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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Jim

The new USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest moderating the consumption of meat (see videos here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). A healthy eating score can be determined by the proportion of foods with phytochemicals (plant nutrients) a person consumes. Eating vegetarian also has been positively associated with less disease, surgery, and medication use, fewer allergies (see here, here), and improved lung function in COPD (emphysema) patients (see also here). A plant-based diet truly may be the best investment for our health. Meat eaters appear to be at a higher risk for certain cancers (see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). The high levels of nitrosamines (carcinogenic compounds found in processed meats) may be partially to blame for this (see also here, here, here, here). The carcinogenic chemicals formed by the cooking of muscles (especially chicken) may also pose a danger. And since food is a package deal, even if meat is a “good” source of certain nutrients, it may not be good for us in the end (because of the other nutritional baggage, such as cholesterol and saturated animal fat). Cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, abdominal aortic aneurysms, weight gain and obesity, diabetes (see also here), Alzheimer’s disease, spongiform encephalopathies, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and essential tremor may be associated with meat consumption. Premature breast development in girls has also been linked to meat eating. Xenoestrogens have been linked with early onset puberty; hormones in meat may also be responsible for female infertility. Lymphoma has been linked to higher meat consumption, specifically poultry consumption. Saturated fat intake (found primarily in cheese, chicken, ice cream, desserts) has been linked with an increased risk of dying from breast cancer. A recent Harvard study found meat-eating to be positively associated with increased overall mortality, including increased cancer and heart disease mortality (see also here). Transfat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are found primarily in animal products (see also here, here). This is significant because the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood may be the single best indicator of heart disease risk (see also here). Creatine supplements appear to have a minimal effect on meat eaters; furthermore, taking creatine supplements is not advised due to potential contamination with heavy metals. Putrescine, a chemical compound found in meat, cheese, and fermented foods (highest levels found in canned tuna), may be carcinogenic (see also here). Meat also may contain glycotoxins (AGEs), which may contribute to the aging process, but meat lacks the ability to boost telomerase activity, which may slow aging. Eating meat and eggs also results in higher levels of arachidonic acid in the body; this has been linked with inflammation, including inflammation of the brain, which may contribute to depression, anxiety, and stress. Other contaminants that may be found in meat, fish, and eggs: PCBs, dioxins, ammonia in fast food, anabolic steroids, drug residues, E. coli, banned pesticides, and industrial carcinogens. And retail meat in the U.S. has also been found to be contaminated with “superbugs” (see here, here, here, here) Exposing children to fecal bacteria from meat by placing the child in shopping cart baskets with raw meat packages is a risk factor for food poisoning. Similarly, while cooking will kill these fecal bacteria, cross contamination in the kitchen before the meat is cooked is a risk factor. A certain strain of these fecal bacteria can, in rare cases, result in Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, rare genetic disorders may require compounds in meat to be consumed as a supplement. Poultry workers also have higher rates of many diseases, thought to be due to exposure to poultry viruses and microorganisms at increased rates (see also here, here, here, here). The safest source of vitamin B12 is probably fortified foods and supplements rather than animal sources; getting it exclusively from eggs, for instance, would result in extremely high cholesterol consumption. Plant foods have more antioxidant power than animal foods (see also here). Traditional American breakfasts lack antioxidants, and an Indian gooseberry-spiked breakfast smoothie is a much healthier option. Adding herbs and spices to any meal is another excellent way to boost one’s antioxidant intake.


Image Credit: masaltof / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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