I saved the most obvious for last, but probably also the first one everyone thinks of when it comes to the Paleo diets: meat. With almost Pavlovian like repetition the one thing that I see about the Paleo diet, but both supporters and detractors alike, is the bacon orgy marketing message. After years of being scared away from eating full fat bacon the simplified Paleo message that resonates the loudest is often the “You Can’t Eat Too Much Bacon” message. That’s both overly simplified and not exactly correct either.
Meats of all sorts are allowed on the Paleo diet. Beef, poultry, pork, venison, buffalo, lamb, whatever. If it’s an animal by all means have at it. As with the eggs discussion, most of the Paleo diets recommend that your meat take the form of wild game or more naturally raised animals. That would be cows that lived their lives in pastures eating grass or pork that were free ranging and foraging for their food (or given comparable food as they would forage naturally). It’s a combination of what the animals are eating and how much exercise they should be getting.
The bottom line is that if your beef is from a cow that lived on a feed lot its whole life getting shot up full of antibiotics and eating nothing but corn and soy then you aren’t getting as good a product as one that lived in a field eating grass and getting exercise. As Joel Salatin puts it, I’m paraphrasing, “Let chickens live like chickens and cows live like cows.” There is some irony to the fact that it’s concerned earth shattering and novel for us to remove the livestock we eat from a life of confinement, lack of mobility and eating a rather one-dimensional unnatural diet while we humans subject ourselves to a lifestyle which has the exact same features.
So the idea here is that you want to be trying to get your meat from producers that are raising the animals in more natural, or traditional ways. As with many things there is a lot of green washing going on when it comes to these products. In fact if you see the word “Natural” on the package you almost want to assume that it’s about as unnatural a process as is possible to invent that brought that product to your store. If you can find a local farm that you can verify raises their meats in this manner then that is ideal. There are tons of websites for getting these sorts of products through mail order, but these are significantly more expensive than a local producer (and the local producer is going to be significantly more expensive than what you are used to in the grocery store). If you can’t find or can’t afford to avoid getting commercially raised and processed meats then get leaner cuts of the meats.
Why do we care about how lean the meat is only for conventionally raised meats? Well, first of all the pastured or wild meats are naturally going to be leaner than their sedentary feed lot bound cousins. Second, the fat makeup of pastured and wild meats is significantly different than their feed lot cousins as well. It changes from species to species anyway, but within a species you will find that pastured or wild meats are quite high in omega-3’s (and you thought you only could get that from pills and fish like salmon) and having a much healthier omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Many of the toxins that can build up in an animal that is subject to a feed lot existence will also be concentrated in their fats, not their muscle tissue. So while you may actually want to be resourceful in how you use the fats of these meats if they are pastured and raised well, you want to avoid their use if it’s a feed lot operation.
Which now gets back to things like bacon. These are inherently fat heavy foods. If you are going to eat bacon frequently, I really suggest you buy as premium quality bacon as you can possibly get. Try to get bacon that is cured in a more traditional way, versus being cured in some vat of laboratory invented chemicals. Besides enhancing the flavor of the product you are buying, going with the more traditionally cured bacon will also limit exposure to god knows what else they are putting in there. Ideally you will be getting bacon that came from pastured pigs that were raised on a traditional diet. Again, not only will it give you flavors that you haven’t even imagined from bacon, but the nutrient profile of the meat and fat will be far better. In fact if you are getting the pastured pork products I highly recommend that you skim off any of the rendered fat that comes from making stuff like bacon and save it for use in cooking later. You can’t keep that lard around forever since it will invariably have bits of meat product in it, unlike properly rendered lard, but leave it in the fridge for a week or so and scoop out a little when you make your meals instead of using butter or oil.
The big thing to remember about meat consumption on a Paleo diet is what it’s not–a substitute for eating your vegetables. Eat your vegetables and a lot of them. Eat lots of varieties of vegetables too. You just get to have some meat with your vegetables too, but preferably meat that was raised well.