Upgrade Series: Meat

Upgrade Series: Meat

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Welcome to the 3rd post of the Upgrade Series. Please know, this is not intended to scare you or have you swear off meat. In fact, quite the opposite. I want you to upgrade your meat! Meat is an essential part of our omnivore diet, contributing important amino acids, protein, vitamins and minerals that can’t be replicated. Here you’ll find a guide to help you buy the highest-quality, ethically-raised meat and how to avoid all the other garbage. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, I’ve included upgrade options for you as well.

To put it plainly, the majority of meat and those nasty ‘meat-like’ substitutes in grocery stores are heavily processed and not safe. Did you know that the consumption of processed meat, such as hot dogs, deli meat, and bacon are considered class 1 carcinogens1? That means the American Cancer Society puts them on par with gamma radiation, smoking, asbestos, and formaldehyde. Disgusting right? Now this does not mean eating a hot dog once a year will kill you, but you need to be cautious and know what’s in your food. Definitely time for an upgrade! Remember, it’s the little changes (upgrades) to everyday items that can have the biggest impact on your health.

Upgrade Your Deli Meat

We’ve talked before about the importance of properly prepared, nutrient-dense whole foods and folks, deli meat ain’t it. Deli meat is highly-processed and usually includes sugar and hoards of preservatives. Yes, the following options require a bit more effort but YOU deserve effort! You could even take these suggestions a step further and buy a slicer to get those lovely thin layers and make your own mayo!

  • Season and roast an organic chicken breast, turkey breast or grass-fed roast. Slice it thinly, wrap in parchment paper and place in an air-tight container in the fridge for swoon-worthy sandwiches. You can even freeze the meat if you won’t be using it all right away.
  • Don’t want meat? Make a lentil loaf, mushroom salad or vegetable terrine for hearty, delicious sandwiches.

Upgrade Your Cured Meat

It pains me to say, but unless you cure your meat at home or know a butcher that makes his own cured meats the natural way, it is best to steer clear from anything you can find at the grocery store. We started dabbling with home curing last year and it can be a really fun hobby. There are classes and great books available online to get you started. We got the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and have made a very tasty duck prosciutto and bresaola already.

The beauty of making cured meat at home is you control the quality. It’s been so rewarding watching the alchemy happen in the meat and waiting to taste the reward. We are going to try making our own bacon next. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Upgrade Your Fresh Cuts

Again, this requires effort… but the taste and nutritional value are worth it. I’m including a link in the sources below to help navigate all the confusion in how meat and dairy is labeled. It’s from the Animal Welfare Institute and a great resource, so please check it out.

  • Find a rancher and farmer in your local area that produce ethically-raised organic meat. Why? Because feed lot livestock are typically raised on diets that aren’t natural to them (for instance corn for beef and sadly, bits of animal scraps (yes, really), and god knows what else). The result is they have to be given antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to be processed. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for us.
  • If you don’t have access to a farm nearby, purchase organic, pasture-raised meat from your grocery store. Go a step further and look for products with the Animal Welfare Approved label, which has a rigorous certification standard. Yes, it costs more but again, isn’t it worth it? To help offset higher protein cost, bulk up your meals with more vegetables and consider this: we spend far less on groceries now than a family did in the 1900s. And while there are many economic facets to that statement, the bottom line is we don’t value or respect food the way we used to. Unfortunately, we value a lower grocery bill more than we value better health.
  • Want the ultimate upgrade? Raise your own chickens and if you have the room and gumption, raise your own livestock. We have a plan to get chicks next spring and I can’t wait to have fresh eggs and my own little composters clucking away!

Upgrade Your Vegetarian & Vegan Options

All those meat, cheese and egg substitutes can look appealing, but here’s the thing: they are all heavily processed ‘food stuff’ even though they are marketed to be healthier options. Stick to whole food options and ditch the replacements. Here’s some high-protein whole food options:

  • Organic tofu, organic tempeh, lentils, kamut, farro, amaranth, quinoa, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hemp, pumpkin and chia seeds, black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas (choose organic whenever possible)
  • Green peas, edamame, brussel sprouts, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, and avocado (choose organic whenever possible – especially on the leafy stuff)
  • For vegetarians: organic eggs and dairy (try goat or sheep’s milk if you’re dairy sensitive)


1 Canceratlas.cancer.org. Human Carcinogens. https://canceratlas.cancer.org/risk-factors/human-carcinogens/

AWI – Making Better Food Choices

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