[This is a guest post by Devin Devere. Devin is a Certified Health Coach and founder of The Frugal Caveman. In this article, he explains common misconceptions about eating meat. He also discusses the top reasons to include more meat in a healthy diet.]
Common dietary advice often recommends reducing meat intake while increasing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
This is especially true for women who are marketed to with detox smoothies and recipes for salads. But how accurate is this advice?
Are fruits, veggies, and whole grains the answer to weight loss and better health?
A recent study by Tel-Aviv University showed that humans were apex predators for millions of years.
In fact, many anthropologists theorize that the human brain grew and our intelligence skyrocketed because we started hunting and eating mostly large game animals.
In short, we became human because we started eating a lot of meat.
So why is meat so vilified in common modern dietary advice?
Much of it has to do with outdated science on saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which are found abundantly in meat.
Why Were We Told Meat is Bad
Let’s hold a brief history lesson to learn why saturated fat and cholesterol are commonly perceived as negative aspects of meat.
Ancel Keys, an American physiologist interested in dietary effects on cardiovascular disease, pioneered much of this science.
His hypothesis was simple: saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels, and elevated cholesterol levels equals more frequent occurrences of heart disease.
Keys also hypothesized that replacing saturated fat (found in meats) with polyunsaturated fats (mostly found in “vegetable”, canola, and seed oils) would lower blood cholesterol levels and result in fewer deaths from heart disease.
Around the same time that Keys was studying dietary saturated fat and cholesterol, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a massive heart attack.
The nation was shocked and people were searching for answers – remember back in the 1950s heart attacks were far less common than today.
In the wake of this shocking event, the general populace was seeking plausible causes for President Eisenhower’s heart attack.
Ancel Keys was charismatic and confident enough to convince a large portion of the medical community that his hypothesis on saturated fat and cholesterol was correct.
Keys secured funding for a large observational study to research his hypothesis.
The study was mainly conducted in the Mediterranean region and is now known as the Seven Countries Study.
Keys selected countries with a high number of centenarians, people living over 100 years.
His logic was that these countries must have healthy diets if people are living to these ages.
So what did they observe?
They all seemed to be diets high in whole grains and vegetables, with a small amount of nuts, legumes, and seafood.
Keys, along the support of his wife, campaigned to popularize a Mediterranean Diet, pushing mostly those foods.
To this day the Mediterranean Diet is still largely promoted as the healthiest diet.
Is the Mediterranean Diet Really So Great?
Today, we are starting to learn that there were some major flaws in the observational Seven Countries Study.
Observational studies have known limitations:
- Selection Bias: some claim that Keys cherry-picked the data and countries that only supported his hypothesis.
- Correlation, Not Causation: Keys identified two things occurring at the same time, then assumed one as a cause of the other.
- Case in Point: roosters crow at dawn, but roosters do not cause the sun to come up. There is a correlation of events, but if we concluded that the roosters cause the sun to come up we’d be wrong.
- Overlooked Recent Historical Factors:
- It was conducted mostly in post-World War II Europe
- Had a high number of individuals over 100 years of age (centenarians), whose pre-war diets included expensive items like meats, cheeses, and animal products.
- Post-war poverty resulted in inexpensive, grain and starch-based diets low in saturated fat
- Keys attributed the longevity he saw to the post-war diet that the centenarians had only been eating for a short period, instead of the pre-war diet they had eaten most of their lives
Are Saturated Fats and Cholesterol Really That Bad?
Newer research is also showing that saturated fats and cholesterol are not the evils that we’ve been taught to believe they are:
- Data recovered from an old Ancel Keys study showed that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated did decrease cholesterol levels. What wasn’t published originally was that cholesterol went down, but deaths increased!
- Another study showed similar results that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat did decrease blood cholesterol levels, but also increased deaths!
- Various other studies are showing that saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
- Back in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee removed dietary cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern”. This means it isn’t something we should worry about measuring or limiting in our foods.
- For most people, dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels. Our bodies manufacture around 85% of our cholesterol. In short, eating more cholesterol doesn’t equate to more cholesterol in the blood.
As you can now see, saturated fat and cholesterol are not valid reasons to avoid meat.
Now that we’ve made that very clear, let’s take a very real look at some possible reasons you should consume more meat.
5 Reasons to Add More Meat to Your Diet
1. Super Satiating
Meat, and specifically the protein in meat, satisfies hunger.
When a meal is more satiating there is less of an urge to snack or eat again soon.
This can mean less calories eaten overall, which can result in weight loss.
There are three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Protein is the most satiating of the three, followed by fat, with carbs in last place.
Think about it: when was the last time you overate chicken breast or gorged yourself on a steak?
In comparison, when was the last time you sat down and ate an entire bag of chips? Or a whole pint of ice cream?
I know I’ve certainly done both of these things.
An 8oz chicken breast has around 375 calories compared to an 8oz bag of potato chips at around 1280 calories.
We tend to be very satisfied at less calories, and for longer, when a meal contains a reasonable amount of animal proteins.
2. Power of Protein
Proteins aren’t just satisfying, they are the literal building blocks for your body.
Yes protein is essential for building muscle, but it also play essential roles in bone and organ development.
There are 9 essential types of amino acids (another name for proteins) that our bodies cannot make themselves.
All nine of these essential amino acids are found in meat.
You certainly can get these 9 essential amino acids by combining plant-based protein sources, but it is difficult to do without over-consuming calories.
3. Nutritional Powerhouse
Meat is far more than just protein and fat. Meat is packed with important and essential minerals and fat-soluble vitamins.
In fact, meat stands up to many so-called plant-based superfoods for nutrient content, often in smaller portions or less calories.
Click here to see an image detailing the vitamins and minerals found in 100g (about 3.5 oz) of cooked beef.
Other Beneficial Compounds Found in Beef:
- Creatine – Creatine is most abundant in red meat. It is commonly taken as a supplement that is beneficial in the growth and maintenance of muscles.
- Glutathione – A super antioxidant, glutathione, is found to be abundant in most meats.
- Taurine – Taurine is another antioxidant that is important for heart and muscle function.
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – CLA is a fat found in ruminant (grass-grazing) animals. In a proper diet it shows many health benefits.
Another benefit of meat is that the types of minerals and vitamins found within are much easier for the body to actually absorb.
Our bodies are typically very inefficient at converting vitamins and minerals to usable forms, especially when pulling them from plant-based sources. I use the example of a frozen bottle of water.
Technically, there is water in there, but in a form you can’t use. Maybe you can lick some water off the ice or drink a small melted amount, but it isn’t an efficient way to get water.
Vitamins and minerals in plant-based foods are often similar to this. They are there, but not in a form that our bodies can get to easily, and often pass through our systems unprocessed.
Nutrients in animal meats are most often in forms that our bodies can absorb without too much work.
One of the best examples of this is heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal meat and is easily absorbed. While vegetarian forms of iron, like the type found in spinach, is much harder to absorb.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 30% of women are anemic.
Groups that are at extra risk of iron-deficiency anemia are pregnant women and menstruating women. Heme iron, found in meat, could be very beneficial for these individuals.
5. Tastes Great
This is not a bacon-promoting comment, but a very real reason to eat meat.
When healthy food tastes great there is less of a desire to seek out hyper-palatable (read: super tasty) processed foods that come in colorful boxes and bags.
Meat is one of the least processed foods and research shows eating processed foods can result in weight gain.
There is a reason that they try to make plant-based meat substitutes taste like the real deal. Meat tastes great!
The Bottom Line
You can now see that there are some very real, positive reasons to eat meat and that saturated fat and cholesterol are not good reasons to avoid it.
Eating more meat may be beneficial to your health, but should be done carefully.
Each of us are biologically unique and react to foods in different ways.
Current digestive health, certain health conditions, and genetic variances can affect how well one’s body reacts to meat.
Always consult with your qualified healthcare professional and remember that quality of the food is key.
Processed lunch meats and hotdogs are very different than grass-fed beef or organic pasture-raised chicken.
This post is simply to discuss the health impacts of eating meat.
If you are concerned with the ethical and environmental impacts of meat consumption I recommend checking out Sacred Cow or taking a look at this study showing positive impacts of regenerative farming (spoiler alert: they actually take carbon out of the atmosphere!)
About the Author
Devin Devere is a Certified Health Coach with a passion for health.
After his brother nearly died from a severe heart attack at the young age of 36, Devin began researching evidence-based, healthy lifestyles from a variety of scientific approaches.
He learned that the science of true health is often different than what is commonly taught. This led him to pursue health coaching with a particular interest in ancestral diets and autoimmune diseases.
You can find healthy recipes and learn more at thefrugalcaveman.com.