Should you be eating meat? And what about brain shrinkage?
I rarely eat red meat.
Pork tenderloin graces my plate a couple of times a month, but aside from that, I prefer poultry, seafood, and "mock" proteins. I'm not even sure why I eschew the red stuff. Maybe it's the look of it, or the hangover from the Mad Cow scare, or the fact that much of it seems to be of low quality...or that if I'm going to pay up, I want fish.
There is a definite gross out factor for me, but that is changing.
FIRST, QUALITY COUNTS BIG TIME.
Countering the horrific stories surrounding recent meat recalls, are high quality businesses like Blacktail Mountain Ranch where proprietor Ed Jonas raises grass fed, heart healthy beef (some of which has less fat than turkey)! Blacktail's "HighMont Beef" is trademarked and bred to be low in cholesterol and fat. The filet mignon runs $29/lb. (The HighMont cuts have about 8 grams of fat per 3.5 oz serving and 160 calories compared to 120 calories for chicken and 3 grams of fat.) Alderspring Ranch in Idaho also raises grass fed cows that graze on certified organic pastures.
No chemicals, no hormones, no funny business.
Alderspring relies on a family-owned packer versus a commercial meat packing plant. Customers can even request the type of cuts to be packaged. These are just two examples. There are a number of ranches across our country that offer top-notch grass fed beef. Other ranches such as Niman Ranch, do grow their beef on pasture but then switch to an all vegetarian feed. And Niman is really a conglomeration of U.S. family farms and ranches.
So super picky carnivores may prefer going to the source to ensure a pure grass fed diet.
SECOND, GRASS FED BEEF IS BETTER FOR YOU.
Grass fed beef has been found to have a significantly higher concentration of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than grain fed beef (3-5x as much) Researchers claim CLA is a very potent cancer blocker even at very low doses and can also slow tumor growth. Milk from grass fed beef also benefits from the higher CLA concentration.
THIRD, COOKING GRASS FED BEEF REQUIRES EXTRA CARE.
Because grass fed beef is leaner, one must adjust the cooking method. Less heat is required and marinades are a great way to go for certain cuts. Grass fed beef requires about 30% less cooking time.
FOURTH, THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF AN ANIMAL BASED DIET ARE SOMETIMES OVERBLOWN. For example, silly headlines like "Vegans and Vegetarians confront BRAIN SHRINKAGE" are misleading.
Making news this week was the finding by Oxford University that vegans and vegetarians experience more brain shrinkage over time than carnivores. The study of 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87 suggests that low levels of vitamin B12 (common in vegetarians and vegans) can lead to brain shrinkage. Pernicious anemia is the medical term for those with a deficiency of B12. Animal products are the best source for this important nutrient. It takes about 5 years for this condition to present itself and it is serious--nerve and brain damage.
Here is what bothers me about this "story" -- or at least the media coverage. Vegans and strict vegetarians are not stupid. I'd argue that nearly anyone pursuing a restricted diet, understands that certain vitamins and minerals may need to be supplemented. Noshing on chicken and red meat is hardly the only way to get B12. So yes, while animal products like liver and beef are top B12 sources, mollusks and clams offer even more per serving and fortified cereals, trout, salmon, are also helpful.
And helllooooo, just pop a vitamin for crying out loud. Okay, okay, some argue that supplements are not as safe or reliable as "pure" animal sources...but if it gets the job done and prevents brain shrinkage... Adults require 2-3 micrograms of B12 daily according to the RDA. A small amount, yes, but what is really important is that the vitamin actually gets absorbed.
Nearly all cases of deficiency arise from absorption problems. Nowhere do the stories on brain shrinkage cover this part! Bottom line is that most people naturally get enough B12; vegans and vegetarians can supplement, and absorption problems do correlate with aging.
CONCLUSION Maybe it is time I gave beef a second chance -- grass fed, no hormones, humanely raised etc. But for my vegan and vegetarian friends, I remain unconvinced that an animal based diet is superior. I do think that it must take more work, however...just getting enough protein.