Meat has been a part of human diets for centuries. Many even think it was the inclusion of meat that led to the huge leap forward in the evolution of the human brain. Beyond its rich and savoury taste, meat offers an array of essential nutrients that are vital for our overall health and well-being. Nutrients from meat tend to have a high bioavailability meaning they are well-absorbed and easily utilised.
One of the standout features of meat is its high-quality protein content. Proteins are the building blocks of our body, crucial for growth, repair, and maintenance of tissues. Meat provides a complete amino acid profile, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies require. These amino acids support muscle development, aid in enzymatic reactions, contribute to the production of vital hormones, carry nutrients around the body and provide structure for cells.
Rich in Essential Nutrients
Meat is an abundant source of several essential vitamins and minerals. For instance, red meat is one of the best sources of iron, which plays a critical role in oxygen transport and energy production. Zinc, another vital mineral, is crucial for immune function, cell division, and wound healing. Meat is also an excellent source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal products. B vitamins are involved in various metabolic processes, supporting brain function, energy production, and red blood cell formation.
Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy fats that we can’t make in our body so we have to get through our diets. They are necessary for brain cell structure, reducing inflammation and promoting heart health. Not all meat contains omega-3s, but grass-fed beef is an exception and is usually rich in these essential fatty acids. Pellet or grain-fed cattle have much lower levels of omega 3.
So why has meat become so controversial in health circles? We know that meat can increase risk of some cancers for example. And of course there is the environmental concerns of meat eating. Well, it isn’t the inclusion of meat that is bad for us and the environment. It is the quantities of meat that is the real issue. Meat can be a fantastic source of nutrients and the Lancet’s sustainability diet for the future recommends around 300g meat per week per person. But in order to be truly sustainable, this shouldn’t all be steak or chicken breast. Re-learning to eat the whole animal and including nutrient-dense liver and heart for example will not only benefit our health, but also the planet. Moving away from the mass-produced, low-welfare, cheap meat and towards smaller amounts of high welfare sustainable meat will benefit us all, including the hard-working farmers.
How to eat meat well
Making use of the whole animal can feel daunting as we are so used to the sanitised cuts, in a plastic tray from the supermarkets. But many butchers love to sell the lesser known parts of the animals. Offal, like liver and heart are lower in saturated fat than most cuts and also rich in vitamins like vitamin A and high in protein. The meat from these cuts can add a rich flavour when added to bolognese or a cottage pie for example. They are also cheaper which is a win-win!
Click here to see my slow-cooked ox-heart ragu recipe