Meat Sparingly

The quick answer:  In the end, our care of animals will say everything about what kind of humans we have become.


The Devil’s Herd

I love the old West . . . the ranches and barns . . . cattle in the fields . . . the smell of the tackroom . . . even the aroma of corrals . . . all those cowboy values and traditions.  My late Uncle Fred was as good a cowboy as you might meet.  He cussed a little and got to church late but was good to the core.  The picture above is his daughter Peggy—who I got in plenty of mischief with as a child—sitting pretty on a handsome cutting horse.  At Fred’s passing, I was moved to remember his colorful character in this bit of doggerel.

I love western music too.  My favorite song is Johnny Cash singing Ghost Riders in the Sky.  The song, I think, could be a warning for the exploitation of animals by the food corporations, for it tells of a group of ghost cowboys who had fallen short in their lives and were doomed to endlessly ride the skies, chasing the devil’s stampeding herd.  It closes with this cowboy call to repentance (try singing it):

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies

The good Lord gave man dominion over the animals but with that power came the duty of care.  This post is a call to reconsider our relationship with the animals of the world, lest we too wind up chasing the devil’s herd.  Yippie yi yaaaaay.

The Blue Zones

Want to enjoy a long life?  Dan Buettner traveled around the world, studying the longest-lived societies.  He summarized his findings in a book, The Blue Zones.  Bottom line: Though these long-lived peoples eat a variety of foods based on where they lived, they universally eat very little meat.  With the exception of special feasts, meat is used to flavor food rather than as the main course.

Chronic Disease

Meat is good for us—it’s the only natural source of vitamin B-12 which is essential to our health—but too much meat is problematic.  In the modern American diet (MAD) we eat three or four times more meat than we should.  An Oxford University study of the English diet found that reducing meat intake to three servings weekly—the amount a person might consider “sparing”—would reduce mortality from chronic diseases.  Specifically, they projected these benefits for England:

  • 31,000 fewer heart disease deaths each year.
  • 9000 fewer deaths from cancer.
  • 5000 fewer deaths from stroke.

World Wars

Health improves when we eat less meat.  Due to World War I shortages, Denmark was forced, as a nation, to eat a Word of Wisdom Living diet—mostly plant foods with very little meat, less milk and butter than before, and practically no alcohol, coffee, or tea.  They even ate a “war bread” of whole grain rye flour. 

Later, Dr. Martin Hindhede, a researcher in low-protein diets, studied the result.  Despite the stress of war, there was an immediate drop in mortality rates that continued through the war but disappeared post-war as people returned to their normal habits. 

Hindhede saw an important lesson about the body’s recuperative powers—improving diet quickly improves health.  During World War II this mortality benefit was again observed in other affected countries. 

The Scriptures

It would be a failure of reverence to overlook scriptural guidance.  The scriptures have cautioned about meat eating.  In Genesis we are counseled to make herbs and fruits our meat; in Moses’ time Israel was restricted in what meats they could eat, and how animals should be killed; Daniel with his three friends benefited from eating plant foods (pulses) instead of the king’s meat; and the Apostle Paul warns darkly of carnal living. 

The canonized LDS scripture known as the Word of Wisdom counsels that flesh of animals was ordained for the use of mankind, but with thanksgiving, and the admonition to eat sparingly—perhaps the best and most succinct guidance found anywhere.  These words reflect a duty of care.

The definition of sparing is left to each person's inspiration.  For our use, we aim to get two-thirds of our protein from plants and just one-third from animal sources. (In a future post on protein, we’ll return to this 1:2 ratio.) This is equivalent to three servings of meat (excluding two servings of fish) weekly, though we spread it around.  Research reported in The China Study suggests this is a healthy level—Americans are reported to eat four times this amount. 


Do you worry about environmental pollutants but find organic foods too expensive?  One study estimates that 85% of our pollutant exposure comes in the meat we eat.  The surest way to reduce your exposure to pollutants, then, is to reduce meat consumption, as in sparing.  It’s also cheaper.

Best Methods

After a person resolves the amount of meat to eat, two questions remain:

  1. What are the healthiest meats?  The simplest guidance is to eat a variety of meats including fish and fowl, choosing pastured or grass fed meats over industrially fed (CAFO) when possible, and minimizing processed meats like bacon, ham, etc.  Here’s a rule:  Eat less, but better.
  2. How should meat be prepared?  Lower cooking temperatures produce less carcinogenic or harmful byproducts.  Stewed meat, especially if cooked with herbs, is better than baked meat; baked meat is better than fried; and fried is better than BBQ’d meat.  That’s pretty simple. 

Ready for Skip's beef stew recipe? 

Healthy Change

Please comment:  Share the ways you feature meat in your diet.  Where do you find healthy meat?  How do you use it as a condiment, rather than the main course?  What do you do to show reverence for the Creation of animals?

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (8)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (17)

My family is lucky to have found a local store called Real Foods which sells grass-fed beef and raw milk. We've only discovered this store recently but love what we get there. I am looking forward to seeing others' comments on how they use meat as more of a condiment than a main course.

Thanks for another great post.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGerb

Thank you Gerb. This is not a commercial blog—we don't accept advertisements, though money has been offered. But we should mention that Real Foods has three outlets, all in Utah: Heber, Provo, and St. George. I also like Sprouts (formerly Henry's in California) and Whole Foods.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSkip

I'm surprised by this dad.. it just seems like grilling meat has been billed as a really healthy way to cook.. think of all those summer menus with lots of grilled meats. Fried is better than grilled? I guess I shouldn't worry that we don't use our BBQ too often.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

Brooke The next thing worse than guy's love for meat in the center of their plate, is the fascination with the BBQ. Women like the help and it gets the heat out of the kitchen on hot days. But those charred bits of meat are pretty toxic, and carcinogenic. Hold the BBQ down to 4th of July and Labor Day.

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

We treat meat as a side dish, so it is never the main dish, but some times we will include it as a flavoring agent in rice, soup, or bean dishes. This started because... I suck at cooking meat, so it ended up being wasteful for me to try and cook it because I would overcook, or burn it, every time.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica @ One Shiny Star

I found this footnote to Doctrine and Covenants 49: 21 about two years ago and it led to much pondering:). . .JST GENESIS 9:11: "And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands."

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbandreoli

We have cut back to eating meat sparingly over the past 2 years. We have meat on taco night weekly. We have salmon in one of our pasta dishes once a month, and hot dogs are served once in a while. So at most, we get a serving (a serving being maybe 3 ounces) of meat 3 times a week. My husband used to complain about being hungry a little while after eating when we first cut out a lot of meat, but now he is fine. My kids haven't even noticed.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

This one was a hard one at first last year. But by slowly removing meat from the menu over the course of the year I think my hubby has gotten used to it. Indeed he likes it. When we do decide to have a big ol' steak for a special occasion he suggests we split it! We're down to about 1lb per person per week. And there was an unexpected benefit we we're looking for. Our grocery bill is down! Turns out we used to spend most of our money on animal products and processed foods. Now that we're more plant based, whole/natural foods our grocery bill has shown at least a 30% drop.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRill

I understand that 'charred' meat can be problematic, and that charred meat is often done on the outdoor grill. But there are ways of cooking "BBQ Style" that don't involve the high heat of charring meat.

Real BBQ, according to my friend Larry (a BBQ expert; his site at http://thebbqgrail.com ) is "low and slow": coooking over a low (often indirect - not directly over the coals) fire, and for a long period of time. That allows the meat to be cooked to a proper temperature, but not 'charred', thus reducing, I'd think, the carcinogens that are present in charred meat.

There is ofen, in "Real BBQ" the addition of smoking of the meat by using natrual (pesticide-free) woods. But again, the cooking is 'low and slow', which doesn't include 'charring'.

Good posts, as usual. I had just re-read the "Fred Whitehead" story you wrote, as I got a note from one of his grandsons who discovered the story.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRick H

Rick, thanks for reminding that BBQ can be done slowly at low temperature.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

I'm ready for Skip's Beef Stew recipe?! Where is it?

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax Drown

Thanks for this post. I tried to go semi vegan besides goat products, but I was still craving fish and now I eat a little organic chicken and turkey too so it's nice to know that the china study does consider more meat than I thought as a healthy level. I may even add grass fed organic beef to my diet... we'll see.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDi

One of the things that helps me minimize the amount of chicken I use in recipes is to buy the chicken tenders instead of chicken breasts (assuming I'm buying frozen instead of fresh). When buying fresh I just try to package and freeze 1/2 to 1 pound portions. This seems to help me use less meat in general.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElisa

This is a point where I vacillate between what I feel my body needs and what I know is true and right. As a heavy weightlifter (note: NOT a bodybuilder), who does high intensity workouts 5 days a week, I find I need the protein found in meat to maintain and moderately build muscle mass. I cannot eat dairy or soy (so any whey- or soy-based protein shakes are out, not to mention they are full of junk anyway), and most grains trigger digestive issues.

I know this is a personal issue, but I'm wondering if anyone has similar needs and what your thoughts have been pertaining to the Word of Wisdom. Skip, any thoughts yourself?

March 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Lisa The science says we need about 8% (of calories) protein to maintain tissue replacement, etc. In the US we average around 14%, mostly from meat. So we get plenty of protein, perhaps too much. Competitive body builders are drawn to sketchy processed protein products, many soy based, to enhance muscle development. My guess is the stuff is pretty unhealthy but that may be offset by the benefits of all the exercise they get. It would be great to see an observational study of the dietary health effects of body builders.

You note that you're not a body builder but focus on daily high-intensity workouts. From a health viewpoint, in my view, protein should 1) come from a variety of traditional sources (not factory processed), 2) be mostly plant based.

Data presented in "The China Study" suggests 5% of calories from animal protein is a safe level. For most people that's less than a pound of meat a week, depending on other animal protein like milk and dairy. Because you have difficulty with dairy, soy, and certain grains, why not study the protein content of the plants you can eat, including legumes and nuts and grains like quinoa, and include more of those?

Everyone is different and this is a personal issue. But if you're eating significantly more that a pound of meat a week, it would be good to discuss this with a doctor informed about nutrition. Best to you.

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

Love this website! It's great to see people cutting back on meat. The next step is vegan, which is what T. Colin Campbell, author of the China Study, and heart specialist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn advocate in their dvd Forks Over Knives. I've been vegan for over 15 years and it sure works!!

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce Kinmont

I just posted a historical review of the topic of meat in the Word of Wisdom on my own blog. Your readers may find it interesting.

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThayne Andersen

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>