FOOD EXPEDITIONS: The Maasai Contradiction – Healthy Living on a Roast Meat Diet.

The Maasai community gets most of its protein from beef. It has been a part of its culture and practices for years. You have probably heard about how too much red meat is harmful and could trigger bad effects. Well, red meat is not the problem. There must be a misunderstanding seeing that the Maasai community heavily depends on roast meat for protein, not to mention that it features practically in almost all meals. It begs the question: Is roast meat a safer protein source than we have believed for the longest time?

Nutritionists and health experts seem to disagree on whether meat is healthy or not, especially when consumed regularly. The debate has been ongoing for years. Research has shown that red meat has essential nutrients needed by humans, such as protein, vitamin B-12, and iron; it is also known to increase the risk of certain conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and many other health conditions. However, red meat has numerous benefits. This article will explore the health impacts of red meat and why communities like the Maasai continue to be strong and healthy even with regular meat consumption.


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Meat is an Excellent Source of Nutrients

Red meat is an excellent source of nutrients, especially B12 and iron. These are important for the formation of red blood cells. It is also an important protein source that helps build muscle, tissues, bones, and enzymes. However, unprocessed lean red meat is preferable since it contains fewer preservatives, salt, and fats which make meat unhealthy. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the Maasai regularly enjoy their fair share of meat without the supposed adverse effects. This community slaughters the cow and prepares it for consumption instead of enjoying processed meats from convenience stores.

Meat contains essential nutrients, including iron, vitamin B-12, and zinc. B-12 deficiency of this nutrient may lead to anemia. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one 3.5-ounce (oz) or 100-gram (g) serving of uncooked ground beef contains the following:

·    247 calories

·    17.44 g of protein

·    1.97 milligrams (mg) of iron

·    19.07 g of fat

·    274 mg of potassium

·    2.15 micrograms of vitamin B-12

·    4.23 mg of zinc

These are the nutrients and content you would expect in a piece of meat. However, they may vary depending on the cut or how the farmer raised the animal. The nutritional value of meat can also be affected by the animal’s age and sex.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), certain meat cuts are excellent sources of heme iron, which is only found in meat, seafood, and poultry. The advantage of heme iron is that it is more bioavailable hence can be used more efficiently by the body.

It is recommended to precook meat or avoid cooking it over an open flame to minimize any adverse effects. If you must roast, then avoid eating the charred part.

DID YOU KNOW?

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine or creatinine (substances found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke. The smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other smoked foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. 

[From "Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk".]

Maasais Health Status Despite Limited Diet

The Maasai’s diet is dependent on cattle. They take boiled blood and use it in food and for drinks. They also use milk from the cattle and eat their meat roasted or fried. Even then, they appear to lead healthy lives with reasonable amounts of omega fats in their bodies. The food choices, including tree bark and fermented milk and their nomadic/active lifestyle, may contribute positively towards the overall health of the Maasai people.

A meat-heavy diet does not appear to be a problem for the Maasai. If a community that heavily relies on meat consumption seems to get through without a lot of complications, then something else may be triggering the assumed negative effects of meat. Based on the Maasai, eating meat is not the issue. As with everything else, consume meat in moderation and according to what your body needs at the time is important. Moreover, avoiding processed meat cuts that are high in preservatives and salt is a healthy choice.

WORDS: Job Githuri.


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