To eat or not to eat, that is the question
Meat consumption can be seen in one form or another in early cultures around the globe. As times have changed the utility of meat consumption has also changed. Consistently traditional medical systems maintain that meat nourishes deficiency. In a culture where busyness is revered it is no wonder that so many people crave and find benefit is the most anabolic of all foods, meat. Many research studies validate meat consumption as an effective way to control blood sugar and insulin (Klonoff, 2009). There are equally as many studies that show meat as a possible cause of cancer and heart disease (Lanou, 2011). So what do we believe? Not all styles of eating meat are the same. There is a difference between eating fast food hamburgers with fries and eating wild game meats with vegetables. Also the quantity of meat being consumed is very important.
More about the quantity and quality of meat
With most health care professionals recommending a cave man diet or a Paleolithic diet it has become very popular to have meat at every meal. In my clinical practice I have found many constitutional types who do not need to eat meat to be healthy. If they are maintaining a stable digestive fire they can create adequate anabolic activity without meat, but for many in our overstressed culture eating meat can feel like a magic bullet (at least in the beginning). Meat has a very strong effect on your body and mind, perhaps the strongest effect of any food category. This can be appropriate and beneficial if we are in need of heaviness, grounding, and nourishing. Being that meat is such a dense substance it also may not be fully digested by those with compromised digestion. It also has a slower transit time in the bodies of omnivores and it may accumulate in the body in excess (Boback, 2007). In short the primary goal of Ayurveda is to optimize digestion by choosing foods that are constitutionally appropriate and introducing everyone to principles of food preparation that can make food more digestible. If the quantity of meat is too high then the body will accumulate unwanted wastes that can be the breading ground for diseases like cancer, heart disease, and arthritis (McGarr, 2005)
Optimally a diet that is composed of no more than 19-35% animal protein is the most supportive of long term health. Animal protein may be eggs and dairy products for those who have made a conscious choice to be vegetarian. Many meat eaters consume more than that because of a false sense of need or because of the modern stressors that are not being dealt with effectively. On a subtle level meat can enrich our personal desires for possessions, power, sensuality, and emotional stimulus. Thus it is best taken in moderation.
Many of my clients tell me that they need protein to function so let’s look at how we get protein and what our needs are. The RDA of protein for men is 56 grams/day and for women it is 46 grams/day. In your average 4 oz hamburger there are approximately 21 grams of protein. As you can see it does not take a lot of meat to meet the RDA for protein. These protein requirements can be met by vegetarian protein as all the protein needs of humans can be found in complex carbohydrates. For example 4 oz of quinoa has about 14 grams of protein and 4 ounces of rice has 8 grams. Our culture is imbedded with a consciousness that promotes continuous growth and that growth is best sustained by protein. Most of us crave the feeling of being well nourished because our lives may not be providing the sense of satisfaction that we would like. Because of the high concentration of energy and nutrients in meat we get a short term sense of satisfaction and fullness. Unfortunately when meat is over consumed it becomes mucoid plaque in the body. If you do choose to eat animal protein do the following:
As meat is a concentrated form of nutrition it is also a concentrated form of toxicity. Heavy metals, solvents, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and many other pollutants are found in high concentration in animal tissue (Fraser, 2009). Thus eating a vegetarian diet may prevent cancer depending on the quality of meat that is chosen (Frazer 1999). Vegetables are not immune to these residues so even a vegetarian diet can increase the levels of these toxins. If you are going to eat meat it is best to choose organic, free-range sources. The quality of meat will allow you to receive its benefits and if eaten in moderation it can help keep your body in balance. Remember that eating meat is not necessary for health and if you don’t enjoy it for any reason there are many valid approaches to preventing disease through a vegetarian diet.
Ultimately the choice to eat meat comes from your experience. Some people crave protein and enjoy meat. Others have no interest in it. Following your our authentic experience is the best guide. In order to determine if meat is beneficial for you consider an Ayurvedic assessment to determine the amount of accumulated toxicity in your system so you can augment your diet for enhanced health.
Boback SM, Cox CL, Ott BD, Carmody R, Wrangham RW, Secor SM. 2007. Cooking and grinding reduces the cost of meat digestion. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 148(3):651-6
Clifton PM, Basitaans K, Keogh JB. 2009. High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglycerol. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 19(8):548-54
Fraser Aj, Webster TF, McClean MD. 2009. Diet contributes significantly to the body burden of PBDEs in the general U.S. population. Environ Health Perspect. 117(10):1520-5
Frazer, GE (1999) Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all cause mortality in non-Hispanic whithe California Seventh-day Adventists. American Journal of Clincal Nutrition 70, Suppl., 5325-5385
Klonoff DC. 2009. The beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet of type 2 diabetes and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 3(6):1229-32
Lanou AJ, Svenson B, 2011. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Manag Res. 3: 1-8
McGarr, S.E., Ridlon, J.M., and Hylemon, P.B., 2005. “Diet, anaerobic bacterial metabolis, and color cancer. A review.” International Journal of Infectious Diseases 3, 197-202.