By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
Red meat is definitely bad for you, but why would Mother Nature make animals so tasty if we are not supposed to eat some of them? Since the days of cavemen, men have been carnivores, although they did eat just about anything, making them technically omnivores. Since animals were more difficult to catch than blueberries, meat may have been a special treat. When your tribe managed to kill a mammoth, it was probably quite a meat-fest.
According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, people who eat red meat — any amount and any type — have a higher risk of premature death from heart disease and certain types of cancer. Bummer. Processed meat, like bacon, poses an even greater risk. Double bummer.
What must meat-eaters do in order to live long and prosper? The answer is simple: Eat significantly less meat, definitely give up bacon/processed meat, or give up all meats entirely and become a vegetarian. I used to consider myself a second-degree vegetarian because I just ate animals who were vegetarians. I am not trying to incite the animal rights activists or the militant vegetarians out there, but it is a real struggle to give up a juicy steak sometimes. Of course, I would happily trade the steak for a lobster tail anytime.
I tried being a vegetarian. I did it for over a month. Giving up meat after a lifetime of eating it was actually less difficult than I imagined. Since absence tends to make the heart grow fonder, I thought that I would be craving a big, juicy steak, but surprisingly, I did not. I did, however, gain weight instead of losing some (my goal), so I needed to re-evaluate my intake. Although I love meat, I found that I could comfortably eat less of it. Of course, in order to lose weight, I also needed to eat less food altogether. I had an uncle who was a lifelong vegetarian by religious belief. He weighed well over 400 pounds; not a good example in my book, as I watched him wolf down an entire walnut “meatloaf”.
In order to get sufficient protein and important amino acids, vegetarians need to be smart vegetarians by consuming the proper balance of nutrients needed for a healthy life. Vitamin supplements do not make up for poor vegetarian choices, but one can get ample nutrition without ever eating meat.
My former neighbor/friend and self-appointed life coach, Shawn, has been a vegetarian for years. As a matter of fact, he was able to consume enough calories to ride his bike across the United States twice. Trying to eat properly in the meat-eating Midwest was a definite challenge when the only source of protein was canned, refried beans. Now, if I ate refried beans all day, I would be able to propel myself up the Rockies, too, not unlike a ramjet.
I like vegetables (except eggplant and parsnips). I can eat all types of beans. I love them, too; however, my body is really not used to digesting them without the common consequences. Perhaps, if I ate them often enough, my intestines would eventually adapt to breaking down that indigestible fiber more efficiently without toxic flatulence. My bean eating is really weekend or day-off food.
Unless you are a true vegetarian or vegan, a healthy, non-red meat diet can include wonderful protein sources such as seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, and soy. I eat those, too. Sadly, there are few things that I will not eat. I guess this would make me quite versatile if I am ever stranded on a desert island.
I cook most of the meals in our home, so red meat is not on the menu. My wife cooked a meal over the weekend as an early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day: corned beef and cabbage. Yes, corned beef is processed, but technically, it is PINK, not red! And, as long as I don’t eat it every day, I think I’ll be ok.