Nancy, I have football teammates who are adamant that eating meat is bad. They say it causes health problems, is eaten because of tradition, and plant-based diets are the wave of a healthier future. I think the grass-fed meat that I buy is an excellent source of protein and nutrition. Help?
Answer: Yes, beef is an excellent source of iron, zinc, B-vitamins and creatine; a superior source to beans. Lean beef is also an excellent source of protein to build and repair muscles. That said, a meal with beans and rice can also provide plenty of athlete-sustaining protein, vitamins and minerals (but not creatine).
Plant-based diets can offer health advantages. For example, when you swap beef for tofu, nuts and beans, you end up consuming less heart-unhealthy saturated fat. You will also consume more health-protective fiber.
Consuming less meat contributes to environmental benefits; beef cattle produce methane, a greenhouse gas. Less meat can simply be enjoying an appropriate portion of ( lean) beef stir-fried with lots of broccoli as opposed to chowing down on an excessive slab of juicy (i.e., fatty) steak. By reducing beef consumption, we can have a small impact on the environment. Take note, the far bigger contributor to environmental issues relates to fossil fuels, such as used for transportation and industry. Burning fossil fuels to create electricity accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Transportation accounts for 26%, and industry, 21%. Agriculture contributes to only 9%, and animal agriculture alone, about 4% of all GHGE in America. (This number includes the carbon footprint of animals from birth to being consumed.)
To put this in perspective, a recent study showed that switching from a meat-based to a vegan diet for one year equates to the GHGE of one trans-Atlantic flight from the US to Europe. If your teammates are touting plant-based protein because they are concerned about the environment, I hope they think twice before hopping in their car or getting on an airplane.
To argue with people who are adamant about whether or not meat (or any food, for that matter) is nutritionally good or bad for you is fruitless. Don’t bother. Just know there are many ways to fuel a body healthfully.
If you choose to challenge them on the basis of healthfulness (and overlook animal rights issues), you want to first compare the healthfullness of your overall diet with that of their total food intake —and not look at just one food. There’s not a good or bad food; there is a balanced diet and an unbalanced diet. I’ve met many plant-based athletes who have an overall poor diet with lots of soda, chips and French fries. Consuming lots of ultra-processed foods with low nutrient-density is a bigger issue than comparing beef vs beans!