When buying meat and fish, you want to be sure you pick the produce which will be most flavoursome and the most nutritious!
There are a number of things to consider when buying meat: be wary of where and how the animal was raised, make sure the animal regularly saw sunlight, ate its natural food, and wasn't plied with antibiotics or hormones. To translate this into product terminology used by supermarkets:
Beef should be grass-fed, and free from both added hormones and antibiotics
Chickens and eggs should be true free-range (outside in the grass), and also free from hormones and antibiotics
Pork should also be free to roam, outside in the grass, without hormones and antibiotics, same for lamb
Fish should be wild-caught, not from fisheries. This can be tricky to read sometimes; products like "Atlantic Salmon - responsibly sourced" are actually “grown” in Tasmania. Whilst aquaculture is another fancy word for “fishery”.
The best place to buy meat and fish is probably at your local markets (at least if you’re in a city), as hopefully there is a stall there selling sustainably or organically raised meat and/or fish.
Be careful how you ask, and what the answers are. I asked about some bacon recently and was told it was "farm-raised and grain-fed". Sounded good for a second until I translated into meaning it wasn't "free-range" and had probably never seen the sun, and definitely hadn’t been fed its natural feed.
A few supermarkets have passed my scrutiny, and Aldi comes in at number one. They have some lovely Sprats (small smoked fish) which are wild caught and full of omega-3. Aldi also has a grass-fed mince which is hormone-free and antibiotic-free.
Why is this so important?
If the reason we eat food is to ensure healthy bodies (after having had a delicious meal!), then we need to make sure the meat we eat provides us with the nutrients we want, and nothing else;
Hormones and antibiotics are added to all factory-farmed animals for different reasons. Hormones are added to make the animal grow bigger, faster, so the profit can be higher. The hormones are mainly seen in beef in Australia are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones will affect our health if eaten regularly and may cause hormonal imbalances such as an earlier puberty in our children (Kumar, Choudhary, Divya, & Sasikumar, 2018).
Antibiotics are used in large herds of animals to prevent disease. The animals are packed so tightly it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. Animals that have been raised out in the open, in a more natural, traditional way don’t need to be constantly treated. The antibiotics given to animals are still present in the meat you eat, and this is thought to be contributing to the global issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria (Ahmad et al., 2018).
Beef that is grass-fed has had its natural food; grass. This food enables the animal to make the nutrients which it should be naturally high in like vitamin A and E. Grass-fed beef is also higher in anti-oxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. But most importantly, the fat in grass-fed beef has less cholesterol and contains a short-chain-fatty-acid called butyrate which is very important in good gut health. So if you are planning on making a bone-broth for your gut, make sure it’s grass-fed bones to pack a punch! (Daley, Abbott, Doyle, Nader, & Larson, 2010)
Finding chickens and hens that have spent time outside, can be tricky as “free-range” in Australia may mean an indoor barn with a specified number of chickens and good ventilation (Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia Ltd, 2018). So look for statements of outdoor time. Why is this important? Well, eggs are a source of vitamins such as D, A and E, as well as carotenoids, omega-3 and polyunsaturated fats, all of which are higher in free-range eggs (Anderson, 2011).
Fisheries have a particularly bad reputation in terms of adding antibiotics to the pools where the fish is raised. These fisheries keep the fish in confined spaces, so all the fish which are bred can be caught at adult size, thus can’t be allowed to swim in the open sea. These pools are for economic reason kept as full as possible to maximise profit and are therefore also the breeding ground for disease and antibiotics are used to continuously treat the fish. (Claudio, Felix, & Matthew, 2018)
Sadly wild fishing has a negative impact on the environment as our oceans are over-fished. So when choosing a fish, try to look for a sustainably caught fish. Small oily fishes are best, as they are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3. Small fish is also much less likely to be full of mercury. Review the governments standards for fish as food: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/mercury/pages/default.aspx.
In summary, everything is best in moderation, and as the meats described above are more expensive, it’s a great incentive to buy less meat. Eating less meat every time you eat isn’t just financially viable, it’s also better for your health as a recommended portion size is the size of the palm of your hand.
So, my advice is to learn to cook more plant based meals and have meat maybe 3-4 times per week and oily small fish 2-3 times per week, with lots of vegetables, lentils and beans in between.
This way of eating has a name; the Mediterranean diet. Which really translates to: good, nourishing, flavoursome food in the company of your family!
For recipe tips, see my recipe page...
Ahmad, S., Rehman, R., Haider, S., Batool, Z., Ahmed, F., Ahmed, S. B., … Shahzad, S. (2018). Quantitative and qualitative assessment of additives present in broiler chicken feed and meat and their implications for human health. Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, 68(6), 876–881.
Anderson, K. E. (2011). Comparison of fatty acid, cholesterol, and vitamin A and E composition in eggs from hens housed in conventional cage and range production facilities. Poultry Science, 90(7), 1600–1608. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2010-01289
Claudio, M., Felix, G., & Matthew, L. (2018). Current status of the use of antibiotics and the antimicrobial resistance in the chilean salmon farms. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9(JUN), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01284
Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef | Enhanced Reader. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from moz-extension://5cec8444-af17-49a1-8e28-67e52c8f78f4/enhanced-reader.html?openApp&pdf=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC2846864%2Fpdf%2F1475-2891-9-10.pdf
Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia Ltd. (2018). Free Range Egg & Poultry. Benalla.
Kumar, V. S., Choudhary, R., Divya, P., & Sasikumar, S. (2018). Adverse effects on consumer’s health caused by hormones administered in cattle. International Food Research Journal, 25(1), 1–10.