Updated: Dec 8, 2020
"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.
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.
Vitamins: Rich in vitamin A and most of the B vitamins, particularly riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
Minerals: Both macro and micro-minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, etc. 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.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10): CoQ-10 is an antioxidant naturally occurring in the human body and is also found primarily in animal meat. 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.
Iron: Iron is an essential mineral, but it's also a pro-oxidant. Excess intake could cause tissue damage resulted from oxidative stress.
Fiber: Animal meat doesn't contain fiber for improving the gut microbial environment. Too much meat consumption can cause constipation and kidney damage.
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.
Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): Modern diets are mostly heat-processed. The meat cooking process can produce a high level of AGEs, which are linked to oxidant stress and inflammation.
Who Should and Shouldn't Eat Animal Meat?
Though animal meat provides many health benefits, excess consumption can be especially problematic for some medical conditions, including those listed below. Those pre-disposed or already diagnosed with certain conditions should restrict or avoid meat, especially red and processed:
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): Animal products are high in protein and phosphorus, which may be detrimental to compromised renal function.7 Evidence suggests that a lower-protein diet may be beneficial for CKD management.
Cardiovascular Disease: Sufficient studies show a connection between red and processed meat consumption and cardiovascular dysfunction.
Stomach Acid Deficiency: The high concentration of protein in animal meat requires sufficient stomach acid production, which can be a challenge for those who have GERD or upper GI disorders.
Recommended Key Strategies for Balance & Safety
Aim for high quality! Consume only organic grass-fed and wild-caught.
Moderation is key! I recommend keeping the animal consumption less than 30% of your total dietary intake.
More seafood and lean animal meat - less red and processed.
Low-AGE Formation: Don't fry or grill! Stewing, steaming, and boiling are preferred for reducing the generationof AGEs. Also, adding acidic juice, such as lemon juice or vinegar, can significantly inhibit AGE development.
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zur Hausen H, Bund T, de Villiers EM. Infectious agents in bovine red meat and milk and their potential role in cancer and other chronic diseases. In: Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology. Vol 407. Springer Verlag; 2017:83-116. doi:10.1007/82_2017_
Kim Y, Je Y. Meat consumption and risk of metabolic syndrome: Results from the Korean population and a meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutrients. 2018;10(4). doi:10.3390/nu10040390
Moe SM, Zidehsarai MP, Chambers MA, et al. Vegetarian compared with meat dietary protein source and phosphorus homeostasis in chronic kidney disease. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. Published online 2011. doi:10.2215/CJN.05040610
Hruby A, Jacques PF. Dietary protein and changes in biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in the Framingham Heart Study offspring cohort. Curr Dev Nutr. Published online 2019. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzz019
Uribarri J, Woodruff S, Goodman S, et al. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(6):911. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018
Rhee CM, Ahmadi SF, Kovesdy CP, Kalantar-Zadeh K. Low-protein diet for conservative management of chronic kidney disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2018;9(2):235-245. doi:10.1002/jcsm.12264
Medeiros GCBS De, Azevedo KPM De, Mesquita GXB, et al. Red meat consumption, risk of incidence of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular mortality, and the dose-response effect: Protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies. Med (United States). 2019;98(38). doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017271