Making Beef Stew + A Saturated Fat Ramble

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It’s almost my 1 year anniversary as an ex-vegan.  My first bite of meat was homemade beef stew and it was amazing.  I could feel the nourishment immediately and my conclusion still stands that I feel better eating meat.  Over the past year we’ve made this beef stew a few times, especially in the cold months.  It’s become one of my favorite meals.  There was a time when I would have cringed at the thought of eating *gasp* “red” meat with all its “artery-clogging saturated fat.”  🙂  I’ve since changed my perspective on this.

“Artery-clogging saturated fat”– funny how saturated fat always seems to be found in that phrase.  That is just one more tidbit unfortunately ingrained into newly forming dietitian brains in school that turned out to be highly questionable.  Sure, animal products are a source of saturated fat, however it’s not usually mentioned that the majority of the fat found in beef and pork is actually mostly monounsaturated (even in chicken skin!)  That’s right; the same “heart-healthy monounsaturated fat” famously found in olive oil.   Another thing many people don’t understand is that fats found in food are made up of a blend of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat– but are typically labeled simply as one or the other based on the dominant type.  So, there is actually saturated fat in your precious olive oil just as there is monounsaturated fat in your “unhealthy” butter.  It’s just one more thing that nutrition science has oversimplified but which ended up confusing people even more.

And is saturated fat really that unhealthy anyway? Saturated fat has got to be one of the hottest controversial topics in the nutrition community, particularly over the past few years.  There have been research studies bringing it’s perceived danger into question, several books challenging the dogma and many, many medical professionals speaking out about it.  The debates rage on between the experts.  As desperately as I want definitive answers, what I’m coming to accept is that we simply do not know.

Despite most everything we were taught about the link between saturated fats and heart disease, you’ve got to wonder based on things like:

2010 Meta-Analysis evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease:  A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.

2014 Meta-Analysis of association of fatty acids and coronary risk:  Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.

I could talk about saturated fat for days, for some reason it totally fascinates me.  I guess I just love a good controversy and I have spent more mental energy learning (obsessing would be a better term) about the topic than I care to admit.   I’ve read enough of the literature to convince me not to worry about saturated fat in my diet anymore– in the context of a healthy, whole foods diet I believe it to be perfectly fine.  However, eat a lot of it in a diet high in refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods and then you may have problems.  This is just what I believe is right for my body.  Understanding that there are various opinions and choosing what works in your situation is crucial.

Now let’s move on to making some lovely healthy saturated-fat rich beef stew!

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Beef stew, homemade by Chris, was my first taste of meat (aside from fish) after about 14 years.  I still remember the night.  And how good my body felt after eating it.  A big pot of it takes some preparation and planning but it provides many meals for the week.  It freezes well too.

Real Food Ingredients:  Local grass-fed beef, bone broth, carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, red wine, spices.

 

 

Let me be clear that this is not a recipe with measurements or exact steps!  Just guidelines.. but that’s all you really need.

You will need to thaw out your beef ahead of time.  I’ve only seen frozen meat available from our local farms.  Very important:  Please get something pasture raised! Don’t use the conventional beef that’s from a CAFO.

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This is from Watson Farm in Jamestown, RI.  Stew beef and shanks are what we used.  A good reason to use the shanks is to take advantage of the nutrient-dense bone marrow which seeps into the stock as it cooks.  You can also use other cuts like short ribs.

 

 

 

 

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Chop up your veggies.

A few carrots, celery, onion and potatoes or any others you want to include.

 

 

 

 

These are the spices we used but it changes each time.  Remember, there is no “recipe” here– just cooking!

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Dried garlic, Italian seasoning blend, celery seed, chili powder.  Red wine too!

 

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve got the ingredients out, the first thing you do is brown your beef in a little olive oil.  Add some salt and pepper to the beef.  The stew beef was cut into chunks; the shanks were browned whole.  Cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes on each side, until they turn brown.

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Remove the browned beef and add some red wine to deglaze the pot.

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Add veggies to the wine/oil, add spices as desired and mix.  Then add bone broth a little at a time and finally the cooked meat.  Add 2 bay leaves and any additional spices if desired.

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Cover and bring to a simmer until you generate steam when removing the lid. Place covered pot in 300 degree oven for 3 hours:

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How delicious does this look??  Remove the bay leaf and bones.  The meat should generally fall off the bone but will need to be cut or pulled into smaller chunks.

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A balanced meal:

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I just spent a good chunk of last week and weekend watching as many of the speakers from The 2015 Diabetes World Summit that I could.  It was quite fascinating with 40 presentations including many MDs, NDs and RDs, most not of the typical mainstream variety, but instead taking a functional medicine approach which totally resonates with me.   I think more than any specific information, what I got out of it the most was that it made me realize that I need to relax a bit into the fact that there is disagreement in the nutrition community regarding the ideal way to eat.  This is hard for someone like me who works with people who want to know exactly what to eat and who wants to give them the most evidence-based, up-to-date nutritional information.

There are various paths to health. Everyone’s got their own point of view, many certainly believing quite strongly about theirs being the right one!  But  there is no denying that there are some major disagreements among health professionals.  On one extreme you’ve got the vegan or near-vegan route.  Dr. Fuhrman and others of similar mindset strongly believe in a diet with minimal animal products.  This clearly can work, as their patients have had immense success eating this way.  On the other hand, you’ve got a quickly growing number of doctors and dietitians who take a more ancestral, paleo or low-carb approach, each with excellent results as well.  Some may shun dairy while others include pasture raised dairy products like butter, cheese and yogurt.  There isn’t complete agreement about eating grains or beans either.  However, there are things that everybody DOES agree on:  Avoiding highly processed foods like refined grains, sugars and oils.  And eating more fruits and vegetables.  Maybe it’s time to focus more on what everyone has in common and not obsess over the differences.

All that being said, the bottom line is…  nobody knows exactly.  We may never figure it out.  Experts on both sides of nutritional controversy can easily show pages of research to defend their stance.  It’s surprisingly easy to back up just about any personal belief with some sort of scientific data.  It’s beyond frustrating when you want real answers, trust me, I know.   Instead of making ourselves crazy with all the back and forth, what about loosening up and accepting the fact that there is uncertainty?  What about going with what truly feels right for you and your body?   There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all diet for everyone.

What’s more, health is about so much more than just what you eat.  There’s no way you can focus only on food and not other aspects of life like sleep, physical activity, relationships and managing stress.  They are all intertwined more than you may realize.

As for what to eat, I’m going with what we do know for sure about food– which is Eat Real Food, saturated fat and all.

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