Why I Tell My Patients They Can (And Should) Keep Eating Meat
"Where's the beef?" That was the slogan of a major fast food chain years ago. And after the new recommendations from the World Health Organization — which announced earlier this week that red and processed meat are carcinogenic — consumers may be saying the same thing.
But should we really kick meat off our plate? After all, meat has been part of the human diet for millions of years.
All mammals eat meat or insects. And almost every society in the history of the world has been meat or seafood eaters. People in the Mediterranean and other "Blue Zones" routinely live into triple digits incorporating meat into their diet. And breast milk, full of saturated fat, can represent the sole nutrition for a baby for one to two years.
Let me be perfectly clear: When I recommend eating animal products, I am referring to free-range, grass-fed cows, pastured-chickens, and wild seafood.
As an integrative cardiologist who follows a Paleo diet, I believe that meat is part of a healthy, nutritious, and well-rounded diet. It's a fantastic source of saturated fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. (This is especially true for organ meats such as kidney, liver, and heart. Our ancestors prized these cuts. Best of all, they are the cheapest.)
It's important to note that what the recent WHO report really condemns is processed meat. Presumably this includes everything from chicken nuggets to pork bacon. Let me be perfectly clear: When I recommend eating animal products, I am referring to free-range grass-fed cows, pastured-chickens, and wild seafood. A beef hot dog from grass-fed cattle is perfectly healthy and packed full of nutrients.
One concern about meat has always been nitrates used as a preservative. Yet the contribution to overall nitrate load from processed meats to our diet is small. It represents only 10 percent, and the vast majority of nitrates actually come from vegetables. Of course, this is a good thing, as nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, a vasodilator and anti-inflammatory molecule. Vasodilators keep blood vessels open wide.
So what does this mean for you?
The amount of meat you choose to eat is really up to you. Some will prefer once per day; some once per week.
But I believe we need to incorporate some amount of meat and seafood into our diet for optimum brain and body health. The world is full of recovering vegans and vegetarians who eventually burn out from a 100 percent plant-based diet. Once the body runs out of fuel, symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and low muscle mass arise.
The majority of our diet should be vegetables, but I suggest that meat make up about one-third of your plate. Organic veggies are the foundation of our Paleo pyramid. Paleo nutrition is vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and a little seasonal fruit. It worked for our ancestors for millions of years — it will work for you.