Meat is supposed to be really good for us, right? It is full of protein and iron which are definitely things a growing body needs.
The trouble is, getting those macronutrients from meat is not such a good idea.
First, let’s look at it from a gut flora perspective: Eating meat alters the trillions of microbes living in our gut. Within 2 days of eating a meat based meal, the types of microbes living in the gut shuffle around, and not for the better.
Certain types of microbes that are introduced to the gut in a meat-centered meal flourish and have been linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases.
That bad bacteria introduced to the gut and hanging out in the intestines influence many aspects of our health including weight, immunity, and behavior.
The fact is, a single meal of meat triggers an inflammatory response in the body within hours of consumption. If we go from one meat-centered meal to the next, like from bacon for breakfast then a turkey sandwich for lunch, and a hamburger for dinner, then we end up in a chronic state of inflammation, with never any time for the body to reset back to normal healthy range. We become always inflamed, always damaged.
If you have a damaged and inflamed gut, you have damage and inflammation elsewhere in the body. This routine of chronic inflammation sets us up for, inflammatory diseases. Those diseases include all auto-immune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers.
The question is, if inflammation is an immune response to a perceived threat, then what is the the body finding threatening in a meal containing meat?
One answer: endotoxins.
Endotoxins are the toxins released from bacteria when introduced to the human gut. There is a direct link between endotoxins in the blood stream and increased intestinal permeability. The more permeable your gut is, the easier unrecognizable molecules, even from food, will enter the bloodstream and cause an immune response.
After one meal of meat (or any animal product such as eggs and dairy), the bloodstream becomes flooded with bacterial endotoxins. And no, you can’t cook them off. The endotoxins survive cooking, high heat, and even your stomach acid.
To make matters worse, fat in the animal food increases the absorption of the endotoxins into the bloodstream.
A high protein, meat centered diet, accelerates the rate at which endotoxins and carcinogens get into the cell.
Another answer to the “what is my body finding threatening” question is: saturated fat.
Look at it this way, the saturated fat we eat saturates our cells with fat. The more fat our cells are saturated with, the less room there is for glucose to get into the cell. Glucose is what our cells need for life sustaining energy. When you have fatty cells, the glucose can’t get in, so the glucose (sugars) stay in your blood. This is when you get diagnosed with diabetes because you have high blood sugar. But the kicker is, it isn’t because of the sugar you have been eating, it’s because of the saturated fat. With all that sugar coursing through your blood vessels, your vessels become hard and narrowed. Blood can’t pass through easily which cuts off circulation not just to your heart causing cardiovascular disease (which is the number 1 killer in America), but to your other organs, your brain, your eyes, and even your genitals.
By the time you get diagnosed with diabetes, you have already had it for 10-20 years.
Too often, the first sign of cardiovascular disease is a heart attack.
Damaging bacteria introduced to our gut when eating meat leads to toxic blood and in turn systemic inflammation and complete weakening of the immune system. We know that bacteria death (endotoxins) are more readily absorbed into our cells because of the animal protein. And we know that the saturated fat from animal foods takes over our cells and leaves us with too much sugar in the blood which leads to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
EAT WITHOUT MEAT
You have all this information, so now what do you do? Change is hard, but your life depends on it. The life of your children depends on it. After I learned how damaging meat is, I couldn’t, in good conscience, feed it to my kids anymore. I was damaging their gut, and whole body, one bite at a time. That was the motivation I needed. What is your motivation?
On a meatless diet, my kids have thrived. They have limitless energy, they sleep soundly, they get sick less-often (almost never) than their peers, they have amazing focus, and they are a healthy weight. They are getting every nutrient they need. Why? Because they eat a wide variety of plant-based foods. Plants are where all the nutrients are. Meat has no fiber, no carbohydrates, no antioxidants, and no phytonutrients. Any trace amount of nutrients someone might get from an animal food is only there because the animal ate the plant those nutrients came from. By going directly to the source (plants), and skipping the excess protein, iron, saturated fat, and endotoxins found in meat, we eliminate the chances of life threatening, and oftentimes deadly, diseases.
Cutting meat out of your diet can be hard at first, especially if you have grown up on meat at every meal. It isn’t just what tastes good to you, it’s a part of who you are. It is how you relate to your family, memories of sitting around the dinner table eating your favorite meat-centered meal and talking about your day. How do you make changes when, maybe, no one else in your family is?
Another hurdle: maintaining this new way of eating. When I gave up meat, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to maintain it because I was just sure I didn’t like nearly enough vegetables to make it work. I couldn’t possibly live on apples and bananas alone. As much as I had always wanted to like salad, I just never did. What was I going to eat?!
Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick a few recipes that become your go-to recipes. For me, one of those meals was tacos. Instead of using ground meat for the filling, I substituted it with brown rice or quinoa and I doubled up on the veggies I added in. To my surprise, I liked it much better than tacos made with ground meat. Most importantly, so did my kids.
Rice became my substitute for meat in many of the main dishes I made. Chickpea’s are also a great replacement. And much healthier, too. Instead of chicken noodle soup, I make chickpea noodle soup. Making soup or stew? Double up on the beans and/or rice and skip the meat. It will be just as hearty and filling (more filling!) and be life giving, not disease promoting.
It only takes 10 days to 2 weeks for taste buds to change. You can do this. I found myself craving more fruits and vegetables, liking the taste of more vegetables that I grew up not liking, and expanded my palate by more than double. And now, I absolutely love salad. I could eat a giant salad for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Your taste buds will change.
Beans and grains are not to be feared. Grains are the most protective food against diabetes, because of the fiber. Foods like red meat and processed meats, because of the saturated fat carry the highest increased risk.
Beans are full of the healthiest sources of protein, in just the right amounts necessary. Remember, excessive protein turns on the cancer process and accelerates its growth.
Now, what about iron and protein? Most people fear they won’t get enough protein or iron on a plant based diet, however, on a plant based diet you will get plenty of protein and iron – the right kinds of protein and iron. You will also get the wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber that you won’t get in meat.
You can read more about the benefits of cutting meat out of your diet in this article here.