Yep, you read that right. Beef. But let me explain.
This is a post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a couple of months now, and one that’s been sitting as a draft for nearly as long. As you’ve probably noticed, the recipes featured here on the blog align with my pescetarian diet, are heavily plant-based and always free of dairy and gluten. These are all dietary choices I’ve made over the years while doing plenty of trial and error to discover what works best for my body.
Looking way back, I stopped eating red meat back when I was about 15 years old because I didn’t like how it made me feel. Then I omitted most poultry from my diet in my mid-20s upon becoming enlightened on how most of the nation’s chicken makes it to our dinner tables. It was information I’d deliberately avoided previously, but as I opened my eyes and ears to the truth behind what happens in factory farms, I decided it definitely wasn’t for me. Instead, I opted to stick to mostly plants and spend my hard-earned cash on wild, sustainably caught seafood.
That decision has served me well, and with the help of regular iron supplementation, I’ve been able to restore my almost undetectable iron levels to within what’s considered the normal range for females. (If you’re an iron-deficient athlete and haven’t yet, I’d recommend checking out my post on Running with Anemia.) In January my lab results showed that my ferritin has finally come up above 50ng/mL, which is a HUGE accomplishment considering how low it was 4 years ago. But as great as helpful as supplementation has been, I’ve recently given a lot of thought to what I previously considered the best nutritional approach for me. As you may have anticipated by the title of this post, my opinion has shifted a bit.
In my most anemic days, I made myself eat red meat once a week for one reason and one reason only: I had races coming up that I’d already registered for, and I was desperate to feel better as fast as possible. Knowing that non-heme (plant-based) sources of iron aren’t absorbed and utilized nearly as efficiently as heme (animal) sources, I chose only cuts of meat I knew I could feel good about – hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, organic beef from a local butcher. I remember thinking digestion would be the most difficult part, and figured my enzymes would see red meat particles and go “what does she expect us to do with this???” But if I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t an issue. What really took a while to wrap my head around was the texture.
Just like a mom might hide vegetables in her kid’s cheesy pasta, I hid my meat in something I love – stir fried veggies. It began with a ratio of about 1 part meat to 10 parts vegetables, and as I got more used to it, I added a bit more. As soon as I’d been on my iron supplement long enough for it to make a legit difference in how I felt, I stopped the once-a-week beef routine.
In my recent contemplation about achieving my best state of health (which has included reducing endurance exercise, lifting more, and incorporating regular meditation and yoga), I decided to revisit this approach to see how it would make me feel. Interestingly, it appears to be making quite the impact on my energy levels. It’s one of the key things I point to that has helped boost my iron, and something I’m doing once a week again because I’ve noticed significant improvements in my athletic performance.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, first of all I thought you might wonder why a random beef recipe popped up on the blog today. You guys know I’m always very honest and open with my experiences, and as silly as this will sound, part of me actually felt scared to announce my red meat consumption because it means I’m technically no longer pescetarian. Red meat is often demonized in health circles, especially the heavily plant-based ones I’m part of. But that’s just the thing – pescetarianism, veganism, vegetarianism etc – they’re all just labels. They’re not permanent states of being.
We can be really quick to label and categorize ourselves because our brains like categorization. It makes things easier to understand and remember. But when it comes to nutrition, I think labels can give us tunnel vision and sometimes lead us to restrict ourselves from foods that might, at certain times in our lives, be beneficial. I’ve met plenty of people who at one point thrived on raw vegan diets, but have since become paleo, pescetarian or eaters of everything and feel just as good, if not better.
Bottom line: I’m a big believer that what’s considered the optimal diet for each of us is very individualized, and that it changes over time. I’m seeing evidence of this in myself, and while I’m by no means saying red meat is great for everyone, what I am saying is that I don’t think we should be afraid to stray from the labels we give ourselves. I think it’s really important to keep an open mind, and when things just don’t seem to be going right – whether that’s iron deficiencies, digestive problems, fatigue etc – we shouldn’t be afraid to explore change.
So… about those stir fried veggies I mentioned. To this day, Asian-inspired stir fries are still my preferred means of consuming heme iron, and because several of you have reached out asking about what my experience with reintroducing red meat has been like, I thought I’d share this Ginger Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry recipe. It starts with a lovely ginger citrus marinade which becomes the sauce for the veggies, and finishes with a sprinkle of scallions and sesame seeds. This one is great on its own, but for an even heartier meal, I recommend serving it over brown rice or soba noodles.
This stir fry is a delicious, high-protein, filling meal that’s high in iron – perfect if you, like me, are iron deficient and need help keeping your iron topped up. Feel free to use any veggies you have on hand.
For the Orange Ginger Sauce (you’ll have some leftover):
- 1/4 cup low sodium tamari
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
For the rest:
- about 220g lean organic hormone-free beef, such as eye of round, top round, or top sirloin
- 1 clove fresh minced garlic
- 4 cups chopped raw broccoli florets
- 1/4 cup water
- 10 white button or cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered
- 1 cup mixed bell peppers, julienne cut
- 1 sliced scallion, white and light green parts, and sesame seeds to garnish
- Slice the meat into thin strips, about 1-2″ long.
- Combine all ingredients for the ginger sauce in a mason jar and shake it vigorously until combined. Pour half of it into a resealable bag or container, along with the meat, and marinade for 15-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop all vegetables as directed above.
- Mist a large wok with coconut oil or olive oil spray. Sautee the garlic for 1 minute.
- Pour the beef strips into the pan with their marinade and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until they start to become brown on the outside. (Don’t cook them all the way as they’ll be tough if you do.)
- Add the broccoli and water, and stir fry for another 2 minutes.
- Finally, add the mushrooms and bell pepper strips. Stir fry until tender crisp – another 2 minutes or so – then remove from the heat.
- Divide between two bowls and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.
[Tweet “Dinner from the wok: Ginger Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry”]
So tell me… Have you transitioned from one diet or lifestyle to another? Or, have you reintroduced a food you previously eliminated from your diet? How did it make you feel, and what were your reasons for doing so?