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What that value menu cheeseburger is really costing you

Ashley Williams is a holistic healing coach and vegan lifestyle expert. Ashley works with women to heal chronic health issues and make more ethical food choices. GreenlightHH.com

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, food expert Mark Bittman published the findings of nearly a year of his own research on the true cost of a burger as passed on to consumers. Sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the article are some concerning stats about the true health risks of a burger.

While you've likely heard some risks of beef consumption, it might not have been enough to make you "stop cold" from eating burgers as Oprah famously said in 1996 during an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease on U.S. cattle farms.

The harmful effects and true cost of meat, and beef in particular, are showing up all around. You just might not know where to look.

Got estrogen?

We've all heard about young girls menstruating and developing at younger and younger ages. This can be partially attributed to the high rates of dietary fat they're consuming by eating beef and other high fat animal foods. The earlier a girl begins menstruating the higher amount of estrogen she'll produce over her lifetime. If she maintains a diet heavy in animal foods she'll likely extend her reproductive life by several years. The longer a woman’s reproductive life, the greater chance she has for breast cancer.

Other issues associated with too much estrogen include an increase in PMS symptoms, headaches, skin problems and fatigue. Beef cattle are often dosed with hormones to increase rapid growth. Cows used to produce milk are almost always receiving hormones to keep up their milk production while also producing natural hormones because they're kept constantly pregnant. "Spent" dairy cows often end up in your hamburger meat in things like frozen dinners, soups and fast food burgers.

The big C

We all know someone who's had cancer. Chances are we've even buried a loved one from the disease. The easiest way to make sure we don't end up in the same boat is to reduce and prevent inflammation and acidity in our bodies. Using the ph scale, which shows how well our body chemistry is balanced, we see beef on the high end of acidity. An acidic environment in the body has been linked to problems ranging from too much yeast, eczema, acne, arthritis, IBS and yes, even cancer. Adding in more plant foods will help create a more alkaline and balanced ecosystem inside you.

There are several cancer-producing compounds found in beef, which is also devoid of fiber and high in saturated fat. The American Institute for Cancer Research has linked beef to prostate, lung and stomach cancer just to name a few. The higher the heat beef is cooked at, the higher amount of cancer-producing compounds are found.

So many chemicals, so little time

You might assume that the majority of antibiotics made and used in this country go to humans. Maybe we're even shipping them off to help kids in Africa or in a war-torn nation? In fact, the largest amount of antibiotics used in the U.S. today goes to animals. According to industry reports over 17 billion pounds of antibiotics are used each year on livestock. Much of this is used preventively to stave off illnesses that are commonly found and spread rapidly on modern factory farms. Many of the frequently used antibiotics for animals are banned in Europe, which is concerning at best.

When we consume animal foods filled with antibiotics and growth hormones, the negative effects of these compounds are passed on to us. This constant influx of chemicals into our system leads to a resistance to antibiotics and is resulting in so-called "super bugs" that can't be treated with medications currently available.

If the potential cost to your own health isn't enough to jar you, the big-picture ramifications of pollution, climate change, drought, animal cruelty and workers' rights might raise other concerns about the cost wrapped up in a burger.

From water pollution caused by massive waste runoff on industrial cattle farms, to the widespread cruelty toward animals raised for food, our own health is hardly the only external cost of a burger.

Animal cruelty

The cows that will eventually be that burger are often kept in squalor and deprived their natural behavioral and familial habits. At the very end of their lives they are forced to endure fear (which triggers the release of more hormones into their "meat"), abuse and are sometimes not even rendered unconscious before being dismembered. According to Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer, some slaughter plants intentionally use "less effective" procedures to knock the cow out before slaughter. This is so the cow bleeds out more quickly reducing potential for bacterial growth and a reduced shelf life of the beef. As Safran Foer chillingly states: "let's say what we mean: Animals are bled, skinned and dismembered while conscious."

We also need to be aware of the workforce involved in the raising, slaughter and production from calves to burger. It's an industry almost entirely dominated with underpaid, illegal workers with little to no recourse against poor treatment and terrible working conditions. In the classic food expose Fast Food Nation, author Eric Schlosser tells stories of workers losing fingers and other body parts in the slaughterhouse and being sent back to work on the very same day.

Another gem from Fast Food Nation reveals the DNA test results of a fast-food hamburger. The tests showed traces of DNA from one hundred different cows in one single burger. I don't know about you, but that alone is enough of a reason for me to say "pass me a black bean burger!" and swear off beef once and for all.

Photo credit: rez-art/iStock/360/Getty Images
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