Is Meat Bad for You- Is Meat Unhealthy-How it all started?

When our vegetarian ancestors started eating meat there are about 2 million years ago, it wasn't just because the animals tasted good, but it was also out of sheer necessity. Climate change has made plants on which our ancestors relied less available and the meat filled that need. At least since the discovery of fire, meat has become a staple of the human diet. But in recent years, meat consumption has increased been associated with health risks like heart disease, certain cancers, and premature death.

How bad is meat really for health?

In this post, we will only talk about meat. Dairy products deserve their own post. Biologically speaking, we must eat for three reasons: to get energy, to get materials to make our cells, and to get particular molecules that our body cannot produce itself. Energy and most materials come from the three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Proteins are the most important resource for repairing and restoring the structure of our cells. Special molecules consist of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, which we need in order to carry out metabolic processes Meat provides most of these elements. It contains all the amino acids our body needs as well as lots of minerals like iron, zinc as well as essential vitamins, some of which are barely present in plants like vitamin B12.

Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash

There is only one essential nutrient missing in the majority of the meat we eat: vitamin C.

It is present in almost all plants. and supports our immune system as well as the development of connective tissue. After a few months without vitamin C, you will develop scurvy. But meat has another big advantage: its great bioavailability. Some nutrients in meat are digested faster and are available faster than plants. Spinach, for example, contains more iron than meat, but it is absorbed much more slowly, and the body needs more energy to digest it. Several benefits have also been observed in some communities that eat only meat. Inuit, for example, are able to survive in extreme climatic conditions, thanks to a diet based only on meat. As they eat the whole animal with its organs, they get all the nutrients they need, including vitamin C. So the meat itself is absolutely not dangerous for us. But its health effects vary, depending on how it is prepared and what animal it comes from. When we talk about meat in the West we usually think of muscle tissue, which has a high nutrient content, but lack certain vitamins, which makes it impossible to eat a diet consisting entirely of meat.

The healthiest animals to eat are probably fish.

Fish contain polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3, that could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help anti-inflammatory immune functions. Within a balanced diet, fish can be eaten regularly without worry. However, eating fish also has negative effects, like overfishing and ocean destruction. We'll talk about this in another post. In the second row is the most popular meat: poultry. It is considered the meat presenting the least health risks. The only negative health effect of poultry is somewhat controversial: its fat. Its high content of saturated fatty acids is associated higher cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

But this idea has also been criticized by a large number of scientists who argue that high cholesterol may be hereditary and not caused by diet. So in general, if you want meat and are concerned about your health, take chicken. Things get problematic with high consumption of red meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, horse and goat. A recently published study recommends, for example, a maximum of 23g of red meat per day which represents a very small steak per week. However, a large meta-study concluded that eat 100g of red meat a day increased the risk of diabetes by 19%, 11% risk of heart attack and the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%.

 This seems worrying. But before you panic, let's analyze the methodology of these studies. This brings us to the second problem encountered when try to find out if the meat is dangerous to health or not. Most studies that correlate health risks with meat consumption are case-control studies. This involves taking a group of people with a certain disease, and classify them according to their eating habits. The more they eat red meat, the more likely they are to contract certain diseases. The problem is that it is difficult to eliminate the effects of other factors.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

People who eat less meat generally have a healthier lifestyle.

They eat more fruits and vegetables, and tend to smoke less and drink less alcohol. Most studies try to eliminate these factors, but it remains very difficult to draw clear conclusions. However, things get worse when you look at processed products. Processing meat involves adding certain chemicals to it. drying, smoking, salting or fermentation. In other words: to make it delicious. Bacon, ham, sausage, sausage and hot dogs contain chemicals dangerous to health like nitrates and nitrites, which can damage the DNA of our digestive system and cause cancer. WHO has reviewed 800 studies over 20 years, and concluded that the processed meat is strongly linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Every 50g of processed meat per day increase the risk of cancer by 18%.

In terms of cancer risk, processed meat is now in the same category that plutonium, asbestos and tobacco. WHO points out that this research only responds to the question of whether something is carcinogenic or not, and not how it is. Processed meat could also increase significantly the chances of getting diabetes, heart attack or cardiovascular disease The living conditions of the animal when it was alive also play a role. It is common to feed livestock with a large amount of antibiotics to prevent disease. But this helps to develop resistance to antibiotics. Combined, high consumption of red meat and processed meat can increase your chances of premature death by 29%. This means that if your chance of dying was 3% this year, it is now 4%.

It may not sound like much, but a small percentage has a big impact on societies of millions of individuals. It can also seem harmless until you are personally affected. To accuse meat alone of being responsible for our ill health would be wrong, however. There is no evidence that the content of the meat itself is harmful beyond its fat content. And even this last point is highly controversial. As with many other pleasures of life, abusing a good thing is sometimes harmful. Most public health organizations recommend limit consumption of meat to 500g per week, while studies suggest reducing consumption of processed meat as much as possible. So if you only eat meat once or twice a week, it should be fine for you For most people, this already represents a drastic change in their eating habits.

Americans eat almost 1,600g of meat per week, the Germans 1100g per week

If you're not sure, take a note as soon as you eat the meat, for a week or two. You will be surprised by the amount you consume. For most people reading this post, a reduction in meat consumption would therefore be beneficial. In addition to health issues, the fact remains that the meat industry is one of the most important causes of climate change, and has reached a scale where it becomes impossible to produce millions of tonnes of meat, while treating animals with dignity. We have already discussed these issues in detail in another post. All things considered, meat consumed in moderation is not bad for health and there is no need to become a vegetarian overnight to have a real impact on your health and on the planet. But your lifestyle remains important, for yourself and others. The key is to stay open to the idea of ​​trying something new from time to time.

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