I’m a big fan of my local butcher, where I can always find organic meat that’s been farmed locally and the guys behind the counter will trim and prepare it with expertise – and throw in a few tips on how best to cook it into the bargain!
With the current rise in veganism and headlines linking eating red meat with increased risk of cancer, it may come as a surprise that not only do I eat meat myself, I also recommend it to patients who are happy to eat animal products and may benefit from the potent combination of nutrients a piece of well-reared meat can bring to the table. The fact is, meat is a great source of easily accessible protein. If you’ve been unwell, protein-rich foods can help to improve your body’s strength, immune system and stabilise energy levels and moods. When you’re fighting diseases such as cancer, the body has a tendency to break down muscles and leave you feeling weak and vulnerable, so it’s a priority to increase your intake of protein rich-foods to help counteract the effects of the disease and treatments. And the comfort factor of a fragrant casserole or simple chicken soup can’t be underestimated.
Of course, meat isn’t the only source of protein – fish, seafood and dairy products are other animal sources, and beans, pulses, soya products, nuts and seeds all provide non-meat protein (see our article, Protein Power for Non-Meat Eaters). I’m also a firm believer that where we get our meat from, and how it is produced, is crucial. But for me, there is a good argument for including good-quality lean meat in your diet if you would like to. Here’s our Nourish guide to help…
Meat and our health
Animal protein is a source of the eight essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein, called ‘essential’ because we can’t produce them in our body. Red meat, such as beef, also provides vitamin B12, which is essential to make DNA and to keep nerve and red blood cells healthy; iron for energy; zinc for the immune system; and omega 3 fatty acids which boost heart health and help to balance cholesterol. White meat, including chicken, contains vitamin B6 for protein metabolism, and zinc.
Current advice is to limit the amount of processed meat we eat and to keep our consumption of red meat to 500g a week or less, which gives us real scope for enjoying some delicious meat-based meals. Bear in mind that a bolognaise sauce made with 500g of lean, good-quality beef mince would serve six hungry adults.
Sourcing and cooking meat
Good meat doesn’t have to mean expensive meat, but there’s no denying that produce from intensively reared animals is significantly cheaper than that from livestock that are organically farmed and slowly bred in good conditions. To balance the cost of better meat, buy a smaller amount of lean meat and use it to add flavour and goodness to dishes such as soups and pasta sauces, rather than it being the focus of the plate. Ask a butcher (at the supermarket meat counter, if you don’t have a local butcher’s shop) to recommend inexpensive cuts, such as knuckles, hocks, oxtail and brisket, which are deliciously tender when slow cooked. And think about having meat-free days, with low-cost vegetable dishes that will add different flavours and benefits to your weekly menu.
Casseroles and tagines tend to produce soft textures that are easy to eat for anyone with a sore mouth, chewing or swallowing difficulties. Add some little dumplings or gnocchi to provide extra calories if needed.
Slow cooking means meat becomes beautifully tender, and vegetables and pulses such as beans and lentils are well cooked. It makes the dish easy to digest, which is great for anyone with a sensitive gut.
Reduce fat If you’re worried about the higher fat content of some cheaper cuts of meat, reduce fat elsewhere in the meal. Use the sauce from the casserole instead of butter or oil on a jacket potato, stir it into couscous, or use bread to mop up the juices instead of spreading it with butter. If you have time to let the casserole cool down, you can skim the fat off the top before reheating it.
Ethical & environmental issues
Food miles, global warming and lack of environmental diversity, animal welfare, intensive rearing and the use of antibiotics on animals, and pesticides and fertilisers on the cereals that feed them, are important issues in meat production. We will all have our own priorities that will govern how we shop. My option is to buy local produce as often as possible, and that really does mean local, as many goods supplied nationally are sent to distribution centres all over the country. Don’t forget that you’re also likely to receive fresher food if buy it from local sources.
Nutrition basics: protein
Protein power for non-meat eaters
Making veg the star of your plate
Homemade spicy meatballs
Easter braised lamb
Nourish bone broth