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Animal Protein. Good? Bad?

March 5, 2013 By Billy

This is a subject you don’t hear too much about within the natural health movement. A diet rich in healthy plant foods is always important, but health experts are reluctant to come right out and say you should become a vegetarian. At the same time, they’re reluctant to recommend that you fortify your diet with protein from animals. So nobody ever really goes there. But it’s an important topic that a lot of people have questions about.    So let’s talk about it!

One of the difficulties in considering meat in one’s diet is that every body type is different with different needs. The reality is that animal protein has been in the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. We’re descended from hunter-gatherers. Our bodies have adapted to animal protein. Our ancestors could only eat what they could find in their immediate surroundings – in colder climates, typically just meat and potatoes during the winter months. Some cultures had diets rich in seafood and chicken, while other cultures had diets rich in bison, beef, venison, elk or other wild animals. So there’s a genetic component to what our bodies need, and therefore a one-size-fits-all approach to diet isn’t realistic.

Now consider this – within the last hundred years of improvements in food distribution worldwide, we’ve had such an abundance of plant foods and grains available to us year round. These days we can get virtually any and every nutrient the body needs without having to include animal protein. There are, however, some simple nutritive properties in animal protein that can’t necessarily be identified with particular vitamins and minerals. But the main nutrients that stubbornly keep meat relevant in the talk about diet, are B vitamins, zinc, and iron – all of which can be acquired with a plant substitute. High iron plant foods include edamame, tempeh, lentils, cooked spinach, chick peas, and chard. Spirulina, the most nutritive food on the planet (which is why it’s the main ingredient in Infinity Greens!), has more iron in a teaspoon than a full serving of red meat. B vitamins aren’t as easy to find in plant food, but you can get them in brewer’s yeast, nori seaweed, and – again – spirulina. Zinc can be found in watermelon seeds, cooked spinach, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, chard, and collard greens. (Add some Vitamin C which helps the body metabolize zinc.) Omega-3s, a popular reason to eat fish, can be found in raw nuts and seeds, especially flax seeds. The best source of DHA in particular is algae oil, which you can find in your local natural food store.

If you want to try a vegetarian lifestyle, I would heartily endorse it. Some people do very well by dropping meat entirely from their diets. Others don’t. If you’re not sure what’s right for you, try it for a month or so and see what happens. Add a greater variety of plant foods into your diet, especially the leafy green kind. Add a protein powder. But make sure it’s one that’s plant-based, like Infinity Protein. Avoid whey and soy proteins – they’re comparable to eating glue for your gastrointestinal system. And be careful not to make the common mistake of replacing meats with pasta and bread and processed grains – too much starchy food! Do more plant foods! Eat soups and salads. Need some recipe ideas? Click here.

If you don’t want to cut out meat from your diet, that’s okay too. You might be relieved to know that I don’t think you necessarily need to become a vegetarian to be healthy. There are some considerations, though, that you might want to keep in mind.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that foods with more color often have more nutritive value. This is true for plant foods (leafy greens, for example, or strawberries or blueberries, as opposed to, say, white potatoes or bananas) but is true as well for meats. Darker meats – beef, venison, elk, bison – come with more nutritive value than white meats like chicken or turkey.

But watch the saturated fat (check out my recent discussion on fats). If you’re eating meat products high in saturated fats, you’re eating animal lard. Keep it lean for the most part.

Go for the elite stuff – organic, and free of hormones and antibiotics. Consistently eating meats that are not hormone-free can lead to serious health issues.

Where fish is concerned, go wild. That is to say, avoid farm-raised fish which are poorer in quality. Atlantic salmon is a good example. It sounds like it’s ocean-caught, but Atlantic salmon is farm-raised. Sometimes the quality is so poor they have to add food coloring to make it look healthy. Read your labels. Go instead with wild-caught. Avoid bottom feeders. Fresh water fish is preferable because it tends to be more pure than ocean fish, which can contain higher amounts of impurities like mercury. Overall, eat fish in moderation. There’s been a lot of wear and tear on our oceans and the purity isn’t what it was years ago. And remember that if you’re eating fish for the express purpose of getting omega-3s like DHA into your diet, try algae oil instead.

With beef, go with cows that have been grass-fed, not corn-fed. Most cows these days are corn-fed. It’s a lot cheaper. But it makes for fattier, less nutritious meat. Growing grass is better for the planet and grass-fed beef is better for the body.

Remember, too, that animal protein is dinner food. It’s not fuel. It’s restorative in nature. It takes more energy to digest it and so you’re tired afterwards. A chicken salad sandwich for lunch means you’re ready for a nap by mid-afternoon.

Okay, here’s the big picture. If you’re going to keep meat in your diet, simply go with the purest and less of it. Most of us eat too much animal protein and we could stand to replace it with more plant protein. Because of the variety and availability of plant food, it’s easy to do. Meat is harder on the gastrointestinal system. But there are no absolute laws of nature that fit all of us when it comes to something like the human diet. Everyone is different and everyone has different needs.  Also your needs can change with seasons and age!  Finding what works for you, is an ongoing process!  Fortunately, our body’s instincts are built to do it! Just remember that whatever you do, you can’t go wrong by adding more greens!

All the best!~

Billy Merritt

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