Seventeen years after deciding to become a vegetarian I was diagnosed with severe anemia. As a nutritionist, I took the news hard. No matter how many figs, spinach or molasses I ate, I couldn’t solve my iron deficiency.
There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Iron in meat, fish, and poultry contains heme iron that is absorbed very efficiently by your body. Iron in plants such as lentils and beans is arranged in a different chemical structure called non-heme iron that is not as well absorbed.
Once Alan (my husband) convinced me to try a bison steak I ended up eating the whole thing and once I adapted to digesting red meat again (my stomach was upset at first), my energy soared. Today, my anemia is a thing of the past and I feel much stronger.
Try free range
If you’re a big meat fan, you’ll be happy to hear that when free-range animals feast on grass they’re consuming a form of omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid. This translates into healthier meat for you and happier, healthier animals. Conventionally farmed animals feed on corn and soy so their meat lacks these important omega-3 fatty acids. You can buy organic or free range meat at your local butcher shop or health food store and even in larger grocery markets with healthy selections.
Tips for healthy red meat consumption
Animal fat is high in arachidonic acid, a component of fat that directly increases inflammatory messengers in your body. By eating the leanest meat available you can reduce inflammation — the underlying cause of most major diseases.
Certain types of wild game meats (bison, venison, rabbit, ostrich, elk, caribou) are now available in health food stores and specialty butcher shops. No longer hunted in the wild, these animals are often raised outside, on small farms, with little need for antibiotics.
Three reasons you should try gamier meats:
1. Elk and venison (deer meat) are healthy, lean game meats that have low cholesterol content yet excellent flavour. Conventionally grown meats contain 6-10 percent fat and wild game can be as low as 2 percent.
2. Rabbit meat works as a replacement for most chicken recipes. This low fat choice is best marinated or made into a casserole.
3. Bison is a healthy choice and becoming more widely available. A 3 ounce serving of beef sirloin contains 12 grams of fat, whereas 3 ounces of bison sirloin contains just 5 grams. When shopping for beef or bison, look for “loin” and “round” in the name (i.e. tenderloin). These cuts tend to be the leanest and are well suited to long, moist cooking methods such as stewing.
If tenderloin is out of your budget, consider a flank steak which has a great flavour, and should be sliced thinly against the grain for easy chewing. Use it to make the classic London broil or a healthy kabob. Invest in a slow cooker to stew these lean cuts for a long period so they remain tender.
Four tips for reducing the fat content in your meat:
1. Remove excess fat to make the cut as lean as possible. Use low fat cooking methods like broiling, grilling, steaming, stewing, braising, baking, and roasting.
2. When cooking meat in the oven, it’s beneficial to place a meat on a rack in the pan or baking dish so the fat drains away from the beef as it cooks.
3. Skim fat from the surface of soups, stews, and sauces before serving. Chill them to make the removal of fat easier. It will rise to the surface and congeal, allowing it to be removed in solid pieces.
4. Place cooked burger patties on unbleached paper towels and pat them with more paper towels to absorb as much of the excess grease as possible before serving.
Vietnamese beef salad
One of the healthiest ways to enjoy meat is to pair it with lots of greens. The protein in meat is considered acidic where vegetables help that alkalize your body. By balancing your pH, you can increase immunity to fight infections. The vitamin C in the red pepper aids with iron absorption.
3/4 lb (375 g) lean round steak, about 1 in. (2.5 cm) thick
2 cups (500 ml) sugar-snap peas
1 red or yellow pepper, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
½-1 cup (125-250 ml) coarsely chopped mint leaves
1 large carrot, grated
3 tbsp (45 ml) rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 ml) dark sesame oil
1 tsp (15 ml) honey
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp (5 ml) ginger, minced
1/2 tsp (2 ml) sea salt
6 cups baby mixed salad greens
1. Oil grill pan and place steak under the broiler with medium heat and cook for 3-4 minutes each side if you like it medium-rare. Or broil until done, as you like.
2. Trim ends off snap peas and place in a large bowl along with pepper, onions and mint. Coarsely grate carrot and add on top of leafy greens.
3. In a small bowl, whisk vinegar with oils, honey, garlic, ginger and salt. Toss with dressing. Thinly slice steak and add to salad.
Julie Daniluk hosts Healthy Gourmet (OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network), a reality cooking show that highlights the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation (Random House) is now available and will help people enjoy allergy-free foods that taste great and assist the body in the healing process.