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“Dr. Hyman, I see so many conflicting reports about meat,” begins this week’s house call question. “Some say it can be part of a healthy diet. Others declare it is the root cause of disease – including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. I have friends who completely avoid it and other friends of mine who embrace meat as an everyday staple. What’s the truth about meat?”

I understand your confusion, especially with the conflicting, sometimes misleading information out there. Whether meat is good or bad depends on with whom you are talking. Paleo enthusiasts say meat is essential to longevity. Vegans will tell you to avoid it at all costs. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently stated processed meat and bacon are carcinogenic and red meat is most likely, as well.

There are very real concerns involving meat, including the ethical treatment of animals and their impact on the environment, as well as medical and health issues.  For some, there are very real ethical concerns about eating meat. For example, if you are a Buddhist and believe that any creature could be your mother from your past life or in your next life, then we can fully support being a vegetarian.

From a health and wellness standpoint, we question if eating meat truly causes heart disease, cancer and leads to a shorter life.  Or is eating meat the key to longevity, as it seemed to be for the Plains Indians who lived on buffalo and had the highest number of centenarians in history? On the other hand, we have the Seventh Day Adventists, who are vegetarians but are among the longest-lived people on the planet.

It’s not hard to see why the average person, or even doctor or nutritionist is confused. The whole carnivore-vegan debate misses the real point – the root of chronic disease and obesity:  sugar and refined carbs.

Studies that take a pro- or anti-meat stance often miss the bigger picture. They overlook the fact that most meat eaters who participate in the studies that show harm from eating meat are also eating a boatload of sugar and refined carbs alongside a highly processed, inflammatory diet. They certainly aren’t eating small to moderate amounts of grass-fed or organic meat along with a pile of colorful fruits and veggies. 

Admittedly, it would be almost impossible to perform an accurate study about meat. You would have to randomize people into a whole foods, low-glycemic, plant-rich diet with grass-fed or organic animal protein and compare them to those on a high-quality vegan diet. That study has never been done.  Anyone have a $100 million?  I have the team to do that study at Cleveland Clinic!  Call me! We need to do THAT study.

Many of the studies demonizing meat use subjects who are smokers, drink too much, eat way too much sugar and processed foods, eat very little fruits and veggies, and do not exercise.  And of course, they don’t take vitamins!  So it’s no wonder that these meat eaters with bad habits and horrible diets are sicker and fatter!

What about featuring Paleo enthusiasts in these studies? These are pro-meat eaters who choose grass-fed meats. They shop at Whole Foods or health food stores. They don’t smoke, and they drink in moderation, if at all. They take vitamins, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and exercise regularly. And they have very little sugar and no refined carbs.

The same goes for whole food vegans (not the chips and soda vegans).  They would be interesting subjects.

What if Meat Eaters Only Ate Health Food and Grass-Fed Meat?

Some camps rail against the saturated fat and cholesterol found in meat, or say that meat is inflammatory, or that it contributes to cancer or type 2 diabetes.

The story is not as simple as meat is bad, veggies are good. The real question to ask is this: do grass-fed meat eaters, who also eat lots of healthy food, don’t smoke, exercise, and take vitamins have heart disease?

Thankfully, some researchers have asked this question. In one cohort study, scientists studied 11,000 people, 57 percent of whom were omnivores (meat eaters) and the other 43 percent were vegetarians. Both groups were health conscious.

Yet in this study, researchers found the overall death rates were cut in half for both health-conscious meat eaters and for vegetarians, as compared to the average person eating a western-style, processed food diet. The study concluded that for the vegetarians, there was no benefit found; and for the meat eaters, there was no increased risk for  heart disease, cancer or death.

Another study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health titled the “AARP Diet and Health Study”, did find a correlation of meat, heart disease, cancer and death. They found that meat eaters, on a whole, were very unhealthy.

However, the meat eaters in the study smoked more. They weighed more. They consumed an average of 800 more calories a day. They exercised less. They ate more sugar. They drank more alcohol. They ate fewer fruits and vegetables but less fiber. And they took fewer vitamins.  Are you surprised that they had more heart disease, cancer and higher rates of death?

Unfortunately, the only headline the media grabbed was some variation of “Meat Kills.”’

Does the Type of Meat You Eat Matter?

Another problem with most meat eater vs. non meat eater studies is that the type of meat consumed is industrially raised, factory farmed meat, known as confined animal feeding operations (or CAFOs). This industrial grain-fed meat is full of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, with more inflammatory omega-6 fats from corn and fewer anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. These population studies don’t include people who eat only grass-fed meat without hormones, pesticides or antibiotics.

What About Saturated Fat?

Another concern that is raised is that saturated fat in meat causes heart disease. Yet interestingly, the types of saturated fats that cause heart disease – stearic and palmitic acid – don’t come from meat. Your liver produces these two fatty acids when you eat sugar and carbs. In other words, your liver produces saturated fat from sugar and carbs that causes heart disease.

In one interventional trial, researchers showed even on a low-carb diet that is higher in saturated fats, blood levels of saturated fats remained lower because of the carb effect.

Simply put: In the absence of sugar and refined carbs and adequate amounts of omega-3 fats in your diet, saturated fat is really not a problem. Again, quality matters: The saturated fat in a fast food cheeseburger is completely different than what you get in coconut butter or a grass-fed steak.

These same limitations apply for studies that show meat causes diabetes and cancer: Most focused on generally unhealthy people eating a highly processed diet.

When you do randomized, control studies on a Paleolithic diet, the diet more like our Caveman ancestors ate, all the risk factors like heart disease and diabetes go down, not up.

For the record, a true Paleolithic-type diet contains good-quality, fresh meat, eggs, lots of fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds but no grains, dairy, beans, or processed food.

5 Rules If You Eat Meat

I hope you can see how eating meat can become healthy or unhealthy when you consider the many factors. If you opt to eat meat, follow these 5 rules to help you make the best choices.

  1. Choose grass-fed, pasture-raised organic meats. They’re more expensive but ideally you will eat less of the meat and more plant-based foods. Think of meat as a condiment, not a main dish. Fifty to seventy five percent of your plate should be vegetables!
  2. Avoid all processed meats. Stay away from processed meats such as deli meats. These are the meats that the World Health Organization points to that have been proven to cause disease, illness and cancer.
  3. Prepare your meat the right way. The way we prepare meats is the key.  High-temperature cooking like grilling, frying, smoking or charring causes toxic byproducts. This also happens when you cook fish or chicken at high temperatures. All of this leads to the production of compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which studies have shown, cause cancer in animals. Change your cooking methods to reduce your exposure of these toxic compounds. The same rule applies to grains and veggies. Cooking these foods at a too-high temperature can cause the same problems. Focus on lower-temperature, slow cooking for meat and veggies – such as baking, roasting, poaching, and stewing.
  4. Pile on the vegetables. Fill your plate with at least 75 percent phytonutrient-rich, colorful, non-starchy veggies and use meat as a condiment or as I like to say a “condi-meat.”
  5. Eat Pegan. Consider combining the best traits of Paleo and vegan, which I’ve called “Pegan.” You can learn more about that hybrid diet here.

At the end of the day, the message on meat is pretty simple. About half the studies show it’s a problem; half of them don’t. For those studies that show meat eaters, as a whole, aren’t a healthy bunch, the reason is most likely not the meat, but rather the smoking, sugar-filled, and sedentary lifestyle that creates heart disease and other problems.

A diet filled with lots of high-fiber fruits and veggies that rejects sugar and refined carbs, welcomes grass-fed meat as a health food, lowering inflammation and improving all of the cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Next week, we will dispel more dietary fat myths at our Fat Summit starting January 25th – February 1st. Come join us! We’re going to blow up the old myths about fat and meat, so you don’t want to miss it. 

Wishing you health and happiness,

Mark Hyman, MD

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Mark Hyman MD is the Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

We all need a little help with exercise sometimes, whether we’re just starting out or we’ve been at it for a long time. Still, there are people who shy away from training, unsure of what they’ll get out of the experience or whether it’s worth the money. Take a look at just a few reasons people typically hire personal trainers and see if it’s the right decision for you.

1. You’re Not Seeing Results

If you’ve been exercising consistently for several weeks or months and aren’t seeing the changes you’d like, hiring a trainer may be a good choice. A trainer can look at your current program and eating habits and help you see where you could make changes to create more effective workouts. A trainer can also help you determine if the goals you’ve set are realistic for you.

2. You Don’t Know Where to Start

Knowing how to set up a balanced schedule that includes all the activities you need to do can be confusing. The great thing about a trainer is that he can help you maximize your time while helping you stay within your own limits so you don’t overdo it. He can also help you set goals and map out a specific schedule so you know when, how and where you’ll fit in your workouts.

3. You’re Bored with the Same Old Workouts

If you’re an experienced exerciser, maybe you haven’t considered working with a trainer. But it can be a great choice if you need some variety and new progress in your workouts. A trainer can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to challenge both your body and your mind. Even if you just do a few sessions or meet every few weeks, you’ll find it refreshing to have new workouts and new exercises to play with.

4. You Need to Be Challenged

If you’re like me, you tend to slack off on your workouts sometimes, especially when things get tough. A trainer can motivate you to push past those self-imposed limits, encouraging you to lift heavier, go longer and challenge yourself more than you would on your own. You’ll find it’s very hard to slack off with a trainer standing over you, telling you to do just…one…more…rep!

5. You Want to Learn How to Exercise on your Own

Even if your goal is to create your own workouts and exercise by yourself, hiring a trainer for a few sessions can be a great benefit for learning the right way to exercise. This is especially true if you want to learn more about the muscles in your body, the exercises that target those muscles and how to do those exercises with great form. Just a few sessions can teach you a lot about your body and how it works.

6. You Need Accountability and Motivation

Trainers come with built-in motivation. Not only are you investing money into your exercise program…you’re investing time as well. There’s nothing like a standing appointment to get your butt in gear for a workout. Not only that, a trainer provides some accountability so, even when you don’t have a session, you know your trainer will be asking if you did your planned workouts. Just knowing that may make it harder to skip your workouts.

7. You Have a Specific Illness, Injury or Condition

If you have any specific issues like arthritis, heart disease, old injuries, etc., working with an experienced trainer (who works with your doctor, of course) can help you find a program to help heal injuries and avoid any further problems. It’s also a great idea to work with a trainer if you’re pregnant and want a safe, effective workout to keep you healthy and fit. Just make sure your trainer has experience with your issues!

8. You’re Training for a Sport or Event

If you’re training for a marathon, a golf tournament or some other type of sport or event, an experienced trainer can help you figure out what you need to do to stay strong without taking away from your other training. She can also help create a training program and map out a plan for the coming event. Just make sure she’s experienced in the sport you’re training for since not all trainers do sport-specific training.

9. You Want Supervision and Support During Workouts

Some people know how to exercise and they even know how to do the exercises correctly, but they like having a trainer around for support and supervision. If you’re lifting very heavy weights or need someone to help with partner-type exercises, working with a trainer might be a good choice for you. He can spot you during workouts and help you come up with a good training plan for your goals.

10. You Want to Workout at Home

If you’d like to exercise at home but either don’t have a lot of equipment or aren’t sure how to use what you have, in-home personal training is an excellent choice. A trainer can show you exactly how to use what you have to get the best workout for you or she can bring equipment with her to give you a great workout. She can also make recommendations for equipment that will help you reach your goals.

1. Manipulate Caloric Intake

You want to grow? You want to add more muscle mass? Then you need
to increase your caloric intake pure and simple. To add quality
muscle mass, you need to be in a state of caloric excess.

2. Increase Protein Consumption

The benefits of protein are numerous for the bodybuilder: increased
protein synthesis, positive nitrogen balance, muscle recovery and
anti-catabolism. Remember, protein provides the building block of
muscle.

3. Take In Healthy Fats

We do not mean from burgers and fries. There are plenty of good fat
sources including olive oil, flaxseed oil and borage oil. These
contain “essential” fats, those that the body can’t manufacture on
its own.

4. Ease Up On The Cardio

Cardio may let you consume more and stay hard, but it can also get
in the way of growth. If you are trying to gain ease up or stop
altogether.

5. Get Plenty Of Rest

Probably one of the most underutilized of all the bodybuilding tools.
Rest is when the muscles you’ve torn down from training are allowed
to build up. Too much training and not enough rest, and you’ll enter
the dreaded “over training” zone.

6. Pack On The Plates!

Obviously one of the best ways to get massive is to progressively lift
heavier. This isn’t an invitation to put on as many plates as you can
only to perform the exercise with improperly. Use as much as you
can while allowing you to still do the exercise strict. With respect
to reps, when it comes to building power and strength, you can aim
low 6-8 per set should do it.

7. Stick To Basic Movements

Basic movements train your body’s largest muscles such as your back,
quads, and pecs. The more mass these get the better you will look.
Plus basic movements not only train the target body part they train
the supporting muscles also. Examples: Squats, Deadlifts, Dumbbell Press for Chest & pushups, Pullups and Lat pulldown.

8. Take Good Supplements

Creatine which has been proved to be safe and effective for growing muscle. There is also pre-workouts too that have creatine. I usually use both to keep enough creatine in my body.

 Fish oil for more good fat. Also, amino acids and good vitamins (multi, C, etc.) to support your entire body. Be careful and check the reliability of the supplement company. And make sure you take vitamins based on how you eat. If you’re lacking in a type of food, take vitamins to fill the gap. One of the best ways to do this is to take a food supplement of greens. There are many, again, choose a good company and learn about the ingredients.

2 cans of Tuna (packed in water only), Shrimp, Crab, or

Cooked Chicken breasts (All white is preferred)

*Chop 2 slices of onion, ½ green pepper, 2 sticks of celery, and if you dare 2 jalapeno’s or serrano’s

Combine ingredients with 3 or 4 tablespoons of combination of Avocado mayonnaise 

* Plus you can add more veggies that you like!

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