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Meat Myths and Misconceptions

What's Leigh cooking for dinner? Steak!
What's for dinner?

There are many myths and misconceptions about eating meat. Is it good or bad for you? What's important when considering the meat that goes on your plate? Here are four of the more common questionable things I hear.

Our bodies can't digest meat properly, it 'rots' in our colon.”

FALSE. Digestive enzymes and bacteria in your gut break down the meat. It leaves your stomach after 2-3 hours and is fully digested typically in 4-6 hours.

What our digestive enzymes can't handle is fiber. That's why fiber simply passes through the stomach and goes all the way to the colon. There the friendly bacteria of the intestine break it down through fermentation (a sort of rotting) and it gets turned into beneficial compounds.

So it's not meat that rots in the colon, but rather fibrous plants. And that's a good thing, because that process of fermentation keeps friendly bacteria alive and is critical for optimal health. If you want to see undigested food, eat a piece of meat and a few whole corn kernels. It's not the meat that'll come out the other end intact.

“Eating meat leads to weaker bones.”

MIXED. It's true, that for each gram of protein you eat, you lose 1.75 milligrams of calcium. Societies with the highest consumption of protein in their diet also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. So is all that meat-eating damaging our bones?

Nope. Most research points to a lack of exercise. The more "advanced" a society becomes, the less physical work individuals have to engage in.

Studies show that the most important thing you can do for bone health is, exercises that require "...high forces and/or generate high impacts..." That means unloaded exercises like swimming aren't going to help. But, "Exercise involving high impacts, even a relatively small amount, appears to be the most efficient for enhancing bone mass..." The problem isn't too much protein, it's too little exercise.

“It doesn't matter how you cook meat.”

FALSE. Deep frying anything is about the unhealthiest way you can cook something. If you're trying to eat well, that should not be in consideration. But a summer favorite can also be a problem.

Grilling meat, especially if it has a lot of fat on it, can increase your risk of cancer. When you grill, you're cooking at higher temperatures. The fat that melts, drips into the fire or grill element. Those drippings flare-up. The smoke that rises back up and infuses the meat contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Unfortunately that tasty charring is a cancer-causing agent.

The higher temperatures also produce another cancer-causing agent called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). When red meat, poultry or fish are cooked at higher temperatures, like grilling or broiling, HCAs are produced. The longer you cook the meat, and the higher temperature you cook it at, the more HCAs form.

Grill safer. Marinate your meat before you cook it. Studies show that marinating meat for at least 30 minutes before cooking can reduce the formation of HCAs by 70 to 85%. Then trim the fat off so there's less chance of it dripping and forming PAHs. Finally, add more fruit and vegetables to the grill. PAHs and HCAs don't form on grilled fruits and vegetables.

“When you're buying beef, it doesn't matter what the cows ate.”

FALSE. According to the organization American Grassfed, the advantages of grass-fed versus grain-fed animals are significant. Grass-fed animals are "higher in beta carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important in reducing cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and other life-threatening diseases."

Studies back those claims up, but the amounts are small and many people wouldn't pay the premium if that were the only benefit.

There is something worth the extra money, it's the reduction in risk of infection by E. coli. The stomachs of ruminants have multiple compartments and they're designed to eat a high-fiber, low-protein diet.

Unfortunately most ranchers feed their cows grain, a low-fiber, high protein food. Grain is hard for a cow to digest, and it breaks down the cilia in a cow's intestines. Over time, their digestive pH levels rise making it an ideal breeding ground for E. coli. Cows on a natural grass-fed diet have significantly lower levels of E. coli.

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