Do yourself a favor and refrain from reading this while you eat, as these dirty details about poor quality meat might just make your stomach turn. Nevertheless, this is definitely important information to know because a lot of meats that are processed in these ways can do a number on your health.
Cold cuts are a basic example of meat that has been processed. It may be obvious that the thin, perfectly round pieces of sliced turkey don't look as fresh as the bird carved on Thanksgiving, but have you ever thought about how these meats are created and what's actually in them? Consider the last time you were at the deli counter, perhaps assuming that getting your cold cuts freshly cut is healthier than pre-packaged versions. If you dare to take a look at the labels on those big hunks of meat, you might think twice. Plus, how can they be perfectly shaped but completely boneless? The reality is that they are typically ground up, pumped full of additives, preservatives, and artificial coloring, and put into molds to look like a "natural" shape. These delis have us fooled!
Nitrates are chemicals used to preserve meat and are commonly found in cold cuts and jerky. When consumed, they are converted to nitrite in the body and can react with certain amine-containing substances found in food to form nitrosamines. These are potent cancer-causing chemicals [II]. Not a good situation for your body. Nitrates should be avoided.
You may have heard this phrase on the news in past years from controversies pertaining to fast food chains using this meat product in their hamburgers. Officially called "lean, finely textured beef," pink slime is made up of scraps from steaks and roasts. The scraps are then heated and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria, and is used as a cheap filler for hamburger or hamburger products. Pink slime can be found in these fast food hamburgers, taco meat, and even the meat patties you buy at your local grocery store. Avoid this by having hamburger ground the day of your purchase or by making the decision to only buy meat at high-quality grocery stores or a local butcher.
Some meat products are made by grinding meat scraps and connective tissue together with ammonia, then "gluing" the substance together with transglutaminase, also known as "meat glue." These products are often sold as prime cuts of beef, such as tenderloins or filets. Who would have thought! Avoid meat glue by asking your butcher if transglutaminase has been used in their products.
Conventional Animal Protein
There is just no way around it— conventional animal protein is best avoided whenever possible. It is detrimental to us in so many ways. These animals are fed pig and chicken slaughter byproducts and genetically modified (GMO) grains, which are not native to their normal diet. A cow's natural diet is purely grass! They are also given growth hormones and antibiotics. All of these treatments then have an adverse effect on those who eat the meats. Growth hormones can alter the delicate balance of our own hormones and the antibiotics they are given to the animals can begin to deplete our diverse gut flora. We know that GMO corn, soy and hybridized wheat products are linked to health conditions such as food allergies, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive issues [I].
Avoiding these types of meats can be just as much of a moral decision as it is a nutritional decision since these animals are confined to very tight spaces and treated poorly. Conventional farmers place as many animals as possible into a very small space, limiting their ability to move or practice normal behaviors. Often cows hooves are exposed to their own feces for so long the acid burns them. Chickens are so crowded that they are unable to spread their wings and are debeaked to prevent them from pecking each other to death.
I know that many of us tend to want to "look the other way" when hearing this type of information. However, it is a reality that we need to face. If you want to continue to enjoy meat in a healthier, more sustainable way, always choose the higher quality products. If you are on a tight budget and cannot buy everything organic, I would suggest that meats and animal products be your top priorities for choosing organic or grassfed versions. If you have access to rural areas near where you live, buying meat in bulk from a local farm can also greatly help to decrease the cost.
Plus, quality meat just tastes so much better! Treat yourself to a grassfed steak when making this recipe and you'll know what I mean!
[I] Gilles Eric Séralini, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge,
Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois. "Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize." Environmental Sciences Europe, 2014; 26:14. Web. May. 2016. <www.http://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5>.
[I] Larsson SC, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. "Processed meat consumption, dietary nitrosamines and stomach cancer risk in a cohort of Swedish women." International Journal of Cancer, 2006 Aug 15;119(4):915-9. Web. May. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16550597>.