Want to reap the benefits of meat without the nasty chemicals? Here I share my tips on how to purchase healthy, chemical-free meat.
1. The integrity of the business
Whether we choose to accept it in our minds or not, there is the story of a life, and the story of a death behind every piece of meat we eat. It is important to narrow the distance between the reality of the foods we eat, and our blissful ignorance that stems from a convenience culture of eating.
I am not saying that we all need to raise and slaughter our own meat. I am pretty sure the land lord wouldn’t appreciate us keeping livestock in the spare rooms of our apartments. But one thing that I think we really need to consider is the importance of supporting local butchers and developing an honest relationship with them. In this way we can still keep the communication lines open on the history and quality of the meat we are eating, something that is a lot more difficult to track in a large supermarket chain.
2. Avoid nitrates
Nitrates are preservatives that are added to meat to maintain colour and shelf life. One thing that I noticed when purchasing the nitrate free bacon is that the colour was significantly less pink. It had the more natural brownish colour of meat. This is because nitrates are what give cured meats their pink colour; think ham, salami and hotdogs. I did some research on nitrates and discovered that there are many warnings for parents against feeding infants food with nitrates, as they have been linked to infant methemoglobinemia, a deficiency of oxygen in the blood.
Nitrates themselves are not a danger in their own right, yet when they are taken into the body they react chemically to become related compounds called nitrites. When these foods are cooked at high temperatures, or digested in the acidic environment of the stomach, by-products called nitrosamines can be formed. Some variants of nitrosamines are carcinogens.
There is also evidence that pregnant women should especially avoid eating foods preserved with nitrates, and the levels of nitrates in the fetus can actually exceed those in the mother’s blood, thus causing harm to the health of the developing baby. Definitely something to avoid in your meat!
3. Avoid added hormones
Buying meat that is hormone free is extremely important. Don’t be afraid to ask your butcher the hard questions. Although growth promoting hormones are banned in the EU, they are still used in Australia. According to the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health, the use of six natural and artificial growth hormones in beef production poses a potential risk to human health. Studies indicate that there is a risk of the added hormones affecting human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, problems of the reproductive system and is even linked to the development of breast, prostate and colon cancer.
4. Buy grass fed
Buying grass fed meat ensures that you are buying meat that has been raised the way nature intended. Many farmers “finish” their animals with grain to fatten them up, but this is not what the animal would naturally eat, and it affects the integrity of the meat’s health benefits. For example, the cow’s digestive system is not designed for grain, which means it can sit in the stomach. When fed a high grain diet, the micro-organisms that break down the food in the ruminant’s digestive system shift to those favouring a more acidic environment. As the bio-chemistry of the digestive system transforms, so do the affected tissues (meat). Meat from a grain fed animal is less flavoursome and has far more saturated fat than grass fed meat. Studies show that grass fed beef is significantly higher in Omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Buy organic wherever possible
While it may seem that organic meat butchers your budget, there is no question that it is an important long term investment into your health. Buying certified organic meat will ensure that the meat is free from GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and antibiotics which the animals can store in the fatty tissues. Studies show that organic meat is significantly higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and that women who have had a diet high in CLA had a 60 per cent lower risk of breast cancer than those with low levels. Organic meat is also higher in vitamin E, which is linked to lowered risks of heart disease and cancer. Certified organic meat farmers are subject to high accountability and standards of farming, and the meat is always free range; the animals are treated humanely and are free to roam in open pastures.