Death in America is largely a foodborne illness. How big is the role of meat consumption, and can animal products be eaten without compromising health?
How Often Is It Healthy To Eat Meat?
There was a study involving four thousand participants that compared traditional Asian diets with and without occasional servings of meat. The researchers found that men who avoided meat altogether had only half the odds of diabetes compared to those eating a serving of meat every few days, and the vegetarian women had 75% lower odds of diabetes than women who were otherwise vegetarian but averaged a single serving of meat a week. We don’t know exactly where that dividing line is, but we do know based on the Adventist data that vegetarians who start to eat meat at least once a week appear to experience large increases in the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and weight gain. During the twelve years after the transition from vegetarian to omnivore, meat-eating was associated with a 3.6 year decrease in life expectancy.
From a nutrition standpoint, I’d much rather see people eat, for example, the traditional Okinawan diet which is largely (but not exclusively) plant-based, than the strictest 100% vegan diet centered around french fries and vegan Doritos. Unprocessed plant foods are the healthiest options, so the more we can squeeze into our daily diet the better. Health-wise it doesn’t really matter what we eat on holidays or special occasions; it’s our week-to-week choices that makes the most difference for our long-term health and longevity.
What Happens If You Eat Too Much Meat?
Studies show that meat consumption may be correlated with higher risk of:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Dying prematurely, in general
Alternatives To Meat
What about plant-based meat substitutes, such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Burgers, and Quorn? Plant-based protein has many advantages compared to animal-based. However, I consider these as a useful stepping stone towards a healthier diet, rather than the endgame ideal.
I have a series of videos that compare nutrition and health effects of these products to meat:
- Are Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger Healthy?
- Plant-Based Protein: Are Pea and Soy Protein Isolates Harmful?
- Plant-Based Meat Substitutes Put to the Test
- The Health Effects of Mycoprotein (Quorn) Products vs. BCAAs in Meat
- What About the Heme in Impossible Burgers?
As visualized in my Dining By Traffic Light video, the best available balance of evidence suggests the healthiest diet is one that maximizes the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, herbs, and spices. Basically, real food that grows out of the ground—these are our healthiest choices. In general, the more whole plant foods and the fewer processed and animal foods, the better.