Updated: 3 hours ago
Ignorance is bliss, they say. I say, let’s become blissfully aware so that we can make informed decisions that will lead us to living our happiest, healthiest, most successful and fulfilled lives!
Animal protein is a big part of many people's diets. I know lots of people from this beautiful community are meat consumers, as am I. I'm not here to tell anyone to stop, only how to consume in ways that are going to work for your health, not against it. It's all about being informed and creating balance for yourself.
While I’m an advocate for adopting a plant based lifestyle, meat is still part of that for me. My diet consists of mostly fruits, veggies, starches, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats alongside high quality meats/fish in moderation. I do this for my gut and cellular health to reduce/prevent inflammation and dis-ease as well as feel my best because we all deserve that!
Most everything our bodies need is found in plants. On a biological level, the human digestive tract is long and specifically made for the slow digestion of plants, to break down fiber and properly absorb nutrients. The human body needs vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbs, proteins, and fats, all of which are found in plants, in order to survive and thrive.
Cellular health depends on all of these nutrients in order to go through normal processes that keep the body alive, well, and functioning properly on all levels. Gut health also depends on these nutrients to feed and populate healthy microbiomes and to maintain a strong, healthy digestive tract lining. It’s only when the gut is healthy that the body can even absorb nutrients for the cells to utilize. When these two systems aren't harmonious, inflammation and dis-ease occur. Gut health and cellular health go hand in hand. Animal protein is a factor that can help make or break gut and cellular health.
Meat in conjunction with a plant based diet can be super beneficial as there are some nutrients that are found exclusively in meat or at least in sufficient, highly bioavailable amounts. These nutrients include…
B12 - Found in sufficient amounts in meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and beef liver. It’s also found in a select few plants including seaweed, tempeh, and shiitake mushrooms in much smaller amounts. B12 is essential to brain and nervous system function and the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are linked to chronic fatigue, abnormal brain function, psychiatric and neurological disorders, anemia, alzhiemrs, and heart disease.
Creatine - You may recognize this one as a popular fitness supplement but it's found naturally in animal protein and it isn't just for those who lift weights. It's a molecule that's stored in the muscles and brain that acts as an energy reserve. It aids in muscular strength and endurance and improves brain function.
Carnosine - An antioxidant that also concentrates in the muscles and brain that elevates performance and function.
Choline - Needed in order to form membranes around cells, regulate mood, memory, and muscle control, metabolism, reduce inflammatory elements in the blood, and is essential for liver, brain, nervous system, heart, and gut health. Deficiencies can lead to cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Carnitine - Another popular supplement in the fitness industry. It’s an amino acid that also plays an important role in brain and muscle function. It may even help reduce the risk of mental decline like alzhiemers and dementia. It’s found in the highest amounts in beef.
Cholecalciferol - Aka vitamin D3, the type of vitamin D that the body synthesizes itself from the sun. Consuming D3 from animal sources can help the body synthesize more of its own D3 which is absolutely essential to overall health and wellbeing and something too many people are deficient in. It's found in high amounts in animal proteins like fatty fish, beef organs, and egg yolks. Vitamin D deficiencies are linked to osteoporosis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancers, depression, brain dysfunction, and muscular atrophy.
DHA - Docosahexaenoic acid, an essential omega 3 fatty acid that protects against inflammation and plays a huge role in the development of healthy brain development and function. It’s found in sufficient amounts in fatty fish and fish oil as well as certain plants like flax, chia seeds, and certain types of microalgae in less abundant amounts. Deficiencies are linked to adverse effects on mental health, brain function and development, fetal development, and healthy blood levels.
Heme Iron - The type of iron found in meat providing adequate amounts that are much more bioavailable than non heme iron which is the form of iron found in plants. Bioavailability meaning heme iron is absorbed and utilized much more effectively. Iron is essential for growth and development and the production of hemoglobin which is how red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
Taurine - A sulfur based compound found throughout the body that is vital to organ function. It’s important for eye health, immune system function, nervous system function, antioxidant production, hydration, and electrolyte balance. Taurine can be found in beef, fish, and dairy products.
Collagen - The most abundant protein found in the body. The body produces collagen on its own but consuming collagen rich foods provides the body with more amino acids to synthesize even more. Collagen is directly linked to hair, nail, and skin health as well as bone strength and density, joint health, muscle mass, and heart and brain function. Plus collagen is amazing for gut health, it helps keep the digestive tract thick and strong, preventing and healing leaky gut syndrome which most people suffer from to some degree. It’s found in abundance in poultry especially the skin, fish, red meat, eggs, and dairy. Chicken bone broth is the most abundant in collagen and something I recommend drinking on a daily basis for optimal gut health.
Some other nutrients found in animal proteins in abundant amounts include…
Those who follow vegan and vegetarian diets are at risk for deficiencies in many of these nutrients, the major ones being B12, D3, and iron. Just as I would never tell anyone to stop consuming meat I would never tell someone to consume it if it doesn't resonate with them. If you are vegan or vegetarian reading this, it’s good to be aware of possible deficiencies so you can properly supplement.
There is always a lot of conflicting information out there about food and different diets. Animal protein can absolutely be part of a healthy lifestyle. The problem becomes when too much of it is being consumed and when it is of low quality.
The Importance Of Moderation
Even though animal protein provides all of the benefits we just went over, it still contains high amounts of saturated fat which will cause health issues when over consumed. This is especially true when paired with a sedentary lifestyle. Saturated fat is directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, mental decline, increased inflammation, and certain types of cancers. This is why consuming high quality animal protein in moderation with plenty of plants is super important. I have an entire blog dedicated to all the different types of fats and how each one relates to our health, I definitely recommend checking it out.
Moderation can look like having a small to moderate portion of high quality meat once per day, like at dinner time. Having a couple days per week that are strictly vegetarian days. Consuming a couple of eggs a few times per week. Having fish as your animal protein once or twice a week. Only consuming animal protein once per day vs for multiple meals.
Quality Is Key
Unfortunately not all meats are created equal especially in today's world where the main goal of companies is pumping out as much product as possible to make the most profit. The meat industry is huge and it's all about quantity over quality. Factory farms do not care about the health or wellbeing of the animals or us. Most of the meats we find in the stores are produced by factory farms which are large scale operations that mass produce meat from thousands of animals at a time. Smaller, independent, local, family owned farms tend to treat their livestock better and produce healthier products for a number of reasons.
You know that saying “you are what you eat”? Well you are also what you eat eats. Livestock is often fed the lowest quality food which seriously impacts the health of the animal impacting the quality of meat it produces. The animals are fed diets high in wheat, soy, and corn all of which are heavily genetically modified and treated with pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. These chemicals get ingested by the animal affecting their health which affects the quality of meat they produce. Not to mention corn, soy, and wheat are all inflammatory causing foods in both animals and humans.
Here’s a fun fact - Cows are often fed candy! Seriously. These factory farms often feed cows candy like skittles and gummies as a cheap way to increase milk supply! Imagine what that does to the cow, the meat it produces, and the byproducts being milk, cheese, and yogurt. Ultimately what the animal consumes, you end up consuming.
Another major factor affecting the quality of meat is the lack of exercise these animals are able to get. Factory farms cram in as many animals as possible into these spaces not allowing them much room to move at all. Animals, just like humans, are meant to be physically active for optimal health and wellbeing. When they have no room to move they become fatty producing meats that have a higher percentage of saturated fat. Chickens today contain three times the fat content as chickens from forty years ago. This is why free range is so important. The animals are given the space they need to roam and move. Free range animals produce leaner meats.
The inhumane lack of space also causes concern for disease amongst the animals. In order to prevent disease from running rampant the animals are pumped with routine antibiotics. This becomes a health hazard for humans as antibiotic resistance is on the rise due to over consumption via prescriptions and secondary consumption from animal products and even our tap water supply but that's a different story for another day.
Antibiotic resistance is when the body builds up a resistance to antibiotics and they no longer work for what they are supposed to, which is to fight infections caused by bacteria. This alone causes on average 35,000 deaths per year and that number continues to increase as time goes on. This is also how superbugs are created which is a serious threat to humans as well as animals. Antibiotics are only meant to be taken in emergency cases but we unknowingly take them all the time and doctors often over prescribe them. Antibiotics destroy gut health which is the foundation of overall health and wellbeing. It takes the gut six months to a year to fully recover from just one short term of antibiotics.
Steroids and hormones are next on the list of harmful substances that get pumped into livestock. These are used to make the animals grow faster to maximize product production. Just like with the food and antibiotics, hormones and steroids stay in the bodies of the animal and get passed down to the consumer. This messes with our own hormones and can cause them to become out of whack which can cause menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, and problems with thyroid health.
The overcrowding and over production issues also negatively affects the environment. Too many animals in a confined space produces excessive amounts of waste that the surrounding lands can't handle. Basically they run out of space to dispose of the waste so it ends up polluting the land, air, and water which is a massive health hazard especially for people living in close proximity to these areas.
This is all not to mention just how cruel the animals are treated. They become depressed and stressed due to poor living conditions, the food, and the drugs they are pumped with. Oftentimes chickens, ducks, and turkeys get their beaks removed to prevent feather plucking and cannibalism which are stress and anxiety responses. Hens that lay eggs are starved for weeks, dehydrated, and exposed to unnatural light patterns that shock their bodies into producing more eggs. Due to growth hormones and lack of exercise some animals don't even have the strength to stand on their own.
It doesn't just stop there with what is lurking in the meat. Steroids, hormones, antibiotics, crappy food, and lack of movement are just what they do to the animal. Once the meat is harvested from the animal it goes through processing. Common processing practices include adding in artificial ingredients, color, chemicals, heavy metals, preservatives, and additives. All for purposes of making the meat more appealing to the eye, last longer on shelves, prevent discoloration, and “sanitization”.
Decoding Food Labels
Even though the meat industry can be a bit scary there is a silver lining! There are a lot of things you can do and look for in order to make the best choices when it comes to buying animal protein. The biggest one is to always go organic! This goes for meats as well as animal by products like eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt.
When you buy organic meat whether it be from a chain grocery store, a local health food shop or a farm you are ensuring that the animal hasn't been given hormones, steroids, routine antibiotics, or low quality genetically modified feed. It also ensures that the meat has not been processed with any chemicals or artificial additives. Always look for the USDA Organic label.
Another label to look for is the AGW Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane. This label ensures that the animal has been raised free range with plenty of room to roam. Free range animals have higher nutrition content, lower percentage of saturated fat and higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential to overall health and help reduce overall inflammation.
There are other things to watch out for when buying animal meat. A lot of factory farm companies like to use marketing schemes and carefully crafted words and phrases that are very misleading. These include…
Cage Free - This means nothing as livestock are not typically held in cages but in large factories. This misleads people to think the animal was free range when in fact it doesn't even mean the animal saw the light of day.
No Added Hormone or Steroids - When it comes to chickens, turkey, and pork specifically it is illegal in the United States for poultry and pork to be treated with hormones and steroids so this is purely a marketing scheme. Beef and other meats can still contain hormones.
100% All Natural - This label has some meaning. It ensures that the meat hasn't been processed with chemicals, colors, preservatives, or artificial ingredients. It does not pertain to how the animal was raised, what it was fed, and if it was given antibiotics.
No Growth Promoting Antibiotics - This only means the animal wasn't given antibiotics to promote growth but still could have been given them routinely to prevent illness and disease due to hazardous living conditions.
Vegetarian Fed - Wheat, corn, and soy are considered vegetarian although poor, low quality food choices for animals. This doesn't mean they were fed natural grass, fruits, veggies or what the animal should naturally eat. For instance, a chicken's natural diet consists of fruits, veggies, nuts, bugs, worms, snails, frogs, mice, and small snakes. Cows are meant to be eating grass, yes, but also fruits, veggies, and grains like oats, and barley. Each animal has their own dietary needs that aren't met by factory farms.
Non GMO Project Verified - This only pertains to what the animal has been fed. If this label is found on meat it means the animal was not fed genetically modified food, the meat itself is not genetically modified even if you don't see this label.
Gluten Free - No type of animal protein contains gluten. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley, and rye.
These labels seem good in theory but they don't mean much and only add to the confusion of the meat industry. To keep everything simple just focus on buying organic meat. Organic by-products of animals like eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt means that it came from an animal that wasn't treated with hormones, steroids, antibiotics, or fed low quality food.
What About Fish?
The fish industry is a bit different. There are currently no organic standards for fish and it's unclear if there will ever be. It’s impossible to regulate bodies of water to ensure the fish living in there would be considered organic. This would require sea farms and this proposes an array of other issues. If you see seafood being advertised as organic, know that it's not.
When buying fish, my advice is to go for fresh wild caught. Wild caught fish have higher nutrition content including omega 3’s.
Also be aware of the labels on fish as some of them contain added color and other additives and preservatives. This goes for fresh and frozen fish. There was a time I didn't realize that the label to the fresh salmon I was buying said “color added”. I had no idea that stuff like color and additives could be added into fresh fish and meat. This is where my journey began in researching the animal meat industry.
There are a ton of good meat options out there to pick from like bison, lamb, turkey, mutton, venison, goat, duck, boar, goose, and rabbit. Don't limit yourself to just beef, chicken, and pork but still opt for organic to get the healthiest meats. Some good fish options include salmon, cod, haddock, mackerel, swordfish, trout, tuna, lobster, crab, scallops, and shrimp. If you cant get wild caught don't stress, try to buy fresh fish that wasn't frozen and doesn't contain additives.
Avoid These Types Of Meat
There are some meats that I would avoid and that includes all of the highly processed stuff that isn't in its whole form like sausages, pepperoni, corned beef, hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon, salami, etc. All of these have gone through massive processing and contain the most preservatives, additives, artificial ingredients, and nitrates which have a high potential to cause cancer.
On the bright side people are becoming more aware of the dangers of processed meat, with the rising awareness companies are starting to make changes. Now more than ever you can find bacon, cold cuts, and hot dogs that are nitrate free and free of other preservatives which is a great start. This doesn't mean the meat hasn't gone through any processing or does not contain anything else that's harmful to our health. At least if you are going to enjoy bacon on the weekends or a hot dog at a cookout this summer make sure it’s nitrate free.
The Energy Exchange
When it comes to meats that are organic, wild caught, and nitrate free the price difference should be about two to three dollars more. I know it’s totally crazy that products in their natural state that have gone through less processing cost more money but unfortunately that's the world we live in at the moment. It’s done this way purposefully but I have hope that it will change one day soon. That all of our food will be whole, natural, chemical free, and made with ingredients that don't cause massive inflammation and dis-ease. We have a duty to demand this. We make a difference when we buy wholesome, organic foods and call out upon companies who continue to use poisonous ingredients and harmful processing.
Spending a bit of extra money on organic meats is an investment worth making. It’s an act of self love because you deserve to be feeding your body the best of the best. Your physical vessel is your home and you only get one of them, we must cherish them. Everything you consume either fights disease or feeds it. Focus on feeding you'r healthy gut microbiomes and cells so that they can work to keep you happy and healthy. The extra money spent is a high vibrational energy exchange.
I’m not saying every fruit, veggie, grain, nut, and seed you eat needs to be organic, it doesn't. Meat, however, is a big yes. The main takeaway from this is to start incorporating organic meats in moderation alongside lots of plants for maximum health benefits.
A great way to cut down on the expenses of meat is to have a couple days per week that are vegetarian days. You can make beautiful plant based meals that taste amazing without meat. I’m working on something very passionately that is going to be such a huge help with this whole process stay tuned for that and make sure you sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know!
Until then use this information to make the best choices for your body 💕
Wishing you a beautiful day 🌿