Whaaaaat? Yumminess. Sheesh. Hey, it's true, meat tastes good. I love meat. I grew up wolfing down burgers from the Gilded Breasts franchises (McDonalds if you missed the analogy) the King, the Whataburger and ate tons of roasts, pork products and chicken from every conceivable purveyor of poultry. When I turned 23, I became a vegetarian. Nothing religious, no sudden insight into the way cows and pigs were slaughtered being cruel or inhumane, nothing like that. It was simple, I was broke. Meat costs more than plant based proteins. Working two jobs in an attempt to improve my financial position meant I worked some pretty long hours. I found that the weeks I didn't eat meat, my need for sleep was reduced to 4 or 5 hours a night. When I ate some meat, I felt crappy unless I got 7 to 8 hours.
There were two books that influenced my decisions about food and became a cornerstone of a new way of life for me. The first, The Chemical Feast. A book by good old Ralph Nader's Group. It was eye-opening. Published in 1970 it detailed how the food processing and drug industry were pushing new drugs and new chemical based foods onto the public with very little testing for safety. This was way back in the late sixties when the GRAS contained less than 800 entries. Today, the GRAS has over 3,500 chemical compounds approved for use in the manufacture of food and food-like products. And the EAFUS (Everything Added to Food in the US) lists over 10,000 chemicals. The scary part is that some of those chemicals, even though approved for use in food production by the FDA, are banned from human consumption by the EPA. Yeah, it's true, click here to read about one big one (EPA and FDA)
The second book was very interesting, Diet for a Small Planet. This book showed me in very simple easy to understand detail, that the human body can get nearly all of the protein needs from plant based foods. That meat, is not necessary for a healthy long life. And there were a whole lot of recipes for eating meat-free. The book is still available, it still has some fantastic recipes and along with the companion book, Recipes for a Small Planet, they became my go to source for information and concepts for cooking.
However, as I grew older, I learned, I questioned. I did find some interesting things. The first is that protein is not the only required thing that we as humans need to eat. That's a given I think, every fifth grade health class teaches us about carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. I talked about the big fat ones a while ago, Omega 3 and 6 fats. (The Omegas) and of course I have talked about how the Paleo concept of only eating fats and protein is not a viable diet, that humans evolved eating carbs. And I also learned that plant based foods contain all the proteins a human body will ever need. It's just that they don't give us the correct proportion of very specific Omega 3 fatty acids we need. And of which as we grow older, we need that one specific DHA fatty acid that younger folks are able to synthesize from the more basic ALA and EHA fatty acids. It seems that the enzyme needed to do just that becomes in shorter supply as we age, gain weight and do less exercise. It happens. So as I explained in that posting referenced above, older people like me need to increase the intake of basic Omega-3's by eating cold water seafood, free range eggs, or meat. That's the bad part, meat. Although humans need that protein, and can get all of the eight essential amino acids from plant sources, meat is a ready supply of both Omega-3 and all eight aminos. Pretty nice if you think about it. And that's probably why it's so popular with weight lifters, Paleo people, the meat industry, you know, most of the American public. It's ingrained into us from TV ads (Beef, it's what's for dinner) to the USDA Food Pyramid (which as I have shown here before, was in the past written to please the food industry and had little to do with actual nutrition) to health class in fifth grade to college nutrition classes. Meat is a good thing.
However, that's just not the case. I'm going to get a little technical here now. The problem with meat, modern meat goes far far beyond all the things that I have talked about in the past here on my blog, the ractopamine problem, steroids, arsenic, rBGH, glyphosate laced feeds, and all that other stuff that makes modern meat inedible. There is also the very real problem with protein oxidation. Protein oxidation is defined as the covalent modification of a protein
induced either by the direct reactions with reactive oxygen species
(ROS) or indirect reactions with secondary by-products of oxidative
stress. ROS can cause oxidation in both amino acid side chains and
protein backbones, resulting in protein fragmentation or protein-protein
cross-linkages. Now, the problem is, not a lot of research has been done in this area and only a little is known about what happens when humans consume highly oxidated meat products. We do know that when we consume meats that have high amounts of peroxal components, by products of oxidative stress, that those peroxide ions can cause indirect oxidative modification of specific amino acids during our digestive process. That indirectly causes enzymes to make Carboxymethyllysine. This is indeed a problem as that is just one measure used to determine how advanced the body is into diabetes. Yeah, that one is scary. What needs more research is does being diabetic in fact also produce CML or does an increase in peroxidated meat products then cause the formation of CML that then causes reactions to take place within the body resulting in diabetes.
Of even greater concern is the advanced glycation properties associated with CML formation. What this means is that heavily peroxidated amino acids have a tendency to cause human blood to clot more quickly. And the secondary finding is that high levels of CML appear to increase artherosclerotic calcification in diabetic patients. Again, here, this research is in its infancy and a lot more needs to be done to verify if these specific glycation endproducts are the result of diabetes itself or if the scarier prospect is that having huge amounts of CML actually cause or enhance the disease itself.
So, this is just some of the research that has come out just this year. It's difficult to believe that the simple production method of taking beef, cutting it into smaller pieces, then letting it sit in big tubs, albeit in a cold room, for long periods of time allowing the beef access to free atmospheric oxygen; and then grinding that beef and making patties for the local purveyor of burgers could in effect be the cause of so many health problems in America today. These studies were done on beef, but I'm sure they apply to pork, chicken, turkey, ground up earthworms, any meat that gets put into food destined for stores, fast food joints or finer restaurants everywhere. I have a couple friends that go Paleo a lot and give me a ration of crap all the time for being vegetarian. They keep telling me that humans evolved eating large amounts of meat, that's what we are supposed to eat. Yeah, I don't think that any of our paleolithic ancestors ever ate burgers or sausages or chicken sandwiches made from oxidated meat.
Yeah, I know, but meat tastes gooooooood!!!!!!