* The outcomes of this diet depend on the person's individual predispositions and cannot be guaranteed in every person. We advise you to consult your doctor before you start a diet programme.
Everything you wanted to know about meat but were afraid to ask
“At least eat the meat,” my mum would plead with me when I was a kid and didn’t feel like eating. Although I’m still unsure whether this was primarily motivated by the meat’s price tag or by my mother’s unwavering conviction that the meat was good for my health, I’m clear about one thing – unwittingly, all those years ago, my mum managed to put this type of food on a very high pedestal for me.
What can we gain from eating meat? What nutrients does it provide and in what quantities?
Packed with complex protein
Meat is a rich source of protein. Apart from playing an important role in building muscles, as some of you might be aware, protein is also instrumental in the regeneration of hair, tendons and skin and in the production of enzymes, hormones and antibodies. To put it simply, protein plays a significant role in ensuring that our body functions the way it should. This is no small feat.
As you might already know, protein is made up of building blocks called AMINO ACIDS. There are 21 amino acids in total and as many as 9 of them cannot be produced by the body itself (They are called essential amino acids). It’s just beyond the body’s means. The amino acids therefore have to come from food.
Now, have a guess where you can find a complex protein containing all 9 amino acids in the right quantities and proportion?
Spot on. In meat. Or better, in animal sources to which meat belongs. These sources also include fish, seafood, entrails, eggs and dairy products.
Of course, there are also many interesting vegetable sources of protein (soya, tempeh, quinoa, pulses and some types of vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus). Although often described as sub-standard in all those clever books, a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can achieve similar effects to those that are based on animal sources if one is prepared to put some effort into it.
How much protein is there in meat?
If anyone has ever tried to tell you that a 100g steak contains 100g of protein, don’t believe a word they are saying. The protein content is nowhere near as high. It also depends on the type of meat. Nevertheless, the fact remains that of all the macronutrients, protein is the most filling and is very effective in fighting hunger pangs and stopping us from overeating. I’m sure that wolfing down a packet of crisps followed by a biscuit and a chocolate bar would be a piece of cake for some of you, but I’d rather you went for two 150g steaks. Now we’re talking!
But back to our calculations. The table below will show you roughly how much protein you can find in 100g of your favourite type of meat.
|Venison (roe deer)||22g|
Vitamins and minerals in meat
To reduce meat to just protein is to tell you only half the story. Meat is also a good source of vitamins D and B12, as well as iron and zinc which are minerals important for healthy development and blood production that the body can easily utilize. High levels of these minerals can be found in beef and pork.
Is meat really good for us?
You might be starting to get an impression that the effect meat has on our bodies is entirely positive. Time to set your alarm bells ringing! The risk associated with meat is its fat, which contains high levels of saturated fatty acids as well as toxins that are deposited in the fatty tissue. The fat has a negative impact on blood cholesterol levels, it contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and can also have carcinogenic effects. Even the World Health Organization has warned on several occasions about the negative impact of meat, particularly fatty red meat, on our health.
To eat, or not to eat meat?
I can imagine you must be a bit confused at this point, not really sure whether to eat meat or not. If you don’t have any personal or any other aversion to it, then by all means enjoy it. If you do decide to have a go, mix different types of meat and make sure you buy pieces that are not too fatty.
Also, take extra care when selecting your meat. When shopping, pick only such produce where you can trace its origin and ask questions about the living conditions of the farm animals. By the way, this advice is unrelated to a recent, widely discussed case of the problematic Polish meat production.
Just for your information, meat from pasture-raised animals tends to have higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Also, if the animals are raised in line with environmental standards (organic farming), they are not given growth hormones and prophylactic antibiotics. They are also much less exposed to pesticides, fertilizers and other environmental toxic substances.
The information about the origin of your meat can be found on the food label. ‘Reared in’ tells you where the animal spent the substantial part of its life and where it was slaughtered. If the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in one single country, it is indicated as ‘Origin’.
The last aspect that has a direct impact on how beneficial the meat is for us is its preparation, so make sure you pay proper attention to it. Cook, roast, stew or use a slow cooker. Steer clear of quick frying in oil as oil tends to oxidize at a high temperature, producing substances that you wouldn’t serve even to your worst enemy.
Author: Janina Dvořáková
State Veterinary Administration, Ministry of Agriculture
Teaching materials for Nutritional Therapy study programme, Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague
William Davis: Wheat Belly