Does Eating Meat Pose Serious Health Risks?
Are Vegetarians and Vegans On To Something?
I used to toy with the idea of going vegetarian and have made drastic changes to my diet, including cutting back on meat, but haven’t gone all the way.
I believe that many people would also benefit from cutting back on meat, but I’m not sure going completely vegetarian or vegan is the right choice either. Of course, if you are, that’s okay, and I respect your choice to eat what you want. I know quite a few people following those diets who make it work for them.
What I feel is important is figuring out what works for you. For some it will be vegetarian, for others it will be paleo, and others ketogenic. What I will be talking about in this article is how high-quality meat can be an integral part of a healthy diet.
Is Meat Bad For You?
Despite what you might hear, there’s actually more evidence that high quality meat, including red meat, is actually good for you.
Now, there have been some studies that seem to indicate eating meat can cause problems (like cancer), but those studies are observational studies and only show association not causation.
Typically, these studies will say, “People eating red meat generally develop cancer.”
Which is kind of like saying “People that eat meat are taller.” Doesn’t prove that eating meat made them taller just that they are associated.
As Dr. Mark Hyman writes:
These type of studies are further complicated because it is very hard to tease out the factors that matter. For example, when Asians move from Asia to the US, they eat more meat and have more heart disease and cancer, but they also consume far more sugar. So it is the meat or is it the sugar? Hard to know. These types of population studies also cannot prove cause and effect, only show correlation. Yet, the media and consumers take it as gospel. We thought dietary cholesterol was bad3 and were told to avoid egg yolks4 at all costs. Turns out they are good for you and have no impact on cholesterol.
If there are any links to meat and cancer, it likely has to do with the burning of meat during cooking which can produce carcinogenic material like HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).
These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that can theoretically lead to cancer.
Meat is Good For You, Here’s Why
On the other hand, what we do know about meat is it contains a long list of nutrients we need for superior health.
- Protein: This important nutrient delivers amino acids to the body and is one of the basic building blocks for healthy muscle and a healthy body.
- Healthy Fats: Grass-fed sources contain fats like Omega-3 fats as well as unsaturated fats and saturated fats. The fats that come from quality meat supplies help to strengthen the brain, as well as help to regulate the normal function of cholesterol. Some fat supplies (like Omega 3 DHA/EPA) aren’t found in plant sources. Take our Healthy Fats Assessment.
- Creatine: This element helps to activate energy in the mitochondria. It is only found in meat.
- Vitamin B-12: One of the most important vitamins for normal health, Vitamin B-12 is also only found (in great supplies) in meat. B-12 is one of the main vitamins needed to complete the methyl cycle, and a deficiency in it can cause a myriad of health problems.
- Zinc: This mineral is found in greatest supply in meat. It is influential in helping to keep the immune system working at its highest level as well as being extremely important for the reproductive ability of males.
And that’s really just a sampling of what’s inside meat.
As you read through that list, you’ll notice there were a few nutrients found in meat that you can’t get from vegetable sources.
Eating meat can provide the body with Omega-3 EPA/DHA, vitamin B-12, creatine and more, which are hard to get elsewhere.
What Else Can Meat Do For You?
Now here’s one thing you need to keep in mind.
This goes back to the quote from Dr. Hyman.
If you’ve got a diet that contains a healthy balance of meat, but you go on and consume tons of sugars, processed foods, and unhealthy food types, then you’re going to see many of these health benefits wiped away.
It’s just a fact.
While consumption of meat can positively impact your health, it isn’t enough to undo bad habits either.
But, here’s what meat can do.
- Help Normalize Insulin Levels: Because meat is a low glycemic food, its consumption won’t cause blood sugar levels to rise. On top of that, when you eat meat that’s high in fat, the fat can blunt a rise in blood sugar even when other high glycemic foods are present. (This doesn’t meant meat + candy is healthy). This can help keep your body’s insulin levels within the ideal range and can preserve hormone levels as well as helping you keep off added weight.
- Can Help Regulate Hunger Levels: As noted above, meat is high in protein. An interesting thing about protein is it can actually help curb appetite. Because protein is so dense, the body works hard to break it down. This, in turn, provides a level of satiation or satisfaction with your appetite so you’re not always hungry.
- Helps Build Lean Muscle: Again, the kind of protein (and fat) meat’s made up of is there to help your body grow and grow the “right way.” The protein inside of meat contains many of the BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) you need to help build lean muscle. It’s much harder to find those kinds of amino acids in plant sources, and many vegans and vegetarians who are into body building find they have to supplement to get the desired protein they need.
Eat Meat, But Avoid This Kind of Meat
Here’s something that’s of key, and I do mean key importance, to understand:
Not all meat is created equal.
The industrial food corporations have changed meat from its original form by changing its diet.
That’s why the new rush to have “pasture-raised” chickens, and “grass-fed” beef and “wild-caught” fish has taken a sharp climb in recent years.
I’ve detailed this before, but the reliance of animals on a diet that isn’t their natural diet can pose some problems.
The biggest problems here are many of these animals will be higher in inflammatory fats like Omega-6 fats and lower in healthy fats like Omega-3 fats.
Not to mention, many of them will have lower levels of vitamins and nutrients than they normally would have in the wild. Much of this has to do with the the liberal use of antibiotics and hormones industrial farms use to keep them alive.
Both the reduced nutritional profiles of grain-fed animals as well as the reliance on antibiotics and hormones is one of the biggest reasons to steer clear of conventional style meat. And one huge thing too, the treatment of animals in these facilities is nothing short of a horror story. Which is why I respect many vegans and vegetarians for choosing a more ethical lifestyle.
This is why if buying meat make sure it is:
- Grass-fed or free-range
- No use of hormones or antibiotics
- Ethically raised
The Bottom Line on Meat
Meat can be a nutritious part of a healthy diet.
For some people, it’s eating meat on a daily basis, for others, it may be a couple times per week, and of course, for my vegetarian friends NO times per week.
There is no right answer. It’s all what works best for you.
However, I do believe that there is a good deal of evidence supporting the consumption of meat. I personally have limited meat to only once per day and frequently have “Meatless Tuesdays”.
When you do buy meat, make sure it is high quality, and I recommend trying to find a local farmer that you can source from. This way you know you are only getting good meat from animals that have been taken care of.