not-so-meatless days: the trouble with meatless

oh fer shame! image via abends.wordpress.com

oh fer shame! image via abends.wordpress.com

Whenever it’s time for the president’s State of the Union address, I make it a point to do a personal State of the Union: The Body Edition. That means I make the annual rounds to my various medical practitioners to check up on all the various things we’re supposed to keep tabs on: blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney/liver functionality, suspicious freckles, woman stuff. Just good common sense. Let me not bore you with my own moderately obsessive pride in my super excellent resting heart rate (not to mention “Cholesterol levels people kill for.” Doesn’t it feel good when your doc praises you?). Reviewing my most recent blood work with my physician revealed something less-than-super-excellent: extremely low levels of Iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D. We’re talking borderline pernicious anemia low.

Low levels of iron and B12 mean that oxygen is not efficiently delivered from the lungs to our muscles, resulting in fatigue and weakness; other issues include digestive ailments and mood changes. I’m really not an alarmist about these kinds of things (and iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States, according to the CDC), but my doctor wanted to send me to a hematologist that second for an IV iron transfusion (!). No no no thank you. Although iron and B12 are better absorbed directly through the blood rather than through the stomach, I promised to incorporate more iron-, B12-, and D-rich foods into my life. (She also wanted to do a B12 shot, but did you know there’s a B12 injection shortage in the U.S. right now? It’s crazy hard to find!).

Guess where all of this is leading? The most iron- and B12-rich foods are from animals (good news: the very best source of Vitamin D, however, is sunshine! Sounds like magic! Yay!). Most of you who know me well know that I’m the world’s worst vegetarian anyway, especially in recent months. I guess there’s a good reason I’ve been craving meat lately: the body is wise and knows what it’s lacking.

So my Meatless Mondays, which I am still pretty diligent about following, have slipped up recently. A little roast chicken here, a bite of fish there. It’s a slippery slope to full-blown meatmania, to be sure. But as my doctor looked up from my charts and into my pathetic, pale winter face, she uttered a phrase that I simply couldn’t argue with: “You really just need a big ol’ steak once and a while.”

Amen, I guess? I dunno. I’m not going to pretend that my steak tastes like guilt and shame. Because it actually tastes damn good. Yes, I struggle with some mixed feelings about a foray back into the meatworld, all related to my political and emotional stance on how animals raised for food are treated in this world. I’m committed to keeping plants and produce the majority of my plate. I’m committed to supporting humanely treated, hormone-free, organic meat whenever possible. I’m committed to taking iron and B12 supplements. And I’m determined to help myself feel better and therefore, be of better service to others.

And guess what? An unexpected, peculiar bonus I noticed: this heathen has started saying a silent grace before meals now. Who would’ve known a little pork chop could turn me back to prayer, thanks for your energy, thanks for your life? There’s spirit in all living things.

Here’s what my research tells me:

Best meat sources of iron:
beef, lamb, ham, turkey, chicken, veal, pork, dried beef, liver, liverwurst, eggs (yolks), shrimp, clams, scallops, oysters, tuna, sardines, haddock, mackerel

Best non-meat sources of iron:
spinach, sweet potato, peas, broccoli, string beans, beet greens, dandelion greens, collards, kale, chard, enriched rice, dried apricots

Best meat sources of B12:
clams, oysters, mussels, liver, caviar, octopus, fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb

Best non-meat sources of B12 (B12 only exists in animal products):
cheese, eggs, milk

Best source of D, hands down:
sunshine!

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