Is red meat good for you?
This question has fueled many heated conversations in health and wellness communities. For as many people who argue that red meat provides beneficial protein, healthy fats, amino acids and iron, you will find an equally large group of people that argues red meat leads to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. Furthermore, there is a group of people who argue that the meat industry is based on inhumane and environmentally dangerous practices.
'The Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat', a documentary advocating for environmentally safe and ethically raised meat, is hoping to settle the meat debate once and for all.
'The Sacred Cow' argues that not only is meat a nutrient-dense, vital food for humans, but it can be produced in such a way that upholds exceptional animal welfare and protects the planet . The film argues that mass-production farms and feedlots are the true culprits, and we would all do our health and planet a favour by sourcing from sustainable and regenerative farming practices.
Below, we dive into the research behind the 'Sacred Cow' documentary, common misconceptions surrounding eating meat and how grass-fed meat actually benefits the environment.
The 'Sacred Cow' Documentary: Film Recap
The 'Sacred Cow' is a documentary written and produced by Diana Rodgers, real food registered dietitian nutritionist and author behind Sustainable Dish. In addition to speaking to a number of universities on the subject of food policy, sustainability, and animal welfare, she serves as a consulting dietitian with Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, and Mark Sisson. The film is based on the book, 'Sacred Cow: The Case for Better Meat', which Rodgers co-authored with Robb Wolf, two-time New York Times bestselling author of 'The Paleo Solution' and 'Wired To Eat' and host of The Healthy Rebellion Radio podcast.
The film opens with a scene in a butcher shop in Belgium. Owned by master butcher Hendrik Dierendonck, the butcher describes his philosophy regarding meat: Animals are wonderful creatures, and deserve to be treated humanely throughout their lives.
Narrator Nick Offerman goes on to describe the many flaws in the case against red meat. Many conventional nutritionists blame modern health problems — obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few — on beef, pork and other cuts of meat. And yet, humans ate meat for millions of years, long before the obesity and metabolic dysfunction epidemic.
'Sacred Cow' argues that our modern food system is the root cause of many human health problems. Since the 1950s, industrialised food production has caused a great divide between animals and crop production. This divide has hindered regenerative agriculture (farming and grazing practices that seek to reverse climate change by 'regenerating' organic soil matter). In other words, 'Sacred Cow' argues that cattle aren't the problem — instead, it's how most cattle are raised.
'Sacred Cow' Debunks Common Myths About Red Meat
The 'Sacred Cow' documentary seeks to challenge everything you thought you knew about red meat. Throughout the film, the narrator and interviewees pinpoint flaws surrounding many arguments against the environmental, sustainable and ethical quandaries of the meat industry. Let's go through them.
1. Saturated Fat Is Bad: False
Modern, conventional (and arguably flawed) dietary guidelines encourage people to eat less fat. However, they leave out the dangers of highly processed, sugar-filled, high-carb and grain-based foods.
As an example, the film shoots a scene in a public school lunchroom in the United States, where tater tots and sugary pancakes fill the menu. In total, the meal surpasses 70 grams (20 teaspoons) of sugar.
While nutritionists like to blame spiking obesity rates on saturated fats (like those found in red meat), in reality high-sugar foods cause raised blood sugar levels, decreased satiety and increased hunger levels. More importantly, the fat-causes-obesity argument falls flat because there is an inverse relationship between fat consumption and rising obesity levels. Obesity rates rose when the low-fat diet fads set in — when people ate less red meat, not more.
2. Veganism Is the Healthiest Diet: False
Many vegans and vegetarians erroneously believe that their way of eating is the epitome of health. This prevents them from absorbing counter arguments to their ingrained beliefs — until they begin suffering from one health ailment or another.
As the film explains, essential nutrients including B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and all nine essential amino acids are found in higher amounts in animals than plants. In addition, the bioavailability of these nutrients are higher in animal-based foods, allowing them to be better absorbed in the human body.
3. Eating Meat Hurts the Planet: False
By now, surely you've heard claims that eating meat is bad for the environment. However, these claims blindly ignore the whole environmental picture.
Instead, farming practices that became popular in the 19th century could be to blame. Monocultures (the agricultural practice of growing a single crop) and synthetic fertilisers have resulted in eroding soil and decreased biodiversity, thereby hurting our planet.
So, what's the solution? The film argues that raising crops and livestock together can increase the environmental sustainability of a farm. The cows graze on the crops, which then fertilise the soil, which then allow the crops to regrow, thereby benefitting the ecology of modern farming. Joel Salatin, one farmer featured in the film, points out that most (if not all) deep, fertile soil on the planet developed in pastureland, where cattle and other ruminants roamed freely.
4. Eating Meat Harms Human Health: False
If there's one thing you should take away from the 'Sacred Cow' film, it's this: Eating meat is not the problem. The real problem is modern farming practices, including how animals are raised .
The film argues that while plants benefit the human body, the human body cannot thrive on plants alone. In particular, a plant-based diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can cause mental and physical side effects. The film points out numerous anecdotes where eating meat has benefitted — not harmed — human health. For example, adding meat to diets of African school children helped improve test scores by 45%.
5. Eating Animals Is Inhumane: False
Once again, 'Sacred Cow' doesn't blame inhumane treatment of animals on meat-filled diets. Instead, the film argues that ‘modern’ conventional farming practices — including overcrowded living conditions and slaughterhouses — are the real culprit.
'Sacred Cow' argues that sustainable and regenerative farms seek to create a humane living environment for animals. Cattle are allowed to roam freely outdoors, eating grass instead of feed made from GMO corn and soya. When it comes time for butchering, the animals are killed as swiftly and painlessly as possible.
The film argues that consuming grass-fed, grass-finished meat increases the demand for humanely raised animals. At the same time, it decreases the demand for animals raised in feedlots and crammed slaughterhouses.
Grass-Fed Meat: The Humane and Environmentally Friendly Choice
For the past several decades, red meat received a bad rap from conventional nutritionists. But here's the funny thing: Once people stopped eating red meat and saturated fats, obesity, diabetes and cancer rates actually rose.
The 'Sacred Cow' documentary seeks to debunk many of the myths surrounding eating red meat. The film argues that conventional farming practices led to soil erosion, inhumane conditions and decreased food quality. In reality, red meat offers a number of nutritional benefits (such as B vitamins, iron and minerals) that are difficult or downright impossible to receive from plant-based sources.
In other words, eating meat is not the problem — the problem stems from how animals are raised. To benefit the environment and select a humane meat option, always search for grass-fed, grass-finished meat whenever possible. In addition, we recommend doing research in your area to find a grass-fed farm to purchase meat. And to enjoy the health benefits from grass-fed animals we encourage eating nose-to-tail. If you cannot find a reputable farm nearby that stocks organ meats, our grass-fed organ capsules will have you covered.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.