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How many animal products can I eat and still be healthy?

Answered by: Dr. Michael Greger

Fabulous question! 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.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


20 responses to “How many animal products can I eat and still be healthy?

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  1. Questions: has there been a comparison of grass fed beef and non grass fed? Also, when thrials are being conducted, such as mentioned above, are they using grass fed beef or non grass fed beef? As I’m understanding, grass fed beef is suprisingly quite good for us. Dr. Gregors input on this would be interesting and helpful.

  2. Aloha Dr. Greger and NutritionFacts staff!
    I was watching your 2min. 47sec. video that discusses the implications of eating meat just once a week. In it, you talk about the Taiwanese study comparing vegetarian Buddhists and omnivore Buddhists. You say that the male omnivore Buddhists ate just 5% of American meat intake, 3% for the women. How did you arrive at these numbers sir? Thank you for the wonderful work you and your staff do! Mahalo in advance! Ken of Honolulu

  3. So as im readimg this its “oke” to eat meat for 1 meal like once in 2 3 weeks? Aslong you eat all other meals plant based

  4. Hi Mike,

    I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. Thank you so much for your question.

    There is no magic number, per se, of meat that we can consume to stay healthy. Evidence just appears to suggest that the lower our intake of animal products, the better off we seem to be. If somebody could cut their meat intake down from once a day to once every 2-3 weeks, that would be outstanding, and likely lead to an improvement in health (assuming they were replacing it with whole, plant foods).

    For some people, allowing a “cheat” meal may help them stay on their goal, but for many others, including a cheat meal allows them to eventually fall down a slippery slope and gradually start increasing their meat consumption again. Each individual has to determine the best method for them in the long run.

    I’m sorry that I can’t provide a hard and fast amount of meat that would lead to optimal health, but we do know that the answer is likely very close to 0, if not 0.

    Best of luck!

  5. All this information on how good plant based diet is, and I want to follow it, but as soon as I did, started breaking out like I was in highschool, had no energy, my anxiety and depression got worse, etc. I started looking sick to close family and friends. I added back organic dairy, organic hormone free poultry, wild caught sardines and salmon, and products that contain egg and am clearing up and my anxiety has greatly decreased to manageable. Still sleepy though. Was really lame too, was so excited for the plant based way of eating. Tried including all the staples… whole wheat, nuts and nut butters, avocado, berries, lots of squash and zucchini, leafy greens, onions, peppers, garlic, beans, fortified d and b12 plant milks, chia and flax, dha added plant milks… boyfriend was eating the same way and felt great.

    1. Often a healthy change causes unhealthy-feeling reactions… like when a drug addict stops using. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-6810/Avoid-a-Detox-Crisis-Common-Snags-and-How-to-Dodge-Them.html
      Sometimes it can even be psychological resistance after being brainwashed all our lives by meatheads, or being dominated by our taste-buds, but there is no valid reason to eat dead animals or their products, and every reason to avoid them. You also can’t just live on rabbit food… eating a varied vegan diet with enough calories and including whole grains, legumes, tubers like potatoes, nuts and seeds, and ditching the oil and other processed garbage is critical too. The science is clear, the ideal human diet does not require meat or dairy.

  6. I attended the Plant based food summit in St Louis, MO this last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was fortunate to meet Dr Greger and even introduced him to my urologist who is a huge Dr Greger advocate and the one who made me buy his book and so forth. I’d like to thank Dr Greger and I have a question. My wife does not eat meat but is hesitant to give up seafood and eggs. I combed through the book again trying to find something to pursuade my wife away from these items. I checked Dr Gregers book and Dr Esselstyn’s book and couldn’t find anything other than fish may contain mercury and you might get salmonella from eggs. My wifes response is 1. What is the likelihood of these problems and 2. Don’t the benefits Omega 3 etc outweigh the possibility of these problems.

    1. Hi StlDan! I’m going to link you to a few videos and articles that I think you might find helpful:

      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/mercury-vs-omega-3s-for-brain-development/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/egg-cholesterol-in-the-diet/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-women-should-eat-to-live-longer/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/2015/07/23/why-would-eating-fish-increase-diabetes-risk/

      There are plenty more videos covering these topics as well, I would recommend watching some of the ones linked in the “Doctor’s Note” bar under the videos listed above!

  7. Hello,
    I didn’t find video about who we really are (omnivores/herbivores) (except that video with cholesterol). Are there any articles published in serious scientific journals about it? I know that we are herbivores but I’d like to show my friends some serious informations that doesn’t leave any doubts.
    Thank you.

  8. Here is an interesting video on that topic: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/paleopoo-what-we-can-learn-from-fossilized-feces/. Dr Greger includes references he discusses below the video that you can click on. As he points out, early humans have been found to eat a variety of plant foods. But they also hunted and ate meat: they were omnivorous. Even the Neanderthals, long thought to have eaten only meat, have more recently been found to have taken in a variety of different plant foods as well.

    Aside from the fact that humans can process nutrients from both plant and animal foods, modern humans don’t have a need to consume meat to survive or thrive, and increasing research finds that chronic diseases that would have been unknown to early humans are now strongly linked to excessive meat consumption.

    The journals Nature and Science are good sources of information on this topic. Here’s one article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28273061

    -Dr Anderson, Health Support Volunteer

  9. I would like to see more studies done on blood types and meat requirements. Im blood type O+ and its considered the meat eater blood type. Blood type Os produce enzymes that help digest meat. And I notice I simply feel better when I eat some meat. If I go long periods of time with no meat, then all of a sudden have a piece of healthy meat, I feel like it awakens me up and makes me feel more alive.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I can’t speak to the effects of blood type and meat enzyme production. I’m not from Nutrition Facts, but I noticed your implied question went unanswered.

      Are you familiar with vitamin B12? It’s easy to get behind on the necessary levels if you’re eating a whole food plant based diet. I have only one significant dietary source of B12 in my diet – fortified nutritional yeast. If I go a while (weeks or months) without eating food with the nutritional yeast, I find after eating it I become highly energetic, almost restless!

      Short answer: it could be a vitamin deficiency that gets corrected by consuming meat and may have little to do with blood type.

      PS
      Not that this affects energy levels, but are you sure the meat you’re eating is healthy? You might take a look at how commercial animal products are produced (the kind you might buy at any grocery store).

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