includes informational on the environmental impact on seafood consumption.
- Eggs: Buying eggs is like going to the bookstore, so many covers/labels, it’s insane (WHY???). Look for organic, pasture-raised eggs. They do not need to be vegetarian (chickens are omnivores, just like us), or porch raised or free range…look specifically for pasture-raised. The yolk should be bright orange.
- Poultry: When buying chicken or duck, you should also look out for organic, pasture-raised animals. Free range means nothing.
- Meat: For red meat, look for all grass fed. Unfortunately, the label “grass fed” can literally mean that the animal was fed grass once in its life. Horrible and shameful, if you ask me. Cows were meant to eat grass. The meat from grass fed cows is high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, while the meat from cows fed corn, soy and hormones is full of highly inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
We need some animal protein, but not as much as you might think. Our body is constantly breakdown and rebuilding, and protein plays an important role in pretty much every single biological process and cell. Your vegan friends are right: vegetables are full of protein too! Nuts, seeds, legumes, even broccoli are all great sources of protein. These awesome foods don’t, however, provide all the essential amino acids (i.e. the ones our body can’t make on its own), so we need to supplement our vibrant plant-based diet with a little animal protein. The best way to think of meat is as a condiment, not the main event. So how much is that? I would say 3 ounces or less per meal (about the size of a deck of cards) and not necessarily with every meal.
Bottom line: if you eat meat, be mindful of the quality and don’t go overboard. Paying attention to the quality and quantity of your meat intake is not just good for your body, but for the environment as well. I love roasting a chicken and having it for the week. It’s economical, delicious and the bones can be used for broth. Here is my perfect roast chicken recipe from the spring RASA Challenge.