Meat – The Original Superfood

Plans are afoot in the US to label meat products with nutritional information including calorie counts, levels of fat and specifically (and inevitably), saturated fat content.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand,” and “We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions.”

Meat is not generally regarding as a ‘health food’, and its stash of saturated fat and cholesterol generally mark it out as something that should be consumed with care. And then we have the issue of calories: meat can be quite fatty and therefore calorific (and we can’t have that).

In response to news about the forthcoming labeling laws the American Meat Institute (a trade group) swung into action. Mark Dopp, the organization’s vice president of regulatory affairs, pointed out that a 3.5-ounce serving of skinless, boneless chicken breast is 165 calories and 3.57 grams of fat and the same-size serving of beef round roast has 166 calories and 4.87 grams of fat. This sort of statement attempts to put a positive spin on the supposed nutritional hazards to be found in meat.

But is there really any need to issue such apologist statements regarding the nutritional attributes of meat? To begin with, there is no convincing evidence at all that saturated fat is harmful to health (really, there isn’t). So singling this out for labeling is a bit pointless, in my view. Also, there’s no mention that other types of fat found in meat are going to get special mention when the labeling laws come into force because about half the fat in meats such as beef and lamb is monounsaturated in nature which evidence points to having benefits for the cardiovascular system.

But what about cholesterol? Yes, what about it? For a start, the amount of cholesterol in the diet has precious little impact on cholesterol levels in the blood stream. And so what if they did: taking dietary steps to reduce cholesterol does not appear to have significant benefits for health which suggests, strongly, that if cholesterol goes up a bit that’s not going to endanger health.

What about calories? Again, what about them? We now have a mountain of evidence (scientific and anecdotal) that demonstrates that eating fewer calories is, for the most part, utterly ineffective for the purposes of weight control in the long term. One fundamental thing about meat is that, calorie for calorie, it generally has enormous ability to satisfy the appetite. This is one reason why when individuals ‘go Atkins’ or something similar, they so often drop weight like a stone.

An LA Times piece on the subject makes mention of the fact that both men and women are supposedly eating more calories than they used too. What is not mentioned is the increase in calorie intakes over the last 30 years or so has been almost exclusively down to increased consumption of carbohydrate.

Other than fat, meat is rich in protein too. Meat quite ably supplies the full complement of so-called ‘essential’ amino acids the body requires to keep itself in good nick. Yes, of course you could try doing the same thing with beans and grains and stuff, but the problem is you’d have to eat much greater quantities of food to achieve the same end. Also, if you are eating a relatively protein-rich diet in the process of losing weight, there’s a reduced risk that any weight lost will be muscle (rather than fat). And even if you’re not in the business of losing weight, that protein will help maintain your muscle mass, which is no bad thing.

Meat, particularly red meat, is rich in iron. This nutrient is an essential component of the constituent of red blood cells called hemoglobin that carries oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency can cause of low hemoglobin levels (anemia), which can lead to a serious sapping of our sense of mental and physical well-being. What is less well recognized about iron is the fact that, irrespective of its role in the making of hemoglobin, it participates in reactions, which generate energy in the body. Low levels of iron can, therefore, cause symptoms such as fatigue and low mood, even if they do not cause anemia. Vegetarians and vegans are at enhanced risk of iron deficiency, as are women of child-bearing age (due to menstrual blood loss).

Another mineral found in good quantity in meat is zinc. This nutrient plays an important role in, amongst other things, immune function, wound healing, brain function and fertility. As far as vitamins are concerned, meat offers a rich complement of B-vitamins, including B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 and B12. These nutrients have a wide range of functions in the body, and assist both in the generation of energy and in balanced brain function.

Another of meat’s nutritional offerings comes in the form of carnitine – a substance comprised of the amino acids lysine and methionine. One of carnitine’s chief roles is to help the conversion of fat into energy in the body’s cells.

There’s no doubt about it, meat is a nutritional heavyweight. It is perhaps worth noting that meat has been a constituent in our diet for as long as we’ve been on this planet. Some populations even thrive on a meat-based diet which, I think, is a testament to its relative nutritional completeness.

It’s not just what’s in meat that makes it a good choice nutritionally, it’s also what not in it. For example, it contains none of the sugar or starch that abounds in the diet that appears to have a big hand in the biochemical and physiological imbalance that can lead us down a path to weight gain, raised blood pressure, raised triglyceride levels, low ‘healthy’ HDL levels, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

I don’t think we need to eat meat to be healthy, but I genuinely believe it can help.

Sometimes in conversation should the subject of meat come up I’ll mention some of its attributes as well as its relative nutritional completeness. Then I might compare it to, say, blueberries, which are rich in carbohydrate (the absolute requirement of which is zero in the diet), plus some vitamins and antioxidants. I may then pose this question:

“Knowing all this, say you had to choose one of these foods (meat or blueberries) to eat exclusively, with the idea of sustaining yourself for as long and as healthily as possible. Which would you choose?”

Almost invariably the response given is ‘meat’. And yet, blueberries have a reputation as a ‘superfood’, and meat is a food, which we’re generally advised to avoid. This doesn’t make much sense to me. The reality, I believe, is that meat is the original superfood.

One of the good things I think about eating a diet that is largely made up of natural, unprocessed foods (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and nuts) is that we can concern ourselves far less with label-reading. Do you pick up an apple or head of broccoli and wonder about its nutritional make-up and whether it’s appropriate to eat? Almost certainly not. And, for the most part, I encourage non-vegetarians and vegans to have a similar attitude to meat.



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Dr. John Briffa

Dr. John Briffa is a graduate of the University College London School of Medicine.  Since qualifying as a doctor, Dr Briffa has developed a special interest in nutritional and naturally-oriented medicine.

He is in private practice in London, and his aim is to assist individuals identify and remedy the underlying cause of chronic symptoms and conditions.

Dr Briffa is a former columnist for the Daily Mail and the Observer, and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines. He is a former recipient of the Health Journalist of the Year award in the UK. He has written 6 books on the subject of nutrition and natural health and has been a major contributor to 3 others.

Dr. Briffa lectures internationally to corporations, members of the public and health professionals, and is a regular guest on radio and TV.

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  1. Frederica Huxley says

    I fully agree with all your points, but I would add that the benefits of meat are assured if the animals are grass fed, and have not been given unnecessary hormones and antibiotics – i.e., organic! All that lovely saturated fat is chock full of omega 3s and vitamin K2.

  2. ZedeZ says

    meat WAS a superfood at least 60 years ago, and for sure it was before the food “manufacturing” companies(aka capitalism) took control of our food in the west. Plus the BigPharma, Chemical companies who increasingly got involved in food and soil poisoning…
    So today’s meat is not a superfood at all. It has NO enzymes which are most important factor in digestion and therefore in overall health.
    Soil is depleted from minerals and other nutrients, so how the cows and other animals can be healthy if the base of their diet, the grass, is lacking most of the nutrients???
    Meat is a superfood in those places in the world, that don’t let the crime cartels like Monsanto and Dupont get close to them.

  3. Boomer12k says

    Amen, Zedez!
    It is not so much the meat. It is what is or is not in the meat. In pre-historic times the rise of Man, in Africa, along the sea shores, shows, mountains of shells, and bones. Seafood and Fish was a superfood for these people, and they “got smart” from it. It was good for their brains. In other words, we are what we are because of that.

    It is the CHEMICALS that are bad for us. They are DEAD ADDITIVES that give no life!!!! We are VAMPIRES, we need LIVE FOOD, with the enzymes and organic CELLULAR structure, that is what we are designed to recognize and utilize, not some dead CRYSTAL POWDER!!!!! That has a half-life of 2000 years. That is what is messing with our metabolism! Not protein, not even so much the carbs, but what is IN THE FOOD!!!!! How it was grown, the nutrient level of the soil, what fertilizer was used, etc… hormones, and steroids added to the meats, pesticides used for the fruits and veggies, all so the company can get bigger, fatter, etc…CHEAPER, product to the market for MORE PROFIT, where it sits on a shelf!!! So it has to have preservatives!!!!!
    Back in the old days, you were eating from a close by farm, it did not need all that. Now it ships from across the country, if not another country!!!!! Oranges from Belize???
    So, make sure your food ain’t tainted!! It ain’t the food, it is what is in the food, just like the AIR, AND THE WATER!!!! I suppose the government would just tell us NOT TO BREATH!!!!

    Be well and happy!

  4. Anonymous says

    Is saturated fat that bad? I’ll answer my own question. No it isn’t if it comes from grass fed food animals or virgin coconut oil. The whole big conclusion that saturated fat causes heart disease, was the result of an animal study that was conducted by feeding RABBITS saturated animal fat. I think that was not a very well thought out animal study in which a strictly VEGETARIAN animal is fed saturated animal fat!!!!

  5. Nathan says

    The question of eating meat goes beyond the health issues and by the way, we already know a carnivores insides evolved much differently to ours (how long do cat’s and dogs live?). It’s estimated that meat consumption (for us lucky non-3rd world citizens who aren’t starving to death) is more responsible for Global Warming than all the planes, trains and automobiles put together. 86,000 tones of shit are secreted every second by factory farmed animals, leaching into our waterways and creating methane – which is 20 times more harmful to our atmosphere than carbon emissions. We need to think beyond our forks. Just a few others interesting facts:
    * Number of people worldwide who will die as a result of malnutrition this year: 20 million
    * Number of people who could be adequately fed using land freed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%: 100 million

    The arguments against meat consumption could launch a thousand websites… oops, they already have! The most important one for me is best shown in a film called ‘Earthlings’ (you can google it and watch it for free on some sites). It’ a very graphic documentary about the way animals are treated by the very people we pay to treat them that way on our behalf.

    Hey, I loved a good steak like anyone and I’m no tree hugging hippy. But if you do even a little research on the subject you will see the con’s by far outweigh the pro’s! Happy health to you and all your descendants for centuries to come (but only if we can reduce or cease our meat consumption – even for one day a week people) Cheers! :-)

  6. Helen says

    Me again Meat is good is healthy Just have fiber with it.
    Fiber takes fat out of the body. Eat apples pineapple, blueberries all fruits have fiber as do beans, cellery lettic, peppers, potatoes,
    we are tought the basic sevin for a reason all foods work together to keep us healthy. My greif is a big mac with cheese and bacon, comon guys eat healthy. And no french fries thats like eating shelack. You got a life to live eat healthy and why don’t resterants serve fruit and vegetables with there fare???

  7. Rabbit says

    My friend’s husband ate huge steaks preceding his heart attack. Some were up to 16 ounces and he is not a tall man. But what I noticed were the baked potatoes with loads of butter and sour cream. I think he killed killed himself with baked potato toppings. He also put butter on his steaks. The steaks were all broiled and he appeared to really crave them. wonder if he was anemic. He was working on A/C units at the time. He retired soon after and quit the steaks but kept on with the toppings. He died a few years later. Who knows why? But I have an idea it was the toppings.

  8. Jessica Howells says

    I love this post! People are so anti-meat nowadays and it doesn’t make sense to me. That is fine if someone chooses to be a vegetarian because they don’t agree with how the animals are treated but if the entire world stopped eating meat, we would starve! Humans are meant to be carnivores and while I do think the treatment of animals, the sanitation issues, and the adding of unhealthy bi-products need to be resolved, I think meat is a very healthy part of the human diet. Too many people watched Food Inc. as if it were a Michael Moore film. That shows one side of the argument. While there is definitely truth to a lot of what is said in that documentary, there is also a lot that got “left out” and misrepresented….
    I think you are very brave for writing this, I must say. Some veggies get very worked up about this topic and don’t look at the whole picture.

  9. Lori says

    The problem with meat is that we’ve taken ruminous animals and make them eat corn and grain that’s genetically modified. Then we have to pump them full of antibiotics because of the infections due to this kind of diet. This is terrible for our health and our planet. (Food, Inc., in my opinion, did an outstanding job of communicating these issues.) Grass fed animals have 5 times as much CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a ton more omega-3’s, less saturated fat, and less calories (if that matters to anyone). They also produce products (along with grass fed goats) that are rich in fat soluble vitamins and minerals. Our ancestors ate the whole animal, and I doubt that they were grilling steaks in their back yard. Look local, that’s where you’ll find the healthiest products. Sure, Americans are gluttons, but the reasons people are starving are largely political. But, not to worry, Mossanto is taking care of everything…

  10. Anonymous says

    In fortifying or adding chemicals to our food and water supply this is a no nooooo!!! The US labeling should be more concerned about how an animal was raised and treated with, and should be labeled as such, we already know the benefits of meat and poultry raised properly and the benefits of eggs, vegetables that were not poisoned with pesticides and so on, this is where the labeling would be beneficial for the consumer, as many labels would say organic and then it will point ultra pasteurized, so what benefit this would have? none, all these none organic farmers should be taught that grains, and adding all the poisons to animal and the Monsanto way is not the ideal way, no matter what the label would say about calories or benefits and so on it would be nothing but a deceit and a lie. JAM

  11. Cordier says

    Tribute to meat.
    Whenever I eat a (reasonably small)piece of red or white meat, I am always in a good mood after, less anxious and full. True mood-enhancing, meat acts to me as a short term antidepressant or as an anxiolytic. May be because meat among others contains trytophan and also because of its unique flavor when cooked:Italian “Osso bucco” for instance…

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