After my husband read my recent post, Two Principles, he worried that it sounded like an anti-meat screed, so I’d like to add a couple of thoughts on animal protein, since I eat it myself once a week or so when the mood strikes, and since I just read an interesting report entitled “How Many Former Vegetarians are There?” Apparently, a survey of 11,000 revealed that 84 percent of vegetarians eventually go back to animal protein. Meat isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
In “Two Principles,” I talked about Mark Bittman‘s attempt to boil better eating down to the two ideas of eating real food and eating more plants. Bittman worked these principles into his own diet to lose a lot of weight and improve all of his health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.). But he didn’t give up meat. In fact, he calls his method “VB6”: vegan before six p.m. So, his daytime eating would consist of salads, soups, grains, legumes, nuts, and so forth, and then, at dinner, if he felt like steak or chicken or fish or whatever, he’d just have it. His philosophy is that taking on a food regimen that makes you feel miserable and deprived is a mistake that’s bound to fail. Generally cleaning up your act with allowances for foods you really enjoy, though, keeps you happy and on track. Once you start dropping weight and gaining energy from your improved diet, you really don’t want to go back to your old ways because you look and feel so much better.
The concept of VB6 won’t help much, of course, if you practice so-called Oreo Veganism. That is, you shun all animal products, but the plant-based foods you choose are highly processed and filled with bad fats, lots of sugar, and other niceties. VB6 means eating real, whole foods throughout your day; these are what restore your vitality and support your health.
As successful as VB6 was for Bittman, I always like to stress that if one is going to consume animal protein, it is critical to pay attention to its sourcing. I’ve written at greater length about this, but if you take the time to seek out meat and fish that was raised responsibility and non-toxically, you are taking huge strides healthwise. (See the corn-fed versus grass-fed steaks shown in the photo above, what a difference.) The more animal foods you eat, the more important it becomes.
What about The China Study and T. Colin Campbell’s worries about any meat consumption as a health issue? I’m going to leave that to the medical experts and scientists to hash out. My friend, Dr. Joel Kahn, is a cardiologist who strongly advocates a vegan diet for heart health, and he makes a very good case with several very accessible articles on www.mindbodygreen.com as well as in his excellent book, The Whole Heart Solution. On the other hand, there are studies that oppose Campbell’s as well as highly esteemed MDs like Frank Lipman and Mark Hyman who respectfully disagree about veganism. (For an interesting conversation between Kahn, Lipman, and Hyman, click here.)
Many, many people have gone meat-free as a way of cleaning up their health act, losing weight, and/or as an ethical statement. Many others revert to meat eating over time, and still others find balance by incorporating modest amounts of animal protein into their diets while trying to maximize their intake of plant-based whole foods. Bio-individuality reigns here as in all other human affairs, so just make sure that your decisions are conscious, not osmotic, and that you feel good in your body, because if you don’t, starting to think about the place of meat in your diet may set you on a larger journey toward better health.
Kelly Rogers Victor says
I received many emails from readers unsure about which steak was which in the above photo. The bloated, fatty one on the left is from a corn-fed cow that was treated with antibiotics and hormones. The more richly colored, less fatty one on the right is from a grass-fed cow. Grass-fed meat has less saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as fewer calories. It has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and CLA.