Is it healthy or will it take years off your life?
What about all the new "plant-based" meats...how do they compare to the REAL thing?
We want to help navigate through all the conflicting and confusing messages!
First, we all know that Valentine's Day is just a few days away. If you are making a romantic meal at home, steak may very well be on your menu. Of course, you don't want this to be just an ordinary steak, so check out our coaching tip on how to cook the perfect steak!
So, what's the deal? Is meat good for you or not?
We have all heard the recommendations to limit our processed and red meat consumption to reduce our risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Then, last Fall, an article came out saying that amount of meat we are eating is ok and there is really no need to reduce our consumption. Then, just to confuse us again, another study was published last week saying that processed meat and unprocessed red meat are associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. So, what should we think?
When it comes to meat, there are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Not all meat is created equal.
- You need to ask "compared to what?"
Not All Meat is Created Equal!
Processed meats! At one end of the spectrum is highly processed meats, which the World Health Organization has declared as carcinogenic to humans. We have an entire coaching tip discussing these processed meats, which include bacon, hot dogs, sausage and many of the lunch meats from the display case or deli counter in your local grocery store.
Unprocessed red meat! Then, at the other end of the spectrum is unprocessed red meat, where the animals roam the pastures and eat nothing but a variety of grasses their entire lives. These meats provide a great balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, beneficial conjugated linoleic acid, along with Vitamins A & E, beta-carotene and other antioxidants. Read our coaching tip "You Are What You Eat Eats" to learn more about the differences between grass-fed and finished beef vs. conventional beef.
What the experts say...
The experts give no guidance on the safe amount of processed meats. They simply state, "avoid processed meat." They also say, "limit red meat" and provide a safe limit of 18 ounces per week. There is no downside to avoiding processed meats. But, if you are thinking "this just isn't realistic for me," it may help to know that the American Institute for Cancer Research states, "if you are making healthy choices most of the time and avoiding processed meats, occasionally eating a hot dog at a baseball game or a piece of ham on a holiday is unlikely to be harmful."
At Eat REAL America, we do have some recipes that include meats such as bacon and ham, but it is less than 4% of all of our recipes (with over 1,000 recipes, that is very moderate!). Plus, it's important to realize that a little goes a long way! For example, two slices of bacon crumbled over your salad (occasionally!) can add a ton of flavor for as many as four people. And, we always balance these meats with lots of nutrient-rich REAL FOOD! Plus, you can always omit the processed meats...or make your own (see how to make your own sausage using REAL ingredients).
"Compared to what?"
What about the "plant-based" meat alternatives that seem to be showing up everywhere? You may have heard of the brands like Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, Gardenia, No Evil and others. The question of whether these are "better" than the meats they are trying to replace is not a simple one. There are several considerations including your health, the environmental impacts, animal treatment and taste, just to name a few.
- Meat alternatives have existed for a long time...everything from beans and legumes to mushrooms to tempeh and tofu and others. In recent years, the meat alternatives have continued to evolve, including many processed meat alternatives that are becoming more popular and readily available. With these processed meat alternatives, the ingredients and degree of processing matter.
- As far as health considerations, it depends what you are comparing it to. Compared to processed meats, there are likely health benefits by switching to the meat alternatives. However, if you are comparing it to well-treated, grass-fed and finished animals, the health benefits are less likely. For example, the sodium in the Beyond Burger is 450mg and the Impossible Burger has 370mg, versus less than 100mg for the grass-fed beef.
- And, let's not leave REAL plants out of the discussion! Whole (REAL) plant ingredients will always be a better option than the processed meat alternatives. This is true not just for nutrition and taste, but also for environmental impact. On Eat REAL America, we have some fantastic "meat alternative" meals you can make using whole (REAL) ingredients.
Check out these great recipes:
- Chickpea & Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers
- Black Bean & Butternut Sliders
- Surprise Spaghetti Bolognese
- Eggplant Burgers with Caramelized Shallots
- Black Bean Burgers with Egg & Sriracha Spread
- Portobello Stroganoff
- Portobello Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich
- Mexican Lentil Tacos
When it comes to the processed meat alternatives, our view is they are probably better than processed meats, but not as good as whole – REAL – ingredients. Just another reason to keep it simple and EAT REAL!
What is your opinion about meats and the processed meat alternatives?