While we’re all about vegetables at Mark’s Daily Apple, we have a special place in our stomachs for clean, lean meat. Yes, it’s the ultimate primal picture-caveperson (O.K.-caveman, but can we get points for trying?) returning from the hunt with dinner for the family.
Fun illustration aside, it’s more than the image. Meat, of the MDA-approved variety, means protein, omega-3s, iron, and a host of other nutrients. And, yes, there’s that gastronomical, savory satisfaction. (Apologies to the vegetarian set. We’ll stop now.)
Nonetheless, , not all meat is created equal, especially in the current era of antibiotics, hormone injections, grain feed, factory farms, and cloned animals-coming soon to a neighborhood store near you.
1. Cured meats
We love bacon as much as the next guy or gal, but we definitely recommend going for the uncured variety. Nitrites are a sketchy lot. Included in everything from bacon to most lunch meat, sausages and hot dogs (are we really calling those a food still?), they act as preservatives and color enhancers. Unfortunately for those hot-dog-eating competitors, nitrites bind with naturally present amines in the meat when the meat/”meat” is cooked. The result is N-nitroso compounds, which have been linked to oral, lung, urinary, pancreatic, esophageal, stomach and brain cancers, particularly for children.
2. Cold cuts – Cured meat
First off: nitrites.
And then: listeria. Pregnant women, children and people with compromised immune systems, in particular, should shun cold cuts because of the risk of listeria, a kind of bacteria that causes flu-like symptoms in most people but can, in extreme cases, result in meningitis, blood infection, miscarriage and stillbirth.
To boot: it’s processed. We just don’t like them processed foods ’round here. Sodium (oh, yeah, there’s the massive sodium content) and phosphate brine, meat emulsion substances we can’t pronounce-ewww.
Hey, wait a minute. Cold cuts are for, um, sandwiches – with, like, bread and stuff. Well, consider it another reason to skip the hoagie.
[GA-Rectangle]3. Ground meats
Ground meats, as we’ve said in the past, usually end up being a hodge-podge of flesh from hundreds of carcasses. (All remaining vegetarians have now fled the room.) In addition to this decidedly repellent image, the grinding process also poses a safety risk, as we’ve seen in the E. Coli recalls. The issue with ground beef, in particular, is the fact that the unsterile exterior of the carcass is ground and mixed in with the “safe” interior.
4. Grain-fed beef
Grass-fed beef is leaner in terms of saturated fats but heftier in terms of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. That grass diet, with all the benefits of plant and grass chloroplasts, beefs up (we couldn’t resist) the meat’s omega-3 content to as much as six times that of grain-fed cattle.
It’s important to note that the grass-fed label can sometimes be misleading. Although many cattle are fed grass at some point, most are later fattened up with grain at the feedlot in the final weeks before slaughter. During this relatively brief time, the store of alpha-linolenic (LNA), DHA and EPA quickly diminish. We recommend doing a little digging to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
5. Non-organic meat
Remember those antibiotics, growth hormones, and squalid, inhumane conditions of factory farms? As much as we enjoy meat, we’d recommend enjoying less for the sake of the better quality, higher nutrition, safer content, and lighter conscience (albeit heftier price) of organic meats. (Did I just see a couple vegetarians peek around the corner?)
As primal thinkers, we eschew the meat and potatoes hobby horse of our current culture. Cave people were hunters and gatherers, after all. Meat, as important as we think it is for complete nutrition, is best enjoyed as one ingredient among many – a strong supporting actor in a well balanced ensemble cast.
If you’re having difficulty finding organic meats in your area or if you want to make a special point of supporting local farmers (and we applaud you for it!), talk to the folks at co-op markets or CSAs. Both typically know area suppliers. CSAs, community supported agriculture co-ops, are best known for their vegetable shares, but some also offer meat shares or informative referrals for area farms.
He is the founder of Primal Nutrition and the author of Mark's Daily Apple.