By making different choices, you can radically increase the amount of nutrients from the protein that you eat. I will be talking about the 5 steps you should take to insure that you are getting the most nutrients from your protein, how much protein you should eat, why animal protein is healthy, and the best places to buy it.
1. It is best to consume animal protein where the animals were fed their natural diet.
Beef and salmon, when they are fed their natural diet, are many times higher in omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients. Poultry and other fish are also more nutrient dense when they are fed their natural diet.
It is best to purchase beef that is both organic and grass fed, poultry that is organic and pastured and fish and shrimp that are wild. Certain shellfish are healthy if they are farmed.
These are the classifications that you should look for when you are shopping.
Grass Fed. When an animal protein is classified as grass fed, that means that the animal was only fed grass. In the case of lamb and beef, this is their natural diet and when these animals eat their natural diet, they are healthier, have more nutrients, higher concentrations of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and usually are treated more humanely. We in turn are healthier when we eat them. It is also better for the environment. When an animal protein is not classified as grass fed, that usually means that their diet is grain or corn. Even if their diet is organic, this really isn’t the best because it isn’t their natural diet and they often get sick and suffer more. It is best to choose meats that are both grass fed and organic, with grass fed being more important.
Pastured. This refers to chickens, turkey, eggs and pigs. Animals that are pastured are outside all day long on a pasture and eat their natural diet. Chickens and turkeys naturally eat bugs, worms, and plants. They are much healthier and more nutrient dense when they are allowed to eat their natural diet, and their eggs are healthier. This type of agriculture is also more humane and better for the environment. When choosing chicken, turkey, eggs and pigs the best choice is organic and pastured with pastured being more important.
Wild. This refers to seafood and shellfish. Fish and shrimp that are wild are eating their natural diet and are healthier, higher in essential fatty acids and nutrients.
2. Buy animal protein that is organic.
When an animal protein is classified as organic that means that the animal was not given any hormones or antibiotics and was fed an organic diet without any GMOs. This diet may not be their natural diet though. The animals could have been fed corn or other grains which isn’t healthy for them and therefore isn’t healthy for us. Ideally, you should choose protein that is both organic and grass-fed, pastured, or wild. However, if you cannot find both, grass-fed, pastured, and wild are more important than organic. The protein will always be healthier when animals are fed their natural diet.
3. Buy animal protein that is raised on small, local farms.
I recommend becoming a conscious omnivore, and buying from small local farms whose animals are raised humanely, are able to freely roam, eat grass and get fresh air and sunlight. We can and should all vote with our dollars. These types of farms are also better for the environment. Cows, pigs and lambs should be outside all day grazing on grass, chickens should be outside all day roaming freely feeding on bugs and worms, all of which typically happens on small, local farms.
In some cases it might not be possible to get your protein from these sources. Some people do not live in areas where they have access to this. I will be talking about where to buy healthy protein online later in this article if this is the case for you.
4. Buy fresh rather than frozen when possible. When possible, it is better to buy animal protein that is fresh as it is more nutrient dense.
5. The types of animal protein to avoid or at least be cautious of.
Factory Farmed. You definitely want to avoid buying animal protein where the animals were raised in factory farms. This protein is not organic, the animals are fed grains which is not their natural diet and they live in very cramped, unsanitary pens. These animals are not treated humanely and suffer greatly, and the protein from these animals simply is not healthy or nutrient dense. These animals often get very sick from the poor diet they are fed and have to be given antibiotics and other drugs because of this, and these drugs pass onto us. These farms are trying to make as much profit as possible and often give the animals growth hormones which isn’t natural and also passes onto us. These animals suffer because of these hormones. These factory farms are also very polluting to the environment. I just do not recommend that anyone contribute to this. The following are some classifications of proteins that you will want to avoid when possible.
Free range. This just means that the animal had access to an outdoor area but often it is just for a short time each day, and it doesn’t mean that the animal actually went outside. Therefore, this doesn’t mean a whole lot. When choosing meats, you are best to go with organic and grass fed. This could be better than factory farmed but not necessarily. This is a situation where you are going to want to ask more questions to the grocer about where this protein actually comes from.
Natural. This label is very misleading. It just means that the meat was minimally processed and doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients which is true for most meats. Protein listed as natural could actually be coming from factory farms. When choosing meats, you are best to go with organic and grass fed. Again, this is another situation where you need to ask more questions.
Fish Farms. Fish farms are a type of factory farm. Fish and shrimp that are farmed are raised in cramped pens, are fed an unnatural diet of grains, contain little to no essential fatty acids, get sick easier, and suffer a lot. Farmed salmon are so unhealthy that they are actually gray in color and have to be injected with pink dye or it is likely that no one would ever buy them. Fish farms are also very polluting and bad for the environment. I recommend avoiding farm-raised fish like the plague and going for wild. It is also best to consume fish that have low levels of mercury. Fish that have low levels of mercury tend to be smaller and lower on the food chain such as wild salmon, wild halibut, sardines, and anchovies.
Shellfish on the other hand, such as oysters, mussels and clams, are very healthy whether they are wild or farmed. Shellfish farms also do not pollute the environment the way fish farms do. Shellfish are very nutrient dense and contain high amounts of protein, zinc and vitamin B12. Oysters actually contain more zinc and B12 than beef. These are good for everyone, but they are especially good for vegetarians and vegans who are often deficient in B12 and zinc. Shellfish do not have nervous systems and many people consider them to be non-sentient beings and feel that ethically they are okay on vegan and vegetarian diets.
Why animal protein is healthy
- Animal protein contains all necessary amino acids in large amounts that our brains need to function properly and make neurotransmitters.
- Animal protein contains zinc and B12 that are extremely difficult to get from vegetarian sources.
- Animal protein does not contain carbohydrates like plant like sources such as beans and grains therefore do not cause blood sugar levels to spike and become unstable. Many people cannot handle eating such high levels of carbohydrates and remain healthy.
How much protein do we need to eat?
As a general rule, you should eat 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. Everyone is different and this can vary but it is a general guideline that you should start with.
One way to fine tune this is by using Metabolic Typing. Metabolic typing is a nutritional system based on each person’s unique biochemistry. Your dietary plan is based on which part of your nervous system is more dominant, parasympathetic or sympathetic, how your body oxidizes nutrients, and whether you are a protein type, carb type or a mixed type. This can give you a better idea of the macronutrient ratios (protein, carbohydrate, fat) that are right for you personally. You can check it out here. Another test that is a little more general is this one. I do recommend that the majority of people avoid grains though, no mater what your type is.
Another way to figure out how much protein, carbohydrates, and fats that you personally should be eating is to keep a food journal. Take note of the amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat that you eat at each meal and how you feel. The ideal ratio is when you finish eating that you feel satisfied, emotionally stable and have no cravings. You can just keep adjusting the ratios until you feel your best. You will notice that you feel very different after eating a mainly protein, fat and vegetable meal versus a meal that is mostly simple carbohydrates.
What about beef and water consumption?
With the drought in California, many people believe that we should dramatically cut our consumption of beef as it takes 1,847 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. This however, is for conventional beef raised in factory farms, NOT grass fed beef. The reason why it takes so much water for factory farmed beef is because these animals consume corn and alfalfa which require a huge amount of water and water must be shipped into these factory farms for the cows to drink. In contrast, it actually takes very little water to produce a pound of grass-fed beef. Grass fed beef are typically raised on small farms which have springs, creeks and ponds on their property that the cows drink and the cows eat grass growing on these farms, so grass fed beef is actually very sustainable and uses very little water.
Where to buy high quality animal protein.
It is really best to support small local farms where animals are treated humanely and fed their natural diet. Farmer’s Markets and local health food stores in your area are two good sources to find this. I also recommend joining your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter. Members of these chapters often will contact local farms and share grass fed cows and pigs. It is a good resource for listings of local farms in your area. If you live in an area where there are not small farms thereby, some websites which have good sources of high quality protein are US Wellness Meats and Vital Choice.
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