10 Reasons Why Eating Beef is Good for You and the Planet

is meat good for you the planetToday we’re sharing a post by guest authors Robb Wolf, New York Times Best Selling Author and one of the early advocates of the paleo lifestyle, and Diana Rodgers, RD, Real Food Dietitian and Sustainability Advocate. Robb and Diana co-authored Sacred Cow, an eye-opening book about meat, health, and sustainability, out this month. 

The ancestral health community generally accepts the right type of meat as a health food. In fact, eating animals is the number one guiding principle of the Primal lifestyle. Still, some groups advise against meat consumption.

Two of the main arguments that you should give up meat are:

  1. It’s healthier to eat vegan
  2. You reduce your impact on the planet if you’re vegan

If your primary meat source comes predominantly from a drive-thru, then yes, these arguments probably hold true. But there’s a world of difference between mass-produced meat from large agricultural operations, and pasture-raised meat from small-scale farms. The animals’ diet and living conditions have a profound effect on what the meat does for your body and for (or against) the planet.

Here are the main reasons why eating meat the right way can benefit your health, as well as the planet’s carbon load.

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Meat Is a Great Source of Protein

Protein is the most satiating macronutrient – it simply fills you up better than fat or carbs. It’s also the building block of our bodies and immune systems. Meat is a low calorie way to get the most bioavailable source of protein for humans. It contains all of the amino acids we need to grow and thrive. Unless you are eating a LOT of vegan protein powders, a “plant-based” diet sourced from industrial agriculture is a sure way to ensure you are always hungry and will consume a lot more energy to get the nutrients you need, including protein. Read more here.

Red Meat Is Nutrient Dense

Meat is not just high in protein. It is also a source of many nutrients that are simply not available in plants. Meat provides B12, highly absorbable heme iron, preformed vitamins, all the essential amino acids, zinc, EPA, DHA, vitamin D, and vitamin K2, none of which are found in plant foods. Plants provide important antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. We need this variety of nutrients to survive. Compared to rice and beans or other plant proteins, red meat contains more vitamins and minerals per gram of protein. In order to get 30g of protein, you could eat about 200 calories of beef or about 700 calories of beans and rice.

Meat Provides Critical Nutrients That Aren’t Available in Other Foods

Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods and is essential for neural development. Other vitamins and minerals that are found in both meat and plants are usually in their most absorbable form when eating from animals. This includes iron, zinc, vitamin A, calcium and essential fatty acids. Even though chicken and beef are both quality sources of protein, beef simply blows chicken away in the nutrient department. It has significantly more B12, zinc, choline, iron, and potassium. Meat contains heme iron, the most absorbable type of iron. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common mineral deficiency in the United States. In terms of micronutrients, chicken only has more B3 than beef. Recommendations that ask people to reduce beef intake and replace it with chicken or vegetables are essentially asking them to reduce the nutrient quality of their diets. Read more here.

Without Grazing Animals, Some Ecosystems Fall Out of Balance

Well-managed grazing systems mimic the way that herds of bison used to migrate through the plains, biting and trampling pasture while depositing manure, before moving to the next spot and allowing the previously grazed area to rest. If plants are not controlled, then a few varieties typically takeover and shade out other plants. To test this theory, stop mowing your front yard for six months and see what happens. Without regular harvesting – whether through grazing or mowing – ecosystems can become dormant. Grazing animals help stimulate the constant regeneration and growth of pastures and grasslands. This provides better living conditions for wildlife, encourages plant root growth, and improves soil health.

Well-managed ruminants can also help eliminate the need to use chemicals to maintain weeds and other undesirable plants. Controlled grazing encourages cattle to eat types of forage that they may not otherwise select while adding sheep and goats can specifically target weeds and invasive species of plants. The use of chemical inputs like pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides has also taken its toll. Pesticide usage has led to pollinator decline while fertilizer runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut, as a few examples.

Good Grazing Management Can Improve Soil Health and Sequester Carbon

In a well-managed grazing system, the rest period after grazing has another important function. The more leaf surface area that a plant has, the quicker it will be able to regrow after a grazing period. By ensuring that the cattle only take the top half of a pasture, producers can ensure that those plants will rebound during the rest period. As plants photosynthesize sunlight, they expand their root systems. Healthy root systems help those plants transmit nutrients into the soil to feed microbial life. The more abundant a root system is, the healthier the soil will be, and the more carbon will be sequestered.

Grazing Animals Can Thrive on Land That Cannot Be Cropped

Removing livestock doesn’t mean that we will free up more land for crop production. More than 60% of agricultural land globally is pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep, and/or arid to support cultivated agriculture. Yet this land supports cattle production and nutrient upcycling. Sheep and goats are also well-equipped to thrive in harsh conditions and on challenging types of terrain. By raising well-managed ruminants in these areas, we are able to improve the ecosystems, create better wildlife habitat, and build soil health while also generating a nutrient dense source of protein and other nutrients. Burger King, Cargill and World Wildlife Fund recently announced a new project to reseed 8,000 acres of marginal cropland throughout Montana and South Dakota to ecologically diverse grasslands with beef cattle as the primary grazers to maintain the new ecosystem.

Cattle Upcycle Agricultural Byproducts and Other Materials We Can’t Eat Into Nutritious Meat

Only 13% of global animal feed (including feed for chickens, pigs, and cattle) consists of grain crops, according to United Nations FAO research, and only 32% of overall global grain production in 2010 was used to feed livestock. A staggering 86% of global livestock feed consists of materials that we cannot digest as humans, like crop residues including stover and sugarcane tops. Pigs and chickens are also monogastrics (like humans) and cannot digest these products either. However, ruminant animals like cattle, sheep, and goats can safely consume these materials and turn them into nutrient-dense protein for humans. When looking at what only ruminants eat, the numbers are even lower for grain, at only 10% of the diet for cattle, globally. Grass and leaves makes up 57.4% of global ruminant feed ration. The rest is inedible by humans, like “crop residue” such as corn stalks.

Buying Direct From Local Farmers Boosts Farmer Income and Food Security

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the weaknesses of our current heavily-consolidated and industrialized meat industry. Choosing meat from local farmers helps to create a new supply chain that pays farmers what they actually deserve for the hard, never-ending work of raising livestock. It can also reduce the number of miles that your food has traveled while in some cases offering high standards of welfare for the livestock. Supporting small farmers also supports the preservation of open space in or near your community while keeping money close to home. Investing your food dollars close to home helps build a more resilient local food system that can withstand crises like the current pandemic.

Grazing Animals Produce So Much More Than Meat

Many people view livestock production as providing one simple output: meat. But when you add up the many products that source ingredients from cattle alone including tallow for beauty products, cartilage for osteoarthritis medications, and gelatin for foods as a few examples, it paints a much different picture of a cow’s contribution to our society.

In most cases, synthetic leather is made from two plastic-based substances polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The process involves bonding a plastic coating to a fabric backing to create the look and feel of genuine leather. PVC has been identified by numerous organizations as one of the most environmentally damaging types of plastic. Many vegan leather makers also rely on plasticisers like phthalates to make the material flexible. Unfortunately, the wool industry has seen a similar turn of events. Competition from synthetic fibers has led to a reduction in the price for wool leaving many sheep producers in the lurch particularly in New Zealand and Australia.

Livestock Are a Critical Resource for Women and Children in Developing Nations

When people in a position of privilege talk about reducing global meat consumption, they overlook the negative impact that it would have on women and children in developing nations who rely on these animals for economic stability, food security, and vital nutrition. Two of the leading nutrient deficiencies worldwide are Iron and Vitamin B12. Animal products deliver these in the best form. Meat is a critical component of a child’s diet, particularly in developing nations where improved health and cognitive function is a key step to fostering a healthier, more successful nation.

According to ILRI, two-thirds of the world’s 600 million low-income livestock producers are rural women who are responsible for the day-to-day animal management, including processing, marketing, and selling animal products. The organization has found that when women control income, 90% is invested back into their household compared to only 30% to 40% when income is controlled by men. Enabling women to derive economic independence through livestock will directly improve the health, education, and food security of their households. Read more here.

To learn more about these topics and more, pick up the book Sacred Cow: The Case for Better Meat, by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf. They also have a companion film coming out this fall. Keep up to date at www.sacredcow.info.

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  1. I wholeheartedly agree with the message of the post, but it’s worth mentioning that natto is a plant food that is plentiful in Vitamin K2 so you may want to double check before saying certain nutrients are only available through animal foods. I only say this because vegans will quickly dismiss your argument if it isn’t iron clad.

    1. Natto contains the MK7 variant. As far as I have been able to find, MK4 is only available via meat

  2. This post is very misleading… It seems to assume we can always move to another planet.
    There is not nearly enough land for everyone to live off pasture-raised animals, and to avert climate crisis we need to REDUCE emissions by rewilding marginal land, not merely maintaining livestock on it.

    Sisson’s good name is at risk by giving a platform to such a crude cherry-picking of facts as this.

    1. Ben…

      Your argument fails at several points.

      One is that animals eating grass and leaves – one of the most natural of all processes – is somehow destroying the planet. Anyone who understands natural systems, knows that plants will grow and will be eaten by animals, regardless of whether we eat the animals or not. A “rewilded” landscape is full of animals, including ruminants.

      The second is the foolish assumption that land which is “marginal” for cropping cannot sustainably and beneficially produce food by grazing. By denying ourselves this most sustainable of food sources , we place increased pressure on arable cropping land as well as wasting vast amounts of the vegetable material that is produced by cropping.

      Nor do you address the fact that without modern, chemical-intensive mono-cultures, we cannot feed the world with plant-based foods. You can talk all you like about over-population, but the only human that you are free to remove from this planet is yourself. The rest of us want to live, and poor, hungry people will eat everything that moves (and a lot of what doesn’t) before they will die of starvation, The only way that we can preserve this one available planet is to maximise the sustainable use of resources.

      1. Agree.. but neither you nor the post authors seem to have the right grasp of “sustainable” to me…

        1. Ben G, what would you suggest? It’s tough to pinpoint what the human civilization should do as a whole.
          Seems like the only way humans will save the planet is if we completely give up our current pillowy existence, luxurious lifestyles, conveniences and start living way more in tune with nature. But the only way that would ever happen is if some sort of apocalypse or mass extinction happened and we had to start over. Or some form of dictatorship.
          It’s like in Ishmael or Story of B (can’t remember which one) in which they talk about the “antichrist” won’t be some horned devil but someone that tells us that we have to do a complete 180 with our lifestyles in order to save the planet. Will it happen? Probably not.

          In the meantime, pastured animals over feedlots sound reasonable. More research though!!

    2. No, your premise is invalid. Hundreds, if not thousands of computer models run in the last 30 years predicted massive warming. This has not been confirmed by actual measurements. It’s time to call BS on this. Repeating ideas a million times and developing Groupthink has not changed the basic scientific facts that your premise has been disproven by actual data.

      ” to avert climate crisis we need to REDUCE emissions…”

      1. But it’s not actual data, it’s modeling of the future. That’s not data. Besides, this seems like an excellent way to sequester carbon AND provide a food source.

    3. Ugh, denying climate change is in no way credible, so it’s difficult to respond to Jeff’s comment.

      BUT – what I did wonder is whether the primal living can mean meat-eating is climate compatible… ie. I now eat just once/twice a day since I don’t have to fuel continually on grainy carbs….

      I wonder how much modelling has considered that? Hopefully the post authors address it in their film- though research I’ve seen about the carbon footprint of pastured-beef isn’t hopeful (perhaps poultry though).

      1. Rewilding marginal land would include herds of ruminate animals. Why do you think millions of bison used to roam those areas?

        1. Yes sure. But those bison fed, what, a million nomadic people? There’s 330 million in the US today.

  3. I agree with the general message of this article, but thought it was kinda strange to mention Burger King and Cargill in a seemingly positive light. I have high doubts those companies plan to do anything good or healthy for the general public. Burger King also sells vegan burgers, and ya know, all that other junk…

  4. Have really learned a lot from this site. Mark has definitely helped me look into details of studies especially industry funded studies.
    Life isn’t black or white while going full carnivore vs vegetarian or whatever suits you. I think this site has promoted a little bit more balanced then that. That said getting an unidentified ‘guest’ post pushing beef specifically rather an all other sorts of meats and not presenting balance, etc for the arguments of all kinds of matters be it sources, sustainability ,options of different types of meat, goes against a lot of what I’ve learned from this site.
    Doesn’t take away that there are some truths, but disappointingly it seems to argue for one specific industry without talking about pros/cons and balance of it.

    1. Did you read the post? The authors are clearly identified. They are also not arguing for the current mass production of beef Industry but for a more sustainable model of smaller producers.

  5. While I agree with the idea and sentiment of the post, it is critically missing the actual wild ruminants/cervids who live, lived or should live on the same land that people want to raise cattle on. Additionally the destruction of native plants and animals, disease transmission and water issues cattle bring.
    There are ways to do this responsibly but there is a very large hole in this post/argument.
    It is also true that allowing only wildlife will not “feed the world” but if we are talking about health of the individual and planet, wild red meat is much better.

  6. Thanks for telling me that beef can be a great source of many nutrients that are good for our bodies. My brother just got out of surgery and I want to cook him food that will make him feel better. Maybe cooking some Texas wagyu beef can help him recover faster from his surgical wounds.

  7. We can end world hunger by feeding people the crops we feed to livestock.

    Red and processed meat are Class 1 carcinogens.

    Non-human animals are sentient and suffer unimaginably at the hands of human animals. They are not here for us to do what we want with them – they are not products, they are innocent beings that deserve equal consideration.

    Cognitive dissonance: This is the term for what is happening when someone against animal cruelty eats meat. Here’s the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance:

    “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

    Simply stated, cognitive dissonance is when our behavior doesn’t match up with our beliefs.