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How much meat should we eat?

2 June 2015

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and Michael Mosley’s documentary on meat on TV last night prompted me. If you haven’t seen it, it’s called “Should I eat meat?”, and you can find it here.

How much meat?

I’m regularly recommending, to people with certain health conditions, that they eat more meat but I should clarify a bit. But firstly, what should the average person’s relationship with meat look like?

Assuming you are not struggling with a health issue like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, etc., the following makes a good guide.

How often

A meal or two of red meat per week is ok. Another meal or two of chicken or fish can be added to this. Much more than this over prolonged periods of time has been linked with illnesses such as bowel cancer and heart disease, and decreased lifespan on the whole.

Less meat consumption than this is fine, as is no meat so long as you are diligent in obtaining enough protein and iron etc from a diet rich in beans and vegetables.

Portion size

Meat portions don’t need to be large. They should be a supplement to the vegetables and grains on the plate not the other way around.

Quality

The quality of the meat that’s selected is important. Choose lean cuts. Go for free range (and even organic if you can). Avoid meats with additives and preservatives.

Processed meats like ham, salami, devon, cabanossi and bacon, usually contain an upsetting list of harmful preservatives and flavourings. These should really be rare-occasion foods. Any processed meat in packaged foods such as in tortellini, ravioli, and premade meals will certainly contain these additives too.

Cooking

Cooking methods that don’t burn the meat and fat are better for you. Choose to cook meat in soups, broths, stocks, stews and casseroles over frying, deep-frying, grilling and BBQing.

So why do people with some health conditions require a little more meat than the average person?

All kinds of conditions including chronic fatigue, infertility, insomnia, migraines, depression and eczema can have “blood deficiency” as part of their pathology.

Blood deficiency is a diagnostic term in Chinese medicine which basically means weak blood. Blood deficiency can sometimes be seen via modern blood tests with results like low iron or B12 or low blood cell counts. It can also translate as low blood pressure. But this is not all it is and these blood tests often give results within the normal range. The Chinese medicine practitioner uses various symptoms and pulse diagnosis to arrive at this diagnosis.

In herbal medicine there are many plant derived blood tonics. There are also some animal products, the main one being E Jiao a rich gelatin derived from donkey hide.

From a diet perspective, it’s understood in Chinese medicine that, the best foods for building/tonifying/enriching the blood are animal derived, since animals are blooded creatures.

For people requiring blood tonification, the above recommendations surrounding quantity, quality and cooking methods apply, only they could benefit from a slightly increased frequency of meat consumption.