All Meat is Not Created Equal
In today's world we’re inundated at all times with the horrors of the world. We have not just the news but also documentaries, TV series, Netflix, and thousands of books telling us what’s drastically wrong with our food system today. When it comes to meat, too much of this story is sadly true, and the visuals we see are despicable. Vegan films like Cowspiracy, What the Health, and more come to mind. Shows that combine scary visuals with stark statistics that are enough to make any meat-loving person drop their burger.
I’m not here to argue that this type of meat production is tragic. As you’ll see below I’m right on board with the war against factory farming, eating farmed or endangered fish, processed dairy products, battery caged hens, etc. But there’s another story here, one that’s lesser told: the healthy, happy animal story, and how humans evolved on a million-year-old diet to incorporate some of these foods into our lives. This is meat that is cultivated in healthy ways, ways that not only heal the land it's grown on but also heal the bodies that care for and eat it. These are the grass-fed herbivores I speak of, such as cows, lamb, goat, and sheep, as well as our pastured omnivore friends, pigs and poultry. Not all meat is bad. In fact, some of it is actually very helpful, dare I say necessary, for healing.
That’s why this section is all about how all meat is not created equal, and instead of cutting meat out of your diet in totality, you can support the other way while healing your own body! There are many small, local farms out there raising healthy animals that I speak of, and many grocers are hopping on board making it even easier to find. Sometimes all it takes is making an extra effort to find a good source, and then sticking with it.
But like I said, not all meat is created equal, and indeed some meat can truly wreck your body.
Meats That Hurt: Feedlot animals and processed meat products
I’ll keep this short since 99% of you reading this know what I’m about to say and, truthfully, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this gross topic. What I really hope to convey is, to those of you who are on the fence, how it can exacerbate your endometriosis.
Feedlot beef is cultivated in miserable conditions. Cows crammed into tight quarters, made sick by being fed grains and not getting sunlight, then stuffed with antibiotics to keep them alive along with growth hormones to make them fat faster. Because of their sick living conditions, it’s no surprise that this meat is bad for the consumer.
Dioxin levels are a big concern with endometriosis! Dioxins are potent human carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive disruptors and immune disruptors that accumulate in fatty tissue, yours included. “A 1992 study analyzed rhesus monkeys exposed for four years to 5 ppt and 25 ppt of TCDD, the most toxic form of dioxin. 23 Association researchers concluded that ‘the incidence of endometriosis was directly correlated with dioxin exposure and the severity of disease was dependent upon the dose administered.’ This study demonstrated that “chronic exposure to the chemical toxin dioxin is directly correlated with an increased incidence in the development of endometriosis in rhesus monkeys. In addition to these findings, the dioxin-exposed monkeys showed immune abnormalities and altered GI microflora similar to those observed in women with endometriosis.”
How does this apply to meat? Because meat can be a big source of this chemical. Since dioxins accumulate in fat, feedlot beef products are known to bioaccumulate these toxins and pass them on to the consumer: you. Some grain-fed cows are actually fed many foods other than grains to keep down costs and promote weight gain. From gummy worms to milk chocolate bars to stale candy still in the wrappers, these poor cattle are fed whatever is the cheapest source that will fatten them up the most, and apparently, it has been going on for decades. (here)
What's also important are the animals feeding troughs! Didn't expect that, did you? If you saw What The Health and heard that grass-fed beef is full of dioxins from contaminated soils, I’m here to tell you that info is false and based on a single 1995 study that suggested this was a possibility, but without conclusion. Later, a 2002 study discovered the dioxin contamination actually comes from animals fed from troughs constructed with pentachlorophenol-treated wood and the inclusion of incinerator waste as a feed additive. Grass-fed beef is indeed not exposed to these sources of dioxins, and I’m really annoyed this info was spoken to the general public in order to further the executive producers activist/vegan agenda. It’s one thing to not support animal cruelty, another thing to lie to the public in a fancy documentary with outdated/unproven studies meant to scare. Ok, ok, sorry, rant over ;)
What to do? Avoid factory farmed meats of all kinds (this includes poultry!), as well as many seafoods (see my fish post) and other animals up the food chain. It's as equally important to avoid non-organic produce that's sprayed with dioxin rich pesticides and herbicides, as well as chemical-laden bath, beauty, and cleaning products too. The main point is the closer to nature you stick, the farther away from dioxins you’ll be.
Like I mentioned HERE, many of us think red meat causes inflammation because it’s full of saturated fats, which is the main ingredient for the inflammatory prostaglantin-2 (PG2). Again, the reality is that inflammation is more often caused by a combination of a) an omega 3 deficiency, and b) a big overdose of omega-6. The perfect balance of omega-6:omega-3 is between 1:1 and 3:1. When the ratio gets skewed, inflammation starts to occur.
So… what has a high omega-6 ratio? Animals being fed a diet of industrial waste products, that’s what. When animals are fattened up eating fattening grains over grass (junk food over natural food), their omega-3 levels drop at unprecedented rates, creating a mega imbalance. That’s why some industrial raised red meats have clocked in with an omega ratio at 30:1! Chickens weren’t far behind at 12:1, still an inflammatory nightmare. Eating your omega’s in this ratio will definitely cause inflammation.
Makes Your Endo Belly Worse:
Remember, endo belly is not caused by endo, it’s actually a whole separate entity of gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is a general term meaning, frankly, that your gut is out of whack. It can mean SIBO, IBS, chronic constipation/diarrhea, candida, or lots more. Your gut dysbiosis issues may be totally different from someone else's, but it can be generally agreed upon that your gut microflora is in an unhealthy state.
But because this dysbiosis affects nearly all girls with endo to some degree, it’s often seen as one in the same, which isn’t good for endo girls who think that since it’s connected it cannot be fixed, although it totally can. It can also be made much worse. I know my endo belly went from slight bloating to 6 month preggo over the course of 5 years.
Back to meat, something that’s known to make this worse are food preservatives such as nitrates and antibiotics, which are both found in industrial processed meat products. Put those together and you will be perpetuating a sick ecosystem for your gut microbiota to survive in.
Studies show that antibiotics “cause a profound and rapid loss of diversity and a shift in the composition of the gut flora that can not be recovered without dietary interventions”, and nitrates impact the gut immensely when the imbalance is already there. If you’ve heard that meat causes diabetes, this is actually only in correlation with an imbalanced gut flora. ”Diabetes experts say that nitrates lessen the release of insulin, which reduces glucose tolerance and increases risk of diabetes. This negative effect on glucose levels helps explain why Harvard researchers found that eating just one serving a day of processed meats (i.e. two slices of salami or a hot dog) was linked to a 20% increase in risk for diabetes”. It’s not the meat that causes diabetes - only glucose does that - it’s that the nitrates messed up the gut bacteria enough to increase insulin resistance overall.
Your gut and your health are intricately linked, so staying away from processed and polluted meat products like these will definitely benefit your healing process.
Meat that Heals: Pastured and Grass-Fed Meats
After all the negative, here’s the gold. There’s totally a way to live that supports animal welfare, sustainable farming techniques, and the environment, while eating tasty creature foods that heal your body instead of harming it. Yes, I said heal, which is so much bigger than simply being “allowed” to eat this food source. This is a source of nutrients that can help knit your weak ligaments back together, help correct your omega-3 deficiency, calm your inflammation, and infuse your body with an intense amount of nutrients. Plus, for us chronically ill, eating a generous amount of the correct balance of essential amino acids is an absolute must.
Through finding and supporting smaller farms that offer organic, grass-fed beef/lamb/bison etc., and pastured pork and poultry, you can stop your health's downward spiral. The benefit of eating this type of meat - all organs, bones, and muscle meat - is incomparable to its factory farmed brethren. Indeed, I view them as two completely different food sources rather than both as simple ‘meat’, and here’s why:
Anti-Inflammatory: CLA and Omega 3’s
CLA (conjugated linoleic Acid) is somewhat newly discovered by scientists, but long needed by the body. I know I’m throwing around a lot of terms here, so just remember CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fat that acts much like an omega-3, although with some different benefits. It’s known for its ability to calm the immune system, help you burn fat, heal allergies, and most important for us, calm inflammation. That’s why this powerhouse fat is quickly gaining recognition amongst autoimmune and arthritis patients, as well as those dealing with obesity. Where do you find it? Only in animal products from animals eating their natural diet! According to a report published in The Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, the top food sources of CLA include butter from grass-fed cows, full-fat dairy, and grass-fed beef. It’s also found in lesser amounts in dairy and meat products from lamb, veal, turkey, and seafood, all eating their natural diet.
Not to mention that grass-fed meat has up to 4x more omega-3’s than its industrial counterpart and, in an omega-3 deficient nation, that’s important. It’s been estimated that only 40% of Americans get enough omega-3’s in their diet, while an astounding 20% have blood levels so low they can’t even be detected! (here)
This is why there were/are enormous cultures of meat eaters who never had inflammation. Think of the amazing health of Native Americans, Inuit, Khoi San, etc. Because when people eat healthy, grazing animals, these nutritious fats actually lowered inflammation rather than created it.
Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
In my naive vegetarian days, I used to think meat was simply protein, fat was simply fat, and that I could get enough of both from plant sources. I didn’t realize that grass-fed meat, meaning protein and fat, has loads of fat soluble vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, a true savior for our endo-depleted bodies.
When Weston Price studied cultures that were still eating their traditional diets, he found that they ate around 3-4x the mineral content as contemporary Americans (in the 1930’s), and over 10x the amount of fat soluble vitamins! That’s a heck of a lot more, and synthetic vitamins don’t nearly cut it — indeed many of them are toxic in high doses. That’s why eating grass-fed meat and organs, chock-full of fat soluble vitamins, will build your body back up to good health with the food as medicine approach.
Vitamin A - a fat soluble vitamin and antioxidant that protects cells from damage. A 4-oz serving of liver contains 18,928 IU of Vitamin A, almost 400% of your RDA. And since it’s a fat-soluble vitamin - meaning it can be easily stored - 2 servings of liver per week will easily fill this quota. As for muscle meat, grass fed is known to have 4x the amount of vitamin A as feedlot beef. Again, synthetic vitamin A can be toxic in large doses.
Beta Carotene: not to be confused with Vitamin A, this is a wonderful antioxidant in its own right. When cows eat grass chock-full of beta carotene, they store this wonderful powerhouse in their fat, which is also why their fat is yellow rather than white (imagine butter).
Note: why I say not to be confused with vitamin A is because beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which means it needs to undergo a complex chemical reaction in order to be converted into vitamin A in your own body. If you have impaired gut or liver function (endo girls) this conversion rate can be as low as 2%! That means it’s extra important while you heal to get vitamin A directly from the source through animals that have already done the conversion for you. Beta carotene is a great antioxidant, but we can’t rely on it for our vitamin A needs.
Vitamin D: Like us, animals get their vitamin D from the sun. So, when we eat animals that have spent their life in the sun, it’s no surprise we also reap the benefits of their healthy, outdoor lives. This is how peoples in northern climates survived Winters in health before vitamin supplementation, because they were eating plenty of animal fats from animals that had absorbed and stored the vitamin D for them already.
Vitamin E: In a study comparing meat, grass fed has 4x the amount of vitamin E than feedlot beef. In a deficient nation, that’s no small feat! Vitamin E has also been linked to increased fertility in rats, and is recommended for women with fertility issues and those about to start IVF to help successful conception. It’s important to get vitamin E from food sources instead of a pill, since Vitamin E is actually made up of 8 stereoisomers, but cheap laboratories often produce the easiest one to isolate: alpha-tocopheryl. That means when you take a pill you’re only getting 1/8 of your vitamin E rather than the whole spectrum, which can create even more problems if an imbalance occurs.
Zinc, Iron, Phosphorous, and Selenium: these all-important minerals are often missing from our mainstream diet. Zinc is absolutely necessary for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, for everything from fertility in both men and women to creating hydrochloric acid in your stomach. That’s right, without zinc you literally cannot digest protein. Grass fed beef is a great way to get all of these minerals, and one small 4 oz cut would contain 64% of your daily selenium, 52% zinc, 45% phosphorous, and 22% of your iron. (here)
Necessary for the Gut-Healing GAPS Diet:
I recommend everywhere that if you’re an endo girl searching for a solution, you drop everything and heal your gut. Stop with the thousands of supplements, the herbal remedies, the pharmaceuticals, the latest green juice powder. Those things may help in the future, but nothing will make much of a difference if your gut is one big, distended endo belly of bad bacteria and dysbiosis.
To heal the gut, you need to do a somewhat short-term and strict diet of nutrient dense foods, that simultaneously cuts out all potential inflammatories such as grains, beans, nightshade veggies, sugar, gluten, eggs, dairy, etc. That leaves: fat, protein, and veggies. You then use these foods to fill up your energy coffers, heal and seal the gut, and allow your body to calm down the inflammation caused by this out of control immune system.
Because this diet eliminates every major source of protein but one (meat), to do it successfully you have to eat meat. To heal a broken gut, you need to eat easy to digest collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline, all found in the connective tissues of animals and made easy to assimilate through homemade bone broth. And, I’m sorry to tell you, that in order to really heal a severe case of endo you really must learn to eat some organ meats. On a positive note, you can learn to like it :)
Amino Acids in a correct balance
I know you can get enough amino acids, in the correct balance, from plant sources. At least, I think you can if you have a healthy digestive system, a glorious liver, and you’re obsessed with food combining. But again, I want to reiterate how a woman with chronic disease is different from her vibrantly healthy sister, and must really pay attention to getting this correct balance all the time. I discuss this thoroughly in my Nutrient Density page.
Prevents the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
Eating protein from animal sources is one of the best ways to prevent your body from climbing daily onto the blood sugar rollercoaster. I’m going to say that although this might not apply to you, so far 100% of all the endo girls I’ve worked with thus far (including me) have had blood sugar control issues off the charts, yet many of them were eating “healthy”. Relying on grains, beans, and starches as a protein source will exacerbate this issue, especially when fats are limited. Remember, blood sugar control issues will make your endo much worse. Want to know how? I have the page for you right HERE.
So What About Free-Range and Organic?
Good question, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer since it depends on the producer. However, for the sake of this page we can generalize.
Organic meat only means that the animals were fed organic feed and not injected with hormones or antibiotics. The Omega 6:3 ratio in this meat can still be inflammatory, and stressed living conditions can impact the health of the meat. That’s why some “organically” labelled meats are sadly just another green-washed way of promoting industrial agriculture, although that's not always the case.
Free-range can mean different things depending on the animal. For chickens, the USDA requires they have “access” to the outdoors, but not necessarily pasture. That could mean one door out to a concrete porch, literally. As for other animals? Sadly, this label only applies to birds! The USDA doesn’t actually have any requirements for any other animal product being labelled “free range, pasture roaming, or pasture raised”. There are suggestions, but no requirements, so it’s like products you see being labelled “natural”. Anyone can do it.
Not to say they don’t, though. I want to make it clear that lots of farms really care about their animals' welfare and work with what they’re given. If there was a certifying body for “Honest to God Free Range” they’d be there filling out the paperwork. But since there’s not, everyone has to sit under the one, green-washed label.
What does that make you? A Researcher! It’s now officially your job to investigate companies you plan on supporting, to make sure their animal husbandry isn’t less than what they’re marketing.
For information on finding grass-fed animal products, go to my Troubleshooting Page Here.