Chances are good that you're probably digesting some leftover Thanksgiving fixings as you read this article. It probably included some turkey and ham, and maybe even some red meat. You may even be thinking about how much meat is healthy for your family, or maybe you've even considered teetotaling as a pure vegetarian.
Don't get me wrong, there are many benefits to a predominantly vegetarian palate, probably because much of what we don't need in our bodies, is left off the plate when we skip conventional meat with all its hormones and antibiotics. I believe this is the primary reason that vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce the incidence of overall cancer development, and why red meat has been implicated in increasing the risk of colon and breast cancer. But the studies don't differentiate what kind of meat is risky.
What I am promoting are the benefits of eating high quality meat, such as tenderloin from a Grand Mesa elk, venison stew, a buffalo burger, a wild or free-range turkey, and even the occasional free-range steak. There is such a vast difference between your feedlot hamburger and your meal that once ran through the forest, that it is worth some elaboration here.
The raising of domestic animals, especially beef, does require a significant amount of resources. I've seen estimates from 600-5,000+ gallons of water and 6-20 pounds of corn needed per pound of beef. Since the water issue is forefront here in western Colorado, it's worth considering how sustainable this method of meat production is for our country and planet.
If we get another drought winter this year, even our senior water rights here in the Grand Valley may eventually be at risk from water-hungry Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas municipalities. And that means that raising cattle is going to get harder and harder.
The conventional meat method also includes the not-so-necessary-for-human-health additions of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. These are a product of the conventional cattle industry, an all-American appetite for cheap Big Macs and big-agriculture growing methods. From a health standpoint, none of these are beneficial to us, but we often put with this (or more accurately, decline to give it much thought) for the sake of steak on the plate.
The other problem with conventional meats and meat products, is that they are nearly at the top of the food chain (except us humans, and technically human babies), which means that the process of bio-accumulation has concentrated in the animals bodies, the once minute quantities of hormones and pesticides applied to their food. This is no more clear than what is happening in the ocean's food chain, where large predators like tuna and seals now contain unacceptable amounts of mercury in their flesh. This is why some native Inuit peoples of the Pacific Northwest must choose between giving their babies incredibly high levels of contaminants via breastfeeding, or losing all the benefits of breast milk by bottle-feeding.
These are reasons that for the average American, I promote smaller, safer fish like wild salmon, sardines, and herring (if you can stand the latter), and free-range, organic meats and meat products. This also means milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs are a good place to start when you're considering the addition of organic foods into your diet.
As for the benefits of meat and meat products, we can start by looking back to the ancient medicine traditions in China and India to see that milk and meat have been used heavily as part of everyday nutrition. For example: The Ayurvedic tradition of "golden milk" in the mornings, which is 1 teaspoon of turmeric in 1 cup of warm milk.
We also know that red meat is a rich source of minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium and selenium, and has been shown to help weight loss. Meat is also nutrient-dense, meaning it can be helpful during times of stress and high caloric need. I believe I saw this occur naturally as five of my vegan classmates, some for more than 20 years, began eating meat when they could not sustain themselves properly during medical schooling. Pregnant women in particular also have a hard time meeting calorie and nutrient-demands, and eating red meat often takes care of this issue nicely.
It should be clear by now that I advocate for the highest quality, closest-to-mother-nature form of meat in our diets. I know that not everyone hunts, has a chicken coop in their backyard, or has the money to spend on organics. But wild game is often plentiful enough that the skilled hunter usually shares beyond the family, and I've seen organic meats and milk costing less than conventional when on sale.
I myself tend to eat a predominantly vegetarian diet, with meat in reasonable amounts. I'd probably be eating more elk right now, except that my last elk hunting trip did not include any elk whatsoever. The fact that I do hunt does surprise some of my patients who think that I must be a vegetarian because I promote a naturally healthy lifestyle. What I actually promote is a balanced and healthy lifestyle, which does include meat as an occasional addition to the dinner plate.
So here's to more Thanksgiving leftovers. May it keep your brain sharp enough to stay away from Black Friday madness.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.