In many ways, the Primal Blueprint developed and grew as a response to the ridiculous overreach of conventional wisdom. I only started looking for new ways to eat and train after doing everything “right” ruined me. All that nonsense about saturated fat and cholesterol clogging your arteries, carbohydrates being required for “energy,” healthywholegrains offering nutrients you couldn’t get anywhere else and lifelong protection from disease was so odious and obviously incorrect that it drove tens of thousands of people into the waiting maw of MDA. Perhaps the biggest piece of faulty conventional wisdom is the supposed lethal danger of meat. When you feel great eating meat every day, when a rare steak seems to improve your performance in the gym, when you tried going vegetarian for that hot vegan girl one time and ended up gaining ten pounds of belly fat, it’s hard to believe the experts.
And so you go the other direction. You eat as much meat as you can physically stomach. You eat bacon every morning, burgers every afternoon, and steak every night. If some is good, and the claims of meat’s lethality are erroneous, surely most is best. It’s an understandable backlash.
But it’s probably not the best way forward.
Just because conventional wisdom got animal flesh wrong doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse ways to eat it.
Just as I’d say with any otherwise healthy food—cheese, almonds, broccoli, spinach, eggs, sweet potatoes—there are limits to healthy consumption. You shouldn’t eat unlimited amounts of anything. There are always downsides.
1. Eat lots of animals, not lots of one animal
Every other year or so there’s a study showing that [enter meat of choice] contains a harmful compound that’s almost certainly killing you. It’s red meat and Neu5GC causing inflammatory diseases like cancer and Hashimoto’s. Or it’s red meat causing increased TMAO production, spurring heart disease. Or wait, it’s fish causing even greater levels of TMAO production. And watch out for chicken; it’s full of omega-6 PUFAs.
I’m not even saying that research should be ignored. It may very well be telling part of the story. Paul Jaminet’s coverage of the Neu5GC issue in particular is somewhat compelling and makes me think twice about eating red meat every single day. Just don’t let it paralyze you. If you ask the “experts,” there’s something “wrong” with almost every meat out there. So spread the “damage” by eating a variety of animals.
Eat ruminants (beef, bison, lamb, pork).
Eat birds (turkey, chicken, duck).
Eat fin fish (salmon, cod, halibut, sardines).
Eat shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels).
Eat cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish, octopus).
2. Take steps to mitigate excess iron intake
If you eat a lot of red meat, be aware of your iron status and make adjustments if necessary.
Eat calcium-rich foods with your meat. This reduces iron absorption and, in animal studies, reduces the carcinogenicity of dietary heme. In fact, animal studies that show links between red meat/heme intake and colorectal cancer use low-calcium diets. The cancer won’t “take” on high-calcium diets.
Favor SFA over PUFA. PUFAs seem to make heme iron more carcinogenic than SFAs, which are protective. A recent paper suggests that PUFAs make heme more carcinogenic than SFAs. Mice were split into three groups. One group got heme iron plus omega-6 PUFA (from safflower oil). One group got heme iron plus omega-3 PUFA (from fish oil). The third group got heme iron plus saturated fat (from fully hydrogenated coconut oil, which contains zero PUFA). The fecal water of both PUFA groups was full of carcinogenic indicators and lipid oxidation byproducts, and exposing colonic epithelial cells to fecal water from PUFA-fed mice was toxic. The coconut oil-derived fecal water had no markers of toxicity or lipid oxidation.
Give blood if you have iron overload (and maybe even if you don’t). Blood donation is a fast, easy way to reduce iron levels in your blood.
3. Don’t grill, sear, and char every piece of meat you eat
Healthy people can easily handle a seared piece of meat or crispy roasted chicken. A lovely seared steak, rare on the inside, is perfection. That’s no mistake; that’s our biology responding to a bolus of important nutrients. There’s even a good chance that the occasional intake of high-heat carcinogens provokes a beneficial hormetic response.
Don’t stress out over this—despite their love of grilled red meat, Argentines have some of the lowest rates of colon cancer in the world—but don’t ignore it, either.
4. If you’ve got type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance issues, limit high-heat cooked meat
I know I know. That crispy chicken skin is the best part of a roasted bird. But the evidence is pretty clear that for folks with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and other hallmarks of the metabolic syndrome, reducing intake of dietary AGEs (advanced glycation endproducts, formed during high-heat dry cooking) can improve outcomes.
Keep eating the meat—a higher-fat, higher-protein, lower-carb Primal way of eating that includes animal products can really help type 2 diabetics—but focus on gentler cooking methods:
- Use liquid—moist cooking.
- Use lower heats.
- Use shorter cooking times (learn to love rare steak).
- Use marinades, especially acidic ones (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar).
- Cook with spices and herbs, many of which inhibit AGE formation.
Notice I didn’t say “boil your meat.” That’s extreme. You’ll still have tons of flavor with gentle cooking—think braises, stews, soups, broths, and other similarly delicious ways to eat—while limiting the Maillard reaction.
5. Eat the whole animal—or a facsimile of it
I don’t mean you have to haul an entire steer into your kitchen. But do try to recreate the effect of eating the entire animal, which is how humans consumed “meat” for hundreds of thousands of years. Get the bones, scrape the marrow, and make broth. Eat the offal, especially the liver and heart. Don’t toss the skin (and consider asking your butcher for extra swathes of it!).
6. Eat plenty of plants
A couple years ago, I made the case that vegetables, herbs, and other edible plants are especially important for meat eaters. I stand by that.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli counteract the formation of potentially harmful meaty compounds in the gut. Coffee, tea, and red wine also have similar effects (although we don’t often think of them as plants, these drinks are made from plants).
When used in marinades, plants like ginger and garlic can prevent the formation of carcinogens in meat exposed to high-heat cooking techniques.
7. Eat plenty of prebiotic fiber
A few years ago, a study came out seeming to show that a high-meat diet leads to unhealthy gut biome, whereas a low-meat diet has the opposite effect. Except that the high-meat diet was more of an all-meat diet consisting entirely of cold cuts, cheese, bacon, and BBQ. It was entirely bereft of prebiotic fiber, or vegetation in general.
The low-meat diet, meanwhile, featured lentils, squash, tomatoes, rice, garlic, onions, granola, mangoes, and bananas—except for maybe tomatoes and rice, all dense sources of prebiotic fiber. What’s stopping someone who eats a decent amount of meat, cheese, bacon, and BBQ from also eating fiber-rich foods?
There’s even a ton of research showing that resistant starch consumption makes red meat less carcinogenic. Maybe a couple spoons of raw potato starch or a serving of resistant starch potato salad are good side dishes next time you have a steak.
8. Eat plenty of collagen
Meat is one of the richest sources of methionine, an essential amino acid. But there’s some evidence, albeit mostly in animals, that excessive methionine can depress lifespan and that putting rats on a low-methionine diet extends their life. Where does collagen come in?
Collagen is the single best source of glycine, an amino acid that “balances” methionine. In those same rats, adding glycine to a methionine-rich diet restores longevity.
You can do this by eating collagenous cuts, like ears, feet, skin, tails, and shanks. You can do this by using supplementary collagen (or eating foods that contain it). You can make healthy gelatin snacks with powdered gelatin (I like using green tea as the base).
9. Eat grass-fed and/or pasture-raised
Grass-fed and pasture-raised meat is better for you (more nutrients, better fatty acid profile, more healthy trans-fats), better for the environment, and better for the animal (a grass-fed cow has a happy life and one really bad day). If you intend on making meat a significant part of your diet, you should emphasize its quality.
Another little-known benefit of grass-fed meat? Pastured animals allowed to eat fresh grass, wild forage and herbs will effectively produce antioxidant-infused meat with greater oxidative stability than animals raised on concentrated feed.
10. Make sure you’re eating the right amount of protein
Sometimes we eat too little protein. Sometimes we eat too much. Review those two posts plus this one and confirm that you’re eating the right amount of protein for your age, activity level, and health status.
That’s it, folks: 10 ways to make your meat-eating healthier and more effective.
What did I miss? How do you optimize your meat intake?
Thanks for reading.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.
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