The World Health Organization recently issued a statement that processed meats can increase your risk of developing cancer and that red meat may do the same based on limited evidence. This “new” news may have some people reconsidering their choice to eat meat, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the entire world isn’t going vegan tomorrow. I’m not going to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t give up meat, but I do think that anytime you put food into your body, it should be of the best quality possible. To help the 6.6 billion people (that's 81% of the global population) who include meat in their diet make healthier choices – and maybe even rethink the way they eat meat, I’ve created the following guidelines:
Cows have unique digestive systems specifically designed to digest grass. However, conventionally raised cattle are typically fed a diet of GMO corn, soy, and animal bi-products (because it’s cheaper). This diet is tougher for their digestive systems to break down and can lead to major health issues for the animals, such as liver abscesses, acidosis and ulcers. They are also given antibiotics to fend off illnesses caused by their poor diets, as well as the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions commonly found in industrial feedlots. And to put the icing on this disturbing cake, in the United States, growth hormones are often administered to make the animals grow bigger and faster in order make bigger and faster profits. Yikes!
So what does all this mean for you?
Well, you are what you eat – as well as what you eat eats.
Look For: Organic Grass-Fed Beef
When cows are free to roam the pasture and feed on their natural diet of grass, you get a more environmentally friendly product free from antibiotics and hormones that boasts significantly more health-promoting nutrients, including:
It’s also important to look for certified organic products when buying grass-fed beef. This is the only way to ensure you are consuming minimal pesticides and chemicals, which are known to accumulate in fatty tissues of animal products. Certified organic products also prohibit the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.
If your main goal when heading to the poultry section is to get the largest “value” pack of chicken breasts for the lowest price, I encourage you to think again. The cheapest options are often conventionally raised chickens subject to the same type of overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions and unnatural diets conventionally raised cattle are.
Look For: Organic Chicken and Eggs
Labels can state free-range, free-run, 100% vegetarian feed etc., while the chickens are still being exposed to pesticides, antibiotics and GMO feed made with animal bi-products.
The organic label is the only one that ensures the product is:
Free-Range vs Free-Run
Free-range chickens have access to the outdoors and a roost for resting with a minimum of two feet per hen.
Free-run chickens are not confined to cages and have free “run” of the barnyard floor, but may not have access to the outdoors.
Choosing the healthiest seafood for your body and the environment can get a little tricky, so I wrote an entire post about it that you can read here. The bottom line is that pollution and unsustainable fishing practices wreak havoc on our oceans and have deeply affected the quality of our seafood. Choosing wisely is more important than ever.
Look For: Smaller Fish and Oceanwise-Recommended
Choose smaller fish, such as sardines, Atlantic mackerel, wild salmon and herring to reduce your exposure to heavy metals such as mercury. The larger the fish, the longer it has been in the ocean collecting heavy metals. When toxic heavy metals accumulate in our bodies, they can cause digestive distress, chronic fatigue and impaired cognitive function.
Switch it up. Eating a variety of fish provides you with an array of nutrients and creates a more sustainable supply chain.
Make sustainable choices. Make sure there's plenty of fish for future generations by buying fish that are harvested using sustainable practices. Here’s an awesome list of sustainable, low-mercury choices for seafood via the wonderfully resourceful folks at The Environmental Working Group.
Look for the Oceanwise-recommended logo. This helps to ensure that sustainable fishing practices have been used.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards (3 oz), not the typical Fred Flintstone–sized portions being served up at your favourite surf-and-turf steakhouse. Remember to keep your portions in check and eat plenty of plant-based foods with your protein, which provide you with the fibre, vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in meats. By practicing proper portioning, eating a ton of plants and buying high-quality meats, you will keep your body and your budget in balance. Most importantly, listen to your body and make sure you are choosing the foods that provide the type of fuel you to be your most awesome self!
Does the World Health Organization’s statement have you rethinking your meat-eating ways? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.