When I was growing up there was a group of people who shopped in health food stores, juiced wheatgrass, and ate tofu instead of meat.
At the time they were on the fringe of nutrition, yet this vegetarian lifestyle was considered to be one of the healthiest ways to be. Somehow I found myself at the door of the health food store learning how to prepare tofu.
I kept on this path for about 10 years.
Like many others I assumed this was the healthiest diet available. Plus, I was saving the animals destined to be meat from certain cruelty. Then a funny thing happened, I went to nutrition school. I learned that perhaps being vegetarian was not for everyone and that fake meats are actually highly processed.
Perhaps my diet wasn’t serving me as well as it could be. What did I learn that swayed me?
YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE
For one thing, not all meat and poultry is factory farmed. This was huge for me as I learned about cows that lived in nature eating grass (as cows should) instead of soy, wheat, and corn. There were chickens that roamed freely eating grass, weeds, worms and bugs, (as chickens should). These animals were not kept in tight quarters and never allowed to see the sun.
Conditions which propelled the animals to a lifetime of illness and therefore antibiotics. The sun is crucial to the immune system of mammals (vitamin D), and those who don’t see it will suffer from frequent illness.
Just like humans each animal has certain foods that it is designed to run on.
A cow has four stomachs which are meant for processing grass. When you feed the animal wheat, corn, and soy it becomes sick in the same way a person who has celiac disease (inability to digest gluten) becomes very ill when they eat wheat.
Over a lifetime these animals immune systems are weakened to the point of constant illness.
The factory farmed solution? Large amounts of antibiotics, which do end up in the consumer’s bellies contributing to antibiotic resistance and a weakened immune system.
Thankfully, more people are aware of this and there are countless farms who subscribe to a different philosophy of sustainability and ethical treatment of animals.
IT TAKES HOW MUCH?
What about the fact that it takes 16 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil, and 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain fed meat. This is awful for the planet and for the animal. Instead of feeding the animals food that they are allergic to they can simply roam the land grazing on what they are meant to eat, grass.
Grass-fed meat is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids which help prevent heart disease, support our cell membranes, maintain healthy joints, skin, and brain. Grass-fed meat also is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is a fatty acid that increases HDL (good cholesterol), reduces belly fat and has been shown to be beneficial in preventing cancer.
DONT BE FOOLED BY THE ORGANIC LABEL
Some people ask “what about eating organic meat?” Organic means that there are no chemicals in the feed, but it does not ensure that the animal ate the food that was best for it.
Grass-fed meat should not be grain finished. Even though Niman Ranch is of a much higher quality than most meat on the market, they still use grains to fatten the animal up in the last 3 months. This is preferred to animals who never were free-range, but it is not optimal.
That’s the advantage of shopping at the farmers market, you can ask questions and make educated choices. Make friends with your farmers and ask questions. Some farms even offer tours.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Even though I’ve made the switch, I still feel Americans eat way too much meat. Personally I don’t eat it every day, and certainly not 3 times a day. I think as with all food, moderation is the key to balance. No mammals are 100% vegan, not even the deer and the cows. Why? They are eating bugs which do count as protein. Why is protein (high quality) so important? The body needs protein for growth and repair.
SOME OF US SIMPLY DO NOT THRIVE ON A VEGETARIAN DIET
Our brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters are made from amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. Imbalanced neurotransmitters can lead to mood swings, depression, ADD, anxiety and a range of personality disorders. When we don’t get enough protein we simply do not have the raw materials that our bodies need to run optimally.
If someone does choose a vegan diet, I urge them to skip all those highly refined foods such as fake meat, powders, and bars. A simple protein powder such as hemp or rice works well. Beans, nuts, and seeds are the main protein options for a whole food vegan diet.
It is quite a challenge to have the variety that is optimal while staying away from processed foods.
It’s also impossible to get enough zinc, and B12 on this diet, so a supplement becomes necessary. This is what really made me think about it differently. If it was an optimal diet then all the components would be there. It’s a little easier for vegetarians as yogurt, cottage cheese, and eggs all count as animal protein. Many are now flexitarian, eating fish and even chicken occasionally.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
Whatever combination of food you may choose, always remember to keep it varied. This ensures that the body has all the nutrients it needs to keep you happy, energetic, and healthy!
Try this combination of veggies and meat (or beans if you are vegan/vegetarian) for a tasty meal that makes a yummy lunch the next day. You can double the recipe and freeze some for later use. As with most of my recipes you can switch the veggies up based on the season.
Rogue quick and easy shepherd’s pie
1 pound ground beef or goat (pasture raised) Vegetarians can use beans.
1/2 small head of purple cabbage, chopped
1 large or 2 small heirloom tomatoes, diced or chopped
1 bunch of kale or collard greens, chopped thinly
1 cup yellow string beans
1 large sweet potato
blend of fresh herbs, to taste (any combo of thyme, basil, oregano, and sage work well)
1-2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Italian dried herbs
1 tsp Himalayan salt, more to taste
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1/2 tbsp butter
optional: 1 tsp cayenne pepper
directions: Place sweet potato in veggie steamer and steam until mushy. Saute the dried spices for minute or two in the ghee or coconut oil. Then add onions and ground beef. Saute on low/med just until meat starts to brown. Add vegetables and fresh herbs. Cook on low until veggies begin to soften, 7-10 minutes. Then put veggie and meat mixture into a baking dish. Mash the sweet potato adding butter, salt, and pepper. Put sweet potato on top of veggie mixture. Then cover with foil, and bake on 350 for about 25-35 minutes. Pull off foil for last 5 minutes if browning sweet potatoes is desired.