Meat has been a dietary staple for centuries. Despite this long embedded history dating back to prehistoric times, modern-day questions whether or not it poses health risks.
Food companies have made leaps and bounds to bring consumers plant-based mock meats, including that notorious Impossible™ Burger. Taking to these products may be based on environmental, societal, and nutritional grounds.
But should one really forego that burger and become partially or totally meat-free? Find out the most recent, evidence-based pros and cons of eating meat.
THE PROS AND CONS OF EATING MEAT
There is a lot of beef when it comes to the pros and cons of eating meat. But rather than basing on popular opinion, we dive into the meaty research of potential risks and benefits.
Benefits of Not Eating Meat
First and foremost, meat comes in many different forms and flavors, white and red meat included. Red meat, however, tends to be stigmatized related to potential health concerns. This is mostly due to the saturated fat content they contain.
Red meats are animal muscle meats that include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. These meats can also be processed using salting, curing, and fermenting process to enhance flavor and increase preservation.
Processed meats can include red meats, such as bacon, chorizo, salami, and hot dogs. But white meats such as turkey bacon, ground chicken, and other poultry products can also be classified as processed meats.
Ultimately, though, red and processed meats spark worry for a number of health conditions. Decreasing life expectancy is a common worry, too.
Does Meat Cause Chronic Disease?
From heart disease to cancer, meat intake is suggested to increase the risk of developing various chronic diseases. Let’s cut into some of the most current data:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggests red meat is probably carcinogenic. Or, in layman’s term, cancer-causing. This is mostly specific to colorectal cancer with some evidence for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. Processed meat, on the other hand, is appointed carcinogenic to humans.
- The World Cancer Research Fund likewise reports there is evidence that red or processed meat are both causes of colorectal cancer. Esophageal, gastric, and breast cancers, amongst the many, also tend to be of concern.
- Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests eating red meat can the risk of cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in red meat led to greater reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- Eating meat has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes. Research in the British Journal of Nutrition found plant and egg proteins could prevent type 2 diabetes.
Increasing cancer risk but lowering the risk of heart disease? Many inconsistencies exist in the research and recommendations.
In hopes to clear the air, new research on red and processed meat guidelines suggests these recommendations are primarily based on observational studies. These sorts of studies cannot conclude cause and effect.
The study also found no statistically significant differences for 21 additional outcomes observed, including heart disease and cancer. “Again, we assessed the risk for adverse cardiometabolic outcomes on the basis of an average of 10.8 years follow-up, and adverse cancer outcomes over a lifetime.”
Despite the muddy waters in the research world, health experts offer clarity for meat-eaters.
Benefits of Eating Meat
With much chatter on the negatives, the pros of eating meat should not be overlooked. Besides, meat is a great source of beneficial nutrients that lead to a number of health benefits. These include:
- Protein: Protein is a macronutrient found in animal meats and some plant-based sources. Meat provides all essential amino acids, which can only be obtained through diet. Protein supports muscle growth and a healthy metabolism. It helpful for those hoping to lose weight, too, as it controls hunger.
- Iron: Iron is a mineral naturally found in red meats including beef and pork. It is absolutely essential for oxygenating blood, supplying it to the organs and body system. Inadequate iron intake increases the risk of iron deficiency anemia, which can cause fatigue and stunted growth.
- Vitamin B12: This B vitamin is primarily found in animal products, including meat and poultry. While symptoms are oftentimes rare, individuals lacking in the vitamin may experience fatigue, breathlessness, numbness, poor balance, and memory loss, as it is a critical component to healthy blood and nerve cells.
- Zinc: Zinc can be obtained from beef, pork, and other meats. It is virtually present in all parts of the body and vital for strengthening the immune system. A deficiency in zinc can lead to hair loss and changes in appetite, weight, and taste and smell sensations.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly known for their supply within fatty fish, though it can also be found in meat. This especially serves true if the source is grass-fed. The healthy fat reduces inflammation and the risks of heart disease and depression.
The high nutrient profile of meat is undoubted. But to offset the risk of diseases, health experts do recommend these five tips to make the most out of meat intake:
1. Limit processed meats: As a whole, processed meats are a well-known risk factor in many health conditions. Consumers should limit processed meats to once or twice per month.
2. Moderate red meat intake: Most available research suggests moderating red meat intake to 18-ounces of unprocessed, lean cuts.
3. Choose lean cuts: Lean cuts of meat helps to reduce saturated and overall fat content. Pork tenderloin and steak sirloin are great examples of a lean cut of meat.
4. Select grass-fed meat if possible: Again, grass-fed sources show to offer greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids compared to grain and corn-fed products. Selecting grass-fed sources can kick the nutrient profile of meat up a notch.
5. Balance the diet: Truly, eating meat can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. This especially serves true when considering the quality of the source and the other foods surrounding it.
A nutrient-dense, whole foods eating pattern takes priority over diets rich in highly processed and packaged foods anyways. Incorporate more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based and animal proteins, and healthy fat sources. Limit packaged and boxed products that tend to be loaded with sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats as well.