Jenna Woginrich was a vegetarian for most of her adult life until she became aware of the horrors of conventional American livestock farming. She now owns and operates a small environmentally friendly farm where she raises chicken, pork, lamb, rabbit, turkey and eggs.
In AlterNet, Woginrich writes:
"Every meal you eat that supports a sustainable farm changes the agricultural world. I cannot possibly stress this enough. Your fork is your ballot, and when you vote to eat a steak or leg of lamb purchased from a small farmer you are showing the industrial system you are actively opting out...
"It's a hard reality for a vegetarian to swallow, but my veggie burgers did not rattle the industry cages at all. I was simply avoiding the battlefield, stepping aside as a pacifist. There is nobility in the vegetarian choice, but it isn't changing the system fast enough."
This is a powerful thought.
Avoiding meat really doesn't do anything to change the system. Insisting that the meat is humanely raised, however, will.
Just imagine how the demand would change the face of the meat industry if vegetarians everywhere simply sought out organic, grass-fed meats, instead of avoiding the issue entirely.
Let me make something clear. I'm NOT advocating that everyone should, or even needs to, eat meat. However, there are health consequences of abstaining from animal protein entirely.
Why I Changed My Stance on Vegetarianism
In the mid 1980s, I shared the viewpoint of many vegetarians and tried myself on a mostly vegetarian diet (based on the theories presented in Fit for Life), thinking it would improve my health. It didn't.
The diet actually caused rapid damage to my body. After just a few weeks of eating fruit for breakfast as the program recommended, I was stunned to discover my fasting triglycerides had skyrocketed from below 100 to over 3,000!
Many years later I learned about the principles of nutritional typing and discovered I'm a strong protein type, which explains why avoiding meats and eating primarily fruits and vegetables had such a detrimental effect on my system.
Strong carbohydrate types, on the other hand, can often do quite well on a vegetarian diet.
As for vegetables, I firmly believe everyone should consume high quality fresh organic and locally grown vegetables every day. Vegetables offer a powerhouse of nutritional benefits that will vastly improve your health.
As for fruit, I recommend to avoid eating large amounts of fruit, as most people need to limit their fructose consumption from all sources, especially anyone with insulin resistance conditions, such as being overweight, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes.
Three Important Dietary Factors to Consider
There are certain factors to consider when determining your ideal diet. These factors contribute to people's confusion about meat consumption, because they don't take into consideration the necessary distinctions:
1. Your nutritional type determines what proportion of fats, carbohydrates and proteins your body needs to thrive.
2. Your nutritional type also determines what types of vegetables are most beneficial for you, and how many you should eat each day.
3. The nutritional value of your meat will be determined, in part, by how you cook it.
Factors that Influence the Quality and Health Benefits of Meat
So, how do you determine the quality of your meat? You need to consider the following factors:
1. How it's raised, i.e. in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) or raised organically. CAFO meat is typically loaded with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals and is nutritionally inferior to organically raised, grass fed meat. Not to mention the inhumane practices of many massive livestock operations.
2. How it's fed. Grass-fed meats are far better for you than grain-fed meats.
3. Whether or not it contains nitrates. Nitrates are preservatives linked to cancer. Processed meats are not a healthful choice for anyone and should be avoided entirely, as confirmed by more than 7,000 clinical studies.
Next, how you cook the meat will also influence its health benefits. Cooking meat at high temperatures creates dangerous chemicals, including:
4. Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs): HCAs are linked to cancer. The blackened area of meat contains the highest levels of HCA, so you should avoid charring your meat, and never eat the blackened areas.
5. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): When fat drips onto the heat source and smokes, the smoke can transfer carcinogenic PAHs into your meat.
6. Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized), it increases the formation of AGEs. AGEs in your body cause oxidative stress, inflammation, and increase your risk of heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
Even if you are a protein type who thrives on red meat, eating CAFO grain-feed beef that's been charred to a crisp will NOT improve your health!
For optimal benefit, your meat ideally should be organic and grass-fed and cooked as little as possible. You can, for example, quickly sear the meat on both sides, leaving the inside quite rare. This gives the illusion that you're eating cooked meat, while still getting many of the benefits of raw meat.
Keep in mind that, when it comes to parasites or other infections, the health and happiness of the animal is of utmost importance. Animals that are fed and housed poorly are more stressed and susceptible to disease-causing bacteria, whereas pastured animals rarely develop these infections.
Tips for Finding Safe, Humanely Raised Food Sources
It is important to find sources of high quality, organic grass-fed meats and poultry that are accessible and close to your home. To help you with this, I've assembled a list of sustainable food resources, and many are searchable by geographic area.
Remember, buying local and buying organic are two separate choices and ideally you should seek to do both.
Many smaller farms cannot afford the costly organic certification -- but they employ organic, sustainable practices. The only way to determine the quality of local products is to get to know your local farmers at produce stands and your local farmer's market, which are great community resources.
Follow Dr. Joseph Mercola on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mercola