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What health-related tips do you have for buying meat?

by adamzerner1 min read23rd Oct 202113 comments

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Currently I buy meat at the grocery store (Sprouts), but I'm considering spending more money via something like Crowd Cow on meat that was raised responsibly and stuff. The main reason is because I suspect the health benefits are worth it. I've been thinking that I should invest more money in my health in general.

I don't actually know that the health benefits are worth it though.

  • Googling around hasn't been very fruitful.
  • I recall a blog post emphasizing that it is important to spend the money on it. From this blog post: "Do not eat cheap industrially-farmed animal products." and "Eat organic when possible, especially when discussing animal products. Generally spend more money on food — the cheaper the food, the more “hacks” the producer used to be able to deliver that price. Many of these hacks are harmful — they inject saline solution to increase weight, feed dead animals to live animals, use antibiotics a lot etc."
  • Reading through how they treat farm animals on [ACC] Is Eating Meat A Net Harm?, and then watching how things are done by the farmers Crowd Cow selects, it seems like a big difference.
  • In general I feel like it makes sense to assume that the food industry is cutting tons of corners and doing a bunch of subtle little things that are going to eventually harm you. Because there is a huge precedent for this.
  • On top of that, in reading Decoding Your Meat: A Guide to USDA Beef Labels and Know Your Chicken: What USDA Poultry Labels Actually Mean from Serious Eats and watching that Adam Ragusea video on Crowd Cow linked above, I get the sense that USDA labels aren't very helpful and ultimately it boils down to trusting the farmer. Here's a quote from the first article: "There is no substitute for talking with the producer. Failing that, buy from retailers who have done the investigative work for you."
  • The difference I'd spend might be something like $100-200/month, which isn't really that much money (people spend more on things like coffee, alcohol, and eating out). Although it feels like it is to me! It also isn't that big a bar to overcome in terms of the health benefits outweighing the costs, I'd think.

Are there third alternatives I should consider? Local butchers? Whole Foods?

Edit: I found a lit review Effects of organic food consumption on human health; the jury is still out!.

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You probably already know this (low hanging fruit), but in case your or another reader doesn't, eliminating processed meat and limiting red meat consumption seem very likely to reduce your risk of some types of cancer, particularly of the colon. There are studies that argue otherwise, and the purported relative risks also vary, but my general takeaway has been that processed meat = definitely bad, and red meat = possibly bad if eaten daily or in consistently large portions.

Recommendations are a little varied depending on where you look, but what I've opted for is having processed meat at most once a month and red meats at most 3x/week (this was a big cut for me!) Depending on your priors of having the relevant cancers (family history, lifestyle factors) you might not need this extreme a reduction, or even to worry at all.

I've honestly spent no more than ~5 hours researching this so could be being misled by poorly conducted studies, but I view it as at least weak evidence in favor of it that the NHS and WHO are aligned on this advice. I also have family history of colon cancer, making the potential upside of a reduction in my risk more appealing than the downside of just eating more fish and poultry.

Curious to see other responses to this question, best of luck.

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/red-meat-and-the-risk-of-bowel-cancer/ https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-beef-with-red-meat

Thanks for the information Antonio! The fact/possibility that red meat should be eaten in limited quantities actually is something that I had forgotten about, so I appreciated your response.

If you're looking to do more research (not that you should), I just started looking through some of Peter Attia's stuff this weekend and it seems promising.

If you are on an extremely high income then the health benefits might be worth it.

Otherwise go to Lidl or Aldi on a Saturday night when a lot of the meat has 30% off stickers. Buy whatever cuts are cheapest. Freeze the meat as soon as you get home. Then buy kale, broccoli and frozen mixed veg to eat with the meat and splash out on swimming pool fees or a day out hiking or trail running or mountain biking or wild swimming.

Perhaps income level doesn't actually have anything to do with it. If the health benefits are worth it and you don't pay for the expensive meat, then you risk developing health problems down the road which will cost you even more money.

Put differently, if you view it as an investment, and if that investment has a positive ROI, it's probably worth making regardless of whether or not you are wealthy. Caveats include things like opportunity cost and whether you have enough cash on hand to make the investment in the first place.

1Angela Pretorius1moYou might be right. I forgot that the OP is in the US, where healthcare is absurdly expensive.
2adamzerner1moHaha yup. But even beyond that, even if you had all the money in the world there is still a cost to developing diseases — lowered quality of life, increased risk of dying early — and I suspect that even if you just look at that cost, it would outweigh the extra money spent on higher quality meat.

My guess is the optimal health decision re meat consumption is to fully replace terrestrial meat with wild-caught, low mercury seafood.

I usually buy from local butchers. If you are willing to eat something other than steaks (eg liver, which is definitely much richer in vitamins), you should make sure to buy it as fresh as possible, and local butchers are probably the best option for freshness as they generally cut the meat on demand.

(or maybe I'm just generalizing from one example, please check the quality of your local butcher)

From what I gather from Adam Ragusea, modern flash freezing actually does an excellent job of preserving quality.

4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:54 AM

If you consider changing your meat acquisition habits based on health and ethical reasons, I presume you have considered changing your animal products consumption habits based on the same reasons, and rejected the idea on some grounds, right? 

I'm having a little trouble understanding what you are asking. I don't see eating meat as unethical, at least not in the grand scheme of things, so I wasn't considering eliminating it from my diet.

Ah, got it. I read "meat that was raised responsibly" and assumed that you are against animal farming, but also not willing to reduce meat consumption, and so going for an option in between. Oops.

Ah I see. I didn't explain that very well, my bad.