You know you need protein to build muscle, boost your metabolism and keep hunger at bay. But the type of protein you choose also can play a factor in your success. Concerns over pesticides, antibiotics and the inhumane treatment of animals make a solid case for buying organic meat, poultry and fish. Now new research shows there’s more to the argument if you’re striving for a strong, lean body. It may be time to switch to organic protein to make the most of your hard-earned results.
For starters, pesticides and chemicals disrupt processes at your body’s cellular level, down to the mitochondria, says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., the “nutrition myth buster” and author of many books, including The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fair Winds Press, 2007). Mitochondria generate energy our cells need to do their jobs. “They’re essential for every activity,” Bowden says. “When there’s a toxic overload in the system such as from pesticides, they disrupt the energy-making processes of the mitochondria.” In addition, chemicals in the environment called “obesogens” may contribute to fat storage. “Obesogens molecularly mimic a hormone,” Bowden says. “Called ‘endocrine disruptors,’ these impersonators can literally generate fat and create fat storage.” So a diet high in chemicals and toxins from eating factory-farmed meat (which includes the majority of supermarket meat) can make it easier for your body to gain fat and may hamper your workout performance.
Evidence dating back to the 1970s shows a link between low-dose chemical exposure and weight gain in experimental animals. More recently, these “obesogens” have garnered increased attention and acknowledgment by the National Institutes of Health. Research suggests obesogenic compounds vary in how they work — some affect the size of fat cells, while others influence the number of fat cells and still others impact appetite, energy metabolism and satiety. For example, the chemical obesogen bisphenol A, found in the lining of canned goods, disrupts the signals controlling the number of fat cells produced and the uptake and storage of fat in those cells.
Choose grass-fed whenever you can, not just organic, Bowden says. “Organic meat simply means the cows were fed organic grain, which they shouldn’t be eating to begin with since it makes them sick and they then require antibiotics.” Look for the grass-fed label to ensure the product meets the criteria established by the American Grassfed Association. “They are not one and the same. Grass-fed is almost always organic, but organic is not necessarily grass-fed,” he says. A step above organic, grass-fed meat contains less omega-6 fatty acids and higher levels of omega-3s, which are better for heart health. Research from California State University, Chico, shows grass-fed beef also offers higher levels of antioxidants, vitamin A and E, less cholesterol and twice the levels of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to reduce body fat and increase muscle strength and endurance. The addition of chemicals, toxins and hormones disrupts everything, Bowden says. “Choosing better meat can result in better performance all around.” Keep in mind you’ll pay for the difference, however. Organic chicken ranges from $2.69 to $4.99 a pound compared to store-brand chicken at nearly half the price, about $1.50 per pound.
Buying, Cooking and Storing Organic Meat
Always look for the organic seal and sell-by date when buying meat, chicken or fish, says Adin Langille, executive chef of David Burke fabrick in New York City. “Organic cuts are usually more flavorful and tender. I also prefer wild fish over farm-raised whenever I can because of the better nutrient content (higher omega-3s),” he says. “Check for discoloration and an off-odor before buying.” Aside from the organic seal, you can tell farm-raised fish from wild fish by their fins, Langille says. “Farm-raised fish have small fins. Larger fins indicate it was out swimming in the wild.” Store fresh meat and fish in the refrigerator for up to two days. For longer storage, use a vacuum sealer for airtight storage before freezing. Langille does not recommend freezing fish.
Preparing an organic steak takes some know-how. “Organic meat will be naturally leaner,” says chef Ariane Daguin, co-founder and CEO of D’Artagnan, a gourmet purveyor of organic meats, game, poultry, truffles and more. “So you have to be careful of the cooking.” Too much heat or overcooking quickly toughens the meat. Daguin recommends searing the outside of the meat or chicken (this also works with fish) to “seal” in the juices. “When you do that with any kind of meat, it ends up much moister,” he says. Good cooking choices for using this technique include pan searing or grilling.
If you want to tenderize your meat and add flavor, a marinade might be just the trick.
Daguin suggests this soy and pineapple marinade:
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ pineapple juice
- 2 tablespoons sweet rice wine
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
- 1½ teaspoons minced ginger
What’s On The Label?
The green and white USDA Organic label indicates farmers and growers have met strict government standards. Here are important labeling facts to know when shopping for organic foods.
Labeling criteria of organic products are based on the percentage of organic ingredients they contain.
•“Natural” (as in “natural beef”) This indicates that no chemical additives were added after the animal is processed but does not restrict additives used beforehand. The animal may be plumped up with hormones, grown on a pesticide-laden farm with fertilizers and still exhibit a “natural” label.
• “100% Organic” It must contain only organically produced ingredients.
• “Organic” It must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.
• “Made with organic ingredients” This denotes products containing a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients.
• “Grass-fed” To meet the standards of the American Grassfed Association (which pertain only to beef, bison, goat, lamb and sheep), the animal must be fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest, was raised on a pasture without confinement or feedlots, was never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and was born and raised on American family farms.