I know it’s controversial, and I know I’ve written a lot about eating more vegetables – and my own almost entirely plant-based diet – but recently I’ve started eating more meat. After years of reading and research, I’ve come to the conclusion that a little good quality meat isn’t the dietary bogeyman which will decimate our healthspan and cause us to age badly. That role belongs to highly-processed carbohydrates and oils which are nutritionally depleted, spike blood sugar and cause inflammation.
There are plenty of other reasons – see below – I’ve started eating more meat (admittedly from a very low ebb). This isn’t carte blanche to go out and eat a load of cheap burgers, of course, but about sourcing small quantities of good quality free-range (pasture-raised), organic (antibiotic-free) meat. I’m eagerly reading The End of Alzheimer’s Programme, Dr Dale Bredesen’s new book detailing his protocol to reduce dementia risk, which was published last week. He suggests using quality meat as a condiment to a plant-rich diet.
In the Western world as a whole we consume too much protein, but it’s worth keeping tabs on our own intake. Many doctors recommend we eat approximately 1g of protein per kilo of bodyweight, a little more if we exercise a lot, are over 65 or are recovering from illness. (Dr Bredesen recommends between 0.8-1g per kilo of body weight unless you fall into these categories). Do the maths on your own protein intake – I did. And I found a was a little below the target, despite eating (I thought) enough beans, fish, nuts and eggs. When my health coaching clients work through this equation, they often realise they may be a little low on protein too.
Bear in mind that 100g cooked kidney beans/chickpeas/lentils contain 9g protein and both a handful of almonds and a large egg contain 6g each. Chicken and beef contain around 27g per 100g, one supermarket salmon fillet (approx 130g in weight) contains 30g protein.
Annabel wrote about the importance of adequate protein intake to support immunity (particularly important as we head into an autumn rife with the possibility of infection) in a blog post this Spring.
NUTRIENTS FOUND IN MEAT
Adequate protein intake isn’t reliant on meat consumption, of course. Vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians all do very well without meat. But it can be a reliable source of some nutrients which are crucial as we age:
- B-complex vitamins: meat is a good source of five of the B vitamins – thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
- I’m trying to increase my intake of niacin (vitamin B3), and its chemical forms nicotinamide and nicotinic acid, which help convert food into energy. It’s a pre-cursor to NAD+ which activates sirtuins in our bodies. These enzymes are vital to our epigenome – the instruction manual which controls how our genes operate. When this process goes wrong, sirtuins act like paramedics, rushing to the scene to repair damaged genetic material. Their activity declines as we age, so repair mechanisms falter, which is why we become more prone to illnesses and viruses. Non-meat sources of niacin include peanuts, brown rice and avocado (I’ve got a whole blog post on, and a recipe packed with, niacin in the works).
- Our bodies use the amino acid tryptophan found in high-protein foods including turkey and chicken, to create serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone. Niacin is part of the metabolic process which allows that conversion to take place.
- Glutathione – the so-called master antioxidant which improves communication between cells and fights free radical damage. It’s found in sulphur-rich foods including beef, fish, poultry, alliums and cruciferous vegetables.
THE DOWNSIDES OF EATING MEAT
Of course, I know there are downsides to increasing my meat consumption. Red meat intake is linked to increased risk of diabetes, and a WHO report found that eating 50g of processed meat a day raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s a large number but it’s worth remembering that the chances of developing CRC across our lifetime is 4.5%, so 50g of processed meat a day raises the risk to 5.3% – significant, but not a death sentence. And that’s processed meat, not regular meat.
Cardiovascular disease risk is also increased by meat consumption. When we eat and digest choline (an essential nutrient found in red meat) our gut bacteria produce a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. The more red meat we eat, the more TMAO in our blood. Research published last year found that people with higher levels of TMAO may have more than twice the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular problems, compared with people who have lower levels.
Then there’s the environmental issue. You don’t need me to tell you about the detrimental impact of meat production on the health of the planet. I’m aware that the UN has called for reduced meat consumption to mitigate against climate change. But I’m making sure that the meat I consume is local, organic and sustainably raised. I’m also aware that I’m lucky to be able to afford that, and I’m not buying it very often.
FEEL GREAT: AGE WELL – THE AGE-WELL PLAN BOOK LAUNCH WEBINAR
There’s still plenty of time (that’s the joy of Zoom) to book your place at my free webinar next Thursday Sept 3rd at 7pm BST. I’ll be sharing my six best-ever strategies for healthy longevity and lots of simple tips to help you age well every day.
September 3rd is publication day for The Age-Well Plan, so it’s a lovely chance to celebrate together! The new book is the follow up to The Age-Well Project, giving you a simple day-by-day, step-by-step, guide to changing the way you age.
I’ll also be giving away copies of The Age-Well Plan, one-to-one coaching sessions with me, an Age-Well meal plan and other goodies too, so join me there!
STEAK AND ROAST VEG SALAD serves 4
This vegetable-packed salad is a great way to showcase a really good piece of steak. The punchy dressing is great with pretty much anything!
- 400g steak
- 1 cauliflower, broken into florets
- 4 large or 8 small carrots, peeled and cut into wedges if necessary
- 2 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges through the root.
- 1 tbs olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Salad leaves to serve.
For the miso-tahini dressing
- 1 tbs dark miso
- 2 tsp tahini
- juice 1 lime
- 2 tbs sesame oil
- A little warm water
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Toss the cauliflower, carrots and onions with the oil and season well. Place in a roasting tin and cook in the hot oven for approx. 30 minutes until the cauliflower is well browned and the carrots have softened.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients, adding a little water if it’s too thick (you want a pourable double cream consistency) and set aside. Cook steak on a hot griddle, or under the grill, until cooked to your liking. I aim for 3-4 minutes per side and then allow it to rest for a few more minutes under a piece of foil.
Pile the roast veg onto a bed of salad leaves, slice the steak thinly and place on top. Drizzle over the dressing and serve immediately.