Nutrition: A Former Vegetarian Goes for Red Meat, by Julie Daniluk

I remember eating my last bit of pork product when I was 16. I was sitting in the car, making a pact with my sister to become a vegetarian. We had this amazing pie from the local fine food store and it was made with lard. I will never forget chopping into that last bite of pie and saying goodbye. It was so flakey and delicate.

Fast forward 17 years and I was diagnosed with severe anemia. I am a nutritionist and I faced this news as a failure. No matter how many figs, spinach and molasses I ate, I could not seem to solve the problem.

My grandmother’s side of the family was notorious for not being able to absorb iron properly. She was forced to eat chicken liver in the 1950’s because iron from animals is much easier to utilize.

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Iron in meat, fish, and poultry contains heme iron that is absorbed very efficiently by your body. Iron in plants such as lentils and beans is arranged in a different chemical structure called non-heme iron that is not as well absorbed as heme iron.

The day came that Alan (my husband) convinced me to try a Bison steak.

I had a good cry because after 17 years of avoiding red meat for the environment and to save some cute animals, it was a lot to let go of. I was ready to dislike the flavour, ready to abandon ship after the first bite.

What happened instead? The texture was like nothing I remembered… fibrous yet tender… the flavour was so unique, so… addictive. I ended up eating the whole darn thing and boy did my tummy complain. But after I got used to digesting red meat, I must admit my energy soared. My anemia is a thing of the past and I feel so much stronger.

But even though I had eaten free range bison, I just could not seem to bring myself to eat pigs. Pigs are the closest things to us genetically beside primates. Most religious texts forbid eating pigs. It may have been a safety issue long ago because without refrigeration, pork can spoil and have parasite contamination very easily.

I was invited out to the Hope Farm recently. This organic farm was so clean that I imagined myself getting cozy with the goats in the barn. The family had made an incredible spread for lunch and when I dug into a delectable burger, I did not even think to ask. It was the most delicious burger I had ever consumed in my life. I was just raving to the chef when she said:

“It is wonderful that we can use our pork right off our farm here…”

I froze. I really could not believe that the last vestige of avoiding meat was now gone. I had a choice: I could stop eating and offend our wonderful Mennonite host. But I said a prayer and kept on eating. I realized that there is a huge difference between conventionally raised pigs and the way these wonderful happy pigs were living out their time. The experience was humbling and enlightening and now I make sure to source out only naturally raised and organic meat.

A vegan diet is helpful for many people. But I was unable to continue with it as I had developed a terrible allergy to tree nuts, gluten grains and many beans.I don’t take eating wild game, fish or poultry lightly. I see it as a sacrifice and try to have as many plant protein days as possible.

If you are a big fan of meat, you will be happy to hear that when free-range animals feast on grass they are consuming alpha-linolenic acid. This acid translates to their diet being rich in Omega 3 fats. Conventionally farmed animals feed on corn and soy and their diets lack Omega 3s. Because of this these animals have a weaker immune system and must be fed antibiotics.

Julie Daniluk, RHN, hosts Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that highlights the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition by using unique groups such as bikers, dragon boat racers and ballroom dancers to challenge their taste buds with nutritious foods. Julie is excited that her show was chosen to be part of OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network). Similar to Oprah’s book club, programs on OWN explore stories of strength and transformation. Television viewers also recognize Julie from her “busted” segments on The Right Fit (W Network) and The Marilyn Dennis Show (CTV) where she examines the foods people need to stay healthy, acting as a nutrition encyclopedia. Her fun and engaging style comes in handy when she creates a recipe a week that is packed with health tips for www.chatelaine.com. Her new book Meals That Heal Inflammation is available in stores now.