Meat - The Good, The Bad,
And The Ugly
Meats refer to animal flesh such as skeletal muscles and associated fat that is raised and prepared for human consumption. According to the meat-packing industry, this refers to the flesh of mammalian species, therefore excluding fish and poultry from its definition.
Where does it come from and what should you look for when purchasing your favourite cut?
Animal products come from traditional commercial farms and grass-fed farms. You can pick up prepackaged items in the supermarket or head to your local butcher for fresh cuts. The supermarkets carry commercially farmed products with some offering a selection of organic-labeled cuts. Your local butcher will have a wide selection of fresh cuts and will tend to offer a better selection of organic, pastured and grass-fed options.
When buying prepackaged products people tend to look at the color as an indicator of freshness, but this can be misleading. Packaged items may have enhancers such as flavourings and preservatives and may be injected with water to give it a better appearance. Colour is not necessarily a good indicator. Better indicators are the smell and texture – it should smell fresh and should not be sticky or slimy. Beef should be marbled with thin threads running through it and pork should appear dry with no blood or juices around it.
Animal products should always be put in separate plastic bags before adding to your shopping cart to avoid cross-contamination of the raw juices. Remember to head to the refrigerated and frozen sections of the grocery store last, as you have 30 minutes to get your items from grocery store fridge to home fridge before bacterial growth takes hold.
Refrigerated items should be consumed within three days or promptly frozen for longer storage. Remember that once thawed, they cannot be refrozen without cooking them first.
Not all items can be frozen. Certain cuts such as luncheon meats and bacon should only be frozen if stored in air-tight containers or vacuum packed as they have a tendency to develop a sour taste after a few days.
The good, the bad, and the ugly:
Animal products can be beneficial or detrimental to your health. This involves several deciding factors such as its source, packaging/processing and various forms of preparing or cooking.
Grass-fed or grass-finished animals possess a whole host of health benefits. Grass-fed cattle and other sources are raised on green pasture and are not switched to grain or corn for fattening purposes. This makes the finished product lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. It’s richer in omega 3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), selenium and vitamin E and helps to protect against heart disease, various forms of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and may play a role in reducing artery plaque.
The animals don’t have the same highly acidic stomach as grain fed animals do. The increased saliva produced when ingesting grass helps neutralize stomach acids. This is important because increased stomach acid raises the resistance of E. coli, making the strains more dangerous to those ingesting grain fed animals.
Grass-fed products are available in late spring and early summer so that would be a good time to head to your local butcher. Your butcher will also give you information on grass-fed, grain-fed, and organic products and various ways to cook your favourite cut.
Feedlot products come from grain and corn fed cattle raised in confinement. Because of such close quarters, the cattle are given large quantities of antibiotics to reduce the incidence of disease and hormones are used to fatten the cattle and get them to the market faster. Residues of hormones and antibiotics make their way to your plate along with your steak. The large quantities of antibiotics given to cattle can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can make its way to your gut.
A note on antibiotics: Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria leaving your body vulnerable to unfriendly microorganisms such as the antibiotic–resistant bacteria that may be lurking in your steak.
North Americans eat a lot of beef and pork and it’s about time to acknowledge exactly what you're taking in.
Adding to the feedlot dillema, let’s consider cold cuts/luncheon meats and hot dogs. If you take the feedlot sources contaminated with hormones, antibiotics and drug resistant bacteria and further process the meats and add nitrites or nitrates you end up with cold cuts, sausages and hot dogs.
Cold cuts are precooked or cured products found in your local deli or in vacuum packs in the processed deli isle of your local grocery store. These products contain nitrites to preserve their freshness and the nitrites can be converted to N-nitroso compounds by combining with amines during cooking and also by combining with amines in the human stomach.
Please note: some N-nitroso compounds are known carcinogens. If you would like more information on the carcinogenic effects of nitrites please visit:
Most prepackaged cold cuts are higher in fat and sodium than other animal products.
So what if you just can’t give up your favourite cold cuts?
- A solution is to skip the prepackaged variety and ask for your items to be cut at the store (deli counter) as they tend to contain fewer preservatives.
- Some producers are coming out with prepackaged ‘nitrite-free’ luncheon varieties – just make sure it says nitrite-free on the label.
- You can also combat the preservatives by eating food sources high in vitamin C. Tip: The vitamin C source has to be ingested at the same time as the preserved products in order to inhibit the formation of N-nitroso compounds in your stomach.
Let’s End On A High Note: ORGANIC
There aren’t any hard and fast definitions for organic meats, but below are some guidelines as to what is considered organic:
- The animal is fed 100% organically grown feed
- The animal must have access to the outdoors, sunlight, pasture and room to roam
- The animal is free of growth promoters and antibiotics
- Organic products must remain separate from non-organic products to ensure no cross-contamination has occurred
The best place to find organic meat is at your local butcher shop or at the farmer’s market in your area.
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