Writer: James Mrohs
Humans are ultimately omnivorous creatures. A recent UC Berkeley study found that meat eating in our ancestors was necessary for our evolution. Our jaws and teeth are designed for both the crushing and chewing of vegetable matter, as well as the tearing of animal flesh. Yet, many people raised on meat-filled diets are beginning to question the necessity or benefits of eating meat.
Vegetarian diets are popular today for moral, environmental, and health reasons a plenty, as it becomes clearer that one can eat healthily without consuming meat. But with many still consuming meat on a regular basis, there is a need to focus on how to eat meat healthily. Meat can definitely be part of a lifestyle just as healthy as vegetarianism, as long as one simply watches what they consume in moderation. As meat provides many key proteins and fats for the body, there is little need to take supplemental vitamins, as long as the rest of the diet is balanced well.
When choosing meats, tread away from picking red meat all the time. A steak or serving of ground beef is a fine cone in a while, but make sure to mix in some poultry and fish regularly as well. When eating red meat, look for the leanest pieces available, or at least trim the fat off before cooking. The main concern in consuming too much red meat is the abundance of saturated fat, which can lead to problems throughout the body, from your colon to your arteries. Chicken and turkey, on the other hand, are already relatively low in saturated fat by comparison, and far lower in cholesterol as well. Fish is not only naturally lean, but the fat contained within is generally extremely healthy since it includes Omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower your risk of heart disease.
It’s important to remember that all things should be taken in moderation. The USDA Food Pyramid recommends five and a half servings of protein sources a day for women 19-30, and six and a half for men in the same age range. In general, a hamburger patty counts as about two to three servings, a single chicken breast as about three servings. A slice or two of sliced turkey is a single serving, and a typical steak of beef or salmon is around four to six servings. While it’s easy for many to exceed these recommendations, keeping portions reasonable throughout the day shouldn’t be too difficult. Keep in mind that beans and nuts are both sources of proteins that shouldn’t be ignored, so before you plan on getting all of your protein servings from a thick steak, consider that both beans and nuts provide plenty of fiber and healthful fats, and are worth mixing a cup into your daily diet in exchange for a serving of meat. Don’t forget your fruit and vegetables either, when planning your meals.
If morality and the environment is your thing, there are still some reasonable options for consuming meat regularly. While there is no meat that doesn’t come from an animal killed for it, there are still animals that are treated better when alive and killed more humanely. Free-range chicken is good, but to go a step further look for Certified Humane Raised and Handled animal products. The Certified Humane group sets standards that monitor any farm that wants to use its label, and specifically makes sure that farmed animals are allowed to “engage in natural behaviors,” are raised “with sufficient space, shelter, and gentle handling,” and are not fed “added antibiotics or hormones.” Certified Humane inspects all farms with its label annually, and also stipulates surprise checks.
As for fish, many morally concerned fish consumers look out for species that are fished sustainably and whose fishing practices do not cause collateral environmental damage. Fish lower on the food chain and shellfish tend to be the most easily sustainable, but some specific fish that are considered always safe are Tilapia, Alaskan Salmon, Calamari, Clams, Sole, King Crab, Oysters, Anchovies, and Sardines. These fish and shellfish are nearly always caught with little to no marine damage incurred, and are not considered threatened or at risk of overfishing. On the flip side, Halibut, Sea Bass, most Tuna, Grouper, Cod, and Swordfish should be avoided almost completely. These fish are generally either caught through deep-sea nets, trawling, or through other fishing systems that cause extensive damage to marine ecosystems or are fished to the point where they are considered a threatened species.
Diets that include meat are natural, and can be just as healthy as any other diet, as long as you simply watch what you eat. Take things in moderation, and make sure that all your other food groups show up as well. Stay away from the fatty junk foods, and cook more things yourself. If you’re worried about the treatment animals, do some research on farms or brands, or, even better, buy local and get to know the practices of your nearby farmers and fishers. Meat can be a healthy and delicious part of anyone’s diet with some smart planning.