Of the many dietary styles that work with a healthy lifestyle, eating meat is surely one of them. Meat is a preferred protein source in cultures worldwide, including in the U.S.
To explain the physical benefits a person can derive from eating beef, pork, poultry, fish and even wild game, here is a list of “meaty” dietary terms and their definitions.
- Protein: If you are fitness-minded, you undoubtedly have heard of the benefits of consuming proper amounts of protein to meet your physical goals. Protein is indeed a building block of your body systems, including muscles. And amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and support functions like cell communication, memory, or release of insulin from your pancreas.
As a meat eater, you may already get plenty of protein for your body weight and activities. But it’s good to note there is a big range of recommendations, depending on goals and lifestyle: somewhere between 10 – 50% of your daily calories or .36 to 1.0 grams of protein per lb. of body weight, per day. So, it may be a good idea to track your protein intake and investigate if you’re at the right level for your fitness goals, size, etc. If not, supplementing with protein powders and other micronutrients may be recommended.
- B12: Vitamin B12 is considered an exceptional vitamin, in that it is only found in animal products like meat and dairy. Many decades of study have proven it to be essential to optimum blood health, and deficiency is a risk for pregnant women. Also, B12 is not fully absorbed when consumed—absorption rate estimates are about 50%. However, we don’t need much, and for meat eaters, it isn’t hard to get. Just a 3 oz. serving of ground beef provides about all the B12 the average adult needs in a day.
- Cholesterol: Many people are worried about body cholesterol levels being too high, increasing risk to heart disease. But few know cholesterol plays essential roles in health and development. Cholesterol is needed to build cell walls, insulate nerve endings, produce hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and transport critical fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body. Still, the average person manufactures about 85% of their cholesterol in their own bodies—and usually that is plenty, as cholesterol deficiencies are extremely rare.
About 15% of a person’s cholesterol is consumed and it is often through animal products. Some meats are quite high in dietary cholesterol, including fatty cuts like prime rib and bacon, so if your doctor determines your levels are too high, you might avoid those. Then again, seafood like salmon and shrimp are cholesterol-rich, but are low calorie, highly nutritious foods, so balance is the key. Cholesterol from fast foods and fried foods are the perfect place to cut back for health.
- Fat: There are varying levels of fat in different types of animals as well as in different cuts of meat. For instance, wild game meat such as venison (deer) or elk is lean meat as a rule. These animals roam free and exercise more, thus they develop less fat. Chicken or turkey, typically considered “lean” meat, still contains fat—more in the dark meat of a leg than the white meat of a breast, and there is a bit of saturated fat in the skin, too.
However, not all dietary fat should be avoided! Much like cholesterol, your body requires fat to function well. And, a bit of fat content can bring a great deal of pleasure to the portions you eat, adding flavor and moistness to increase your satisfaction. Salmon is a cold-water “fatty” fish, but one of the healthiest meats one can choose. Plus, while fat is calorie-dense, which matters to weight management, fat can be burned by your body for fuel, too.
- Iron: Anemia, or iron deficiency, is the most common nutritional deficiency leading to disease in the world. Children and young women are at highest risk, as are those who do not consume adequate amounts of iron-rich foods. Meat is an iron-rich food. Poor iron absorption is also a common problem. Inadequate amount of vitamin C or protein in general can cause this. Iron is an essential mineral which forms the majority of your red blood cells, and that blood carries oxygen throughout your body, including lungs and muscles. That’s why “iron-poor” blood or anemia leads to fatigue and compromised physical health.
- Organic: Perhaps you have heard of grass-fed, grain-fed, pasture-raised, heirloom and other classifications for the quality of meats we consume today. There are numerous standards and even some controversy in how meat is raised, processed and labeled, we can look to the “organic” label for help in selecting meats that are most healthful for our consumption. The USDA sets national standards for certified organic products that must abide by a certain production process.
“100% Organic” meat is not necessarily more nutritious, or even “safer” than other meat, but it is produced in a way that might be of interest to meat eaters, including no use of synthetic products, additives, anything artificial, pesticides, fungicides, etc. Prescribed methods for living conditions, manure management, slaughter, and more, are also issued for livestock to be labeled 100 percent organic.