The Meat Debate is the hottest topic I have seen lately in nutrition. And that is saying a lot since there are many hot topics when it comes to diet and health. There are convincing arguments from both the “meat is good” camp and the “meat is bad” camp and lots of people who are passionate that their side is right. But who is right in this debate? Someone has to be right, right? Well let’s take a closer look and see what we are dealing with.
Meat is Good
On this side of the ring, we have people like Dr. Cordain with the Paleo Diet and books like The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and work by Gary Taubes. These are people with well researched ideas and solid credentials.
Some of the main points for this side are
- Historically people have eaten more meat without modern disease
- Low-fat diets are unhealthy
- Cholesterol in the diet is not really a predictor of heart disease
- Meat has been the loser in getting funding or publishing for studies that do not support the “mainstream”.
Part of that argument certainly got a boost in the new Proposed Dietary Guidelines which said cholesterol
is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption (pg 17 of the report)1
Meat is Bad
This side of the ring includes people like Dr. T Colin Campbell with The China Study, books like Forks Over Knives and the Engine 2 Diet, and vegetarians and vegans everywhere. This side also has well researched ideas and solid credentials.
Some of the main points for the pro-plant side are
- Full nutrition is available without meat and dairy
- Saturated fat leads to heart disease and cancer
- Studies have shown vegetarians and vegans to be healthier overall
- Large meat and dairy lobby groups influence the government’s recommendations
Part of this argument also got a boost with the new Proposed Dietary Guidelines when they said
Saturated fat is still a nutrient of concern for over consumption, particularly for those older than the age of 50 years (pg 17 of the report)1
What the Research Says
Unfortunately, nutrition research can be a bit fuzzy. There are so many things factors that come together that it is hard to break them apart. There are only some random controlled studies on meat and health problems like heart disease, cancer, and mortality. Most of the evidence we have is based on observational studies where we try to identify a link between meats and disease but then it is only a link not an established cause.
One random controlled study from 1968 followed Veterans over multiple years with a diet of unsaturated fat vs. saturated fat. The study’s conclusions were that negative health incidents were lower in the unsaturated fats group10 there were questions brought up about the differences between the study and control group that would affect the outcome.11
A study like this one from March 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine will come out and say there is no link between saturated fat and heart disease.2 But then immediately there are plenty of other scientists pointing out flaws in the calculations and conclusions.3
Or you get a study like the Adventist Health Studies that vegetarian diets are better at preventing causes of death overall (all-cause mortality).4 But then you have to wonder if that is due to lower smoking rates, drinking rates, less obesity, and more exercise instead of less meat.5
My Meat Philosophy
As you can see, it can be really hard to give a solid yes or no on such a complex subject. To me, there is no solid yes or no from the research yet. It seems that avoiding all fats is not a healthy way to go but that does not mean you should eat saturated fats in any quantity.
For me personally and my family, we have chosen to play both sides of the debate. We are not going to ignore meat altogether but we are going to focus more on the foods known for good health. For this site, we will put more attention on plant-based meals and less on meat. I think it is much easier to find meat recipes or add meat into recipes than it is to find tasty plant-based recipes when you are not used to eating that way. You can decide which side of the debate you follow and add meat back in as you choose. Everyone is welcome here with their opinions and their choices!
Why you might include some meat
- Meat does have nutrients that are not available in plants. Vitamin B12 is essential for cell division and making blood but cannot be found in plants. So vegans are advised to take supplements to get their needed B12.6 Meats like fish also have more readily available omega-3 fatty acids than plant sources.7
- You like meat and just cannot give it up. Changing your lifestyle will not be effective when you choose a diet you cannot follow. So a bit of meat may be what you need.
Why eat less meat
- Too much meat is kicking out better things. Meat is high in calories and eating lots of meat can take the place of other important healthy foods in your diet like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Processed meats are not great. Processed and over cooked (charred) meats can introduce harmful substances into our bodies such as nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Those are all big words for nasty things that can be created when meats are cooked.8,9 If you are going to eat processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat you should try to find nitrate-free options and not grill them black.
- Hormones and antibiotics are routinely given to animals in our modern ag system. To avoid them you can eat less meat and focus on hormone and antibiotic-free meats when you do eat them.
- Sustainability is an issue for my family. Growing animals for meat generally tends to take more resources than growing plant foods. It definitely depends on where you get it but that is something we think about in our food consumption.
Take a good look at how much meat you eat and how much meat you actually want to include in your lifestyle. If you choose to go completely plant-based, go for it! Just make sure you supplement with any nutrients you might be missing from meat. If you want to have some meat in your diet, decide what issues are important to you (like hormones and antibiotics) and make your meat choices accordingly. Remember that even if you choose meat, it should never replace fruits and vegetables as the main focus of a healthy diet.
- “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Feb 2015. Web. 23 Feb 2015. (Read online here.)
- Chowdury R, et al. “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Ann Intern Med. 2014; 160(6):398-406. (Read abstract online here.)
- Kupferschmidt K. “Scientists Fix Errors in Controversial Paper About Saturated Fats.” Science Magazine. 24 Mar 2014. Web. 23 Feb 2015. (Read online here.)
- Orlich M, et al. “Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2.” JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 8; 173(13):1230-8. (Read online here.)
- “Do Vegetarians Live Longer?” Huffington Post. 5 Jun 2013. Web. 23 Feb 2015. (Read online here.)
- Mangels R. “Vitamin B12 in the Vegan Diet.” The Vegetarian Resource Group. Web. 26 Feb 2015. (Read online here.)
- “Why not flaxseed oil?”. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, Nov 2006. Web. 7 Jan 2015. (Read online here.)
- Cross A and Sinha R. “Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer.” Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004; 44(1):44-55. (Read online here.)
- Ho V, et al. “Meat-derived carcinogens, genetic susceptibility and colorectal adenoma risk.” Genes Nutr. 2014 Nov; 9(6):430. (Read online here.)
- Dayton S, et al. “Controlled Trial Of A Diet High In Unsaturated Fat For Prevention Of Atherosclerotic Complications.” Lancet. 1968 Nov; 292(7577):1060-1062. (Read abstract online here.)
- Masterjohn C. “Good Fats, Bad Fats: Separating Fact from Fiction.” Weston A. Price Foundation. 24 Mar 2012. Web. 4 Mar 2015. (Read online here.)