Animal Meat, Friend or Foe?

Updated: Feb 24

"Shall I eat animal meat?" is one of the most commonly asked questions from my clients. Popular views are polarized: On one side, we have the devoted vegans/vegetarians. On the other are the meat lovers touting the benefits of meat as a primary food source. Which approach is better for our health?

Let's explore some of the pros and cons of consuming animal meat. I will then provide critical strategies for consuming animal meat while adhering to a safe and balanced approach.

What Diets Contain Animal Meat?

Animal meat is an important part of many popular diets - Atkin's, Paleo, Ketogenic, and the Mediterranean Diet, just to name a few. There are, of course, different types of animal meat. The most commonly consumed varieties are beef, poultry, lamb, pork, fish, and other seafoods.

Even though animal meat is part of all these popular diets, it's still essential to appreciate the differences among them:

  • The Spectrum: The focus on meat consumption in these diets varies significantly. For example, Atkin's Diet and Paleo Diet are heavier on meat consumption, whereas the Mediterranean Diet emphasizes plant-based foods with only moderate meat intake.

  • Types of Meat: The proportions between regular animal meat (i.e., red and poultry) and seafood in these diets also vary. For example, meat intake recommendations in the Mediterranean Diet are composed mainly of fish and poultry with only occasional red meat consumption.

  • Quality: Meat quality can vary significantly between types. For example, there is conventionally raised vs. organic grass-fed meat; wild-caught vs. farmed seafood, etc. Organic grass-fed and wild-caught are far superior because of less animal exposure to added hormones, antibiotics, and various chemicals.[2]

Main Health Benefits of Meat Consumption

Animal meat is considered a most nutritious and energy-rich food, providing an excellent source of calories along with the following crucial nutrients:

  • Protein: Compared to plant-based protein, animal protein is a more concentrated and complete protein, providing at least 70% of the eight essential amino acids and about 67% of the total protein in the food supply.[3]

  • Vitamins: Rich in vitamin A and most of the B vitamins, particularly riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.[3]

  • Minerals: Both macro and micro-minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, etc.[3] It's worth noting that red meat is a primary source of heme iron, a more absorbable form than the non-heme iron in plant-based foods.

  • Omega-3 PUFAs: Fish and seafood are primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are well studied to reduce inflammation while lowering the risk of various chronic diseases.[2]

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10): CoQ-10 is an antioxidant naturally occurring in the human body and is also found primarily in animal meat.[4] It plays an essential role in metabolism and protecting us from cellular damage.

Health Concerns of Meat Consumption

Even though animal meat has many benefits, it's essential to consider potential health implications. Risks are mainly associated with consuming in excess and/or the wrong types, which can lead to increased risks of mortality and chronic diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative disease, coronary heart disease, and metabolic disorders, etc.[5,6] Factors related to health risks include:

  • Fat & Cholesterol: Large amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol in meat, especially red and processed animal products, may contribute to a worsened lipid profile and blood sugar metabolism.[5]

  • Iron: Iron is an essential mineral, but it's also a pro-oxidant. Excess intake could cause tissue damage resulted from oxidative stress.[6]

  • Fiber: Animal meat doesn't contain fiber for improving the gut microbial environment. Too much meat consumption can cause constipation and kidney damage.[7]

  • Acidity: A diet heavy on animal products can promote acidity in the body. This is associated with proinflammatory and pro-oxidative states – meaning inflamed joints and organs induced by chronic inflammation and a higher risk of chronic diseases.[8]