Why in the World is Meat Bad for You?
There was no better feeling than when I graduated college and was on a major upswing. Degree? Check. Great job (or what I thought at the time was a cool gig)? Check. Apartment? I was touring apartments, filling out applications, and scoping out the coolest looking furniture in no time. The furniture shopping stopped once I realized how expensive bed sheets could be. It was then that reality stepped in and I had to settle for hand me downs.
When I moved into my first apartment, I wasn’t allowed a grill. This totally bummed me out. I tried an indoor version but it failed to even tease my taste buds. How was I going to enjoy all those good cuts of meat? What about burgers, ribs, and chops? When I told people how much I missed grilled meat, they stopped what they were doing and looked at me like the English in Braveheart when William Wallace had his face all painted up.
“You eat meat?” they asked. “You’re going to get sick! Don’t you know meat is bad for you!”
Well, nothing can be farther from the truth. If you’ve been relying on chicken breast and turkey your whole life, you’re missing out. What if I told you the same fat that’s in olive oil is found in steaks and beef? That’s right: the same heart healthy benefits found in the fats that everyone rants and raves about are found in meat. Even the Department of Nutrition at Harvard is starting to come around on fat and slowly admitting that all that low fat nonsense may not have been such a good idea.
As a disclaimer, please understand that this article is directed towards those who have voluntarily chosen to not eat meat thanks to a misinformed health scare that’s been around for 30 years. I’m not talking to those who have religious and or cultural views that prohibit them from eating meat. I file those with politics – things that are none of my business and don’t belong on the training floor to begin with.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when meat was labeled as the evil culprit in heart disease. Scientists did notice that an increase in heart disease occurred at the same time as Americans began purchasing more meat, but many fingers can point to Dr. Norman Jolliffe in 1957. Jolliffe ran a study in which subjects were placed into two groups: one group relied on beef, butter, and eggs while another ate fish, margarine and breakfast cereals. Jolliffe discovered that the meat group had a higher cholesterol reading but failed to point out that there were eight deaths from the fish and cereal group (1). That might have been important to point out.
As a side not, not all cholesterol is created equal. Besides the good cholesterol – HDL – there’s also a breakdown of LDL cholesterol into two forms. These forms are broken down by particle size. The smaller form of LDL particles replicate tiny little pebbles that damage your arteries (2). Ask your doctor for more information.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to the science. Meats are abundant in protein and healthy fats, with protein being the building block to giving you a strong and lean physique. This natural pairing of protein with healthy fats goes far beyond just making your muscles strong: it actually increases tendon and bone strength. Even your organs are made up of proteins. If you want to be healthy and strong, meat should be in the diet.
Meat is plentiful in a healthy fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – a fat that has been found to help people lose weight and reduce body fat (3). Yes you read that right – a specific fat can help your body burn fat. Inferior protein sources like turkey aren’t rich in creatine, which happens to be quite a superhero in the supplement world. It can help you burn fat, build muscle, and make you stronger. Even medical doctors and registered dieticians will admit the benefits of creatine. You can buy it in supplement form, but certain meats like steak and venison are rich in it. In an interesting study done with experienced bodybuilders, researchers affirmed the benefits of creatine. With only 4 weeks of training, subjects who took creatine after working out managed to lose 1.2% body fat, gain 4 pounds of muscle mass, and increased their bench press by nearly twenty pounds (4). This study is important because the subjects weren’t average Joes; they were bodybuilders who already had plenty of experience under their belt.
The issue with meat is a two-fold approach. First, health concerns can happen when you eat low quality meats. Thanks to some pretty shady farming practices, some farmers load their animals up on hormones to try and force them to get bigger. They also have to dump a bunch of antibiotics into the animals because the poor creatures don’t get any sunlight or room to move around. You can read about food quality in another post here, but just understand that you’ll only be as healthy as the animal that you eat.
The second issue is that most people suffer from a lack of color in their diet. This means that the juicy rib eye you’re about to devour is missing a hefty dose of vegetables. This is the attack on the Western Diet: too much meat and too few vegetables. It isn’t that the meat is the culprit, but the vegetables that have gone AWOL. I personally recommend two different vegetables per serving of meat, with each vegetable being a different color. Think broccoli and cauliflower, or green beans and bell peppers. The good thing about vegetables is that they’re nutrient dense, meaning you can load them up in a dump truck and not worry about overeating.
Bored with your diet? Then spice it up with some meat: pork chops, tenderloins, ribs and steaks are all food that should be regulars in your diet. Besides, one of the best things to do after a workout is to fire up the grill. Trust me: I went years without being able to do that, so I know the void it created in my life.
1. Fallon, Sally. Enig, Mary G. “It’s the Beef.” www.westonaprice,org 31 July 2000
2. Bowden, Johnny. Living Low Carb New York; Sterling. 2013. pp 103-105
3. Benjamin, S. Spener, F. “Conjugated Linoleic Acids as Funcitonal Foods: An Insight Into Their Health Benefits.” (2009) Nutrition and Metabolism 6;36. 10.1186/1743-7075-6-36
4. Antonio, Jose. Ciccone, Victora. “The Effects of Pre Versus Post Workout Supplementation of Creatine Monohydrate on Body Compostion and Strength.” (2013) Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. 10:36. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-36