Updated: Apr 11
Meats of all kinds tend to be the major source of protein for people in the western part of the world. There are few things to mention here about protein before looking at different meats. People in general are consuming too much protein. High protein intake, especially animal protein, increases the risk for various diseases and earlier death. Switching from animal based protein to plant protein sources has been shown to reduce the risk for chronic diseases and mortality.
When we look at societies around the world where people live the longest and have low disease rates like the Blue Zones and even Mediterranean region, people don't consume high amounts of protein and these societies are all plant-based, be it exclusively plant-based or predominantly where more than 90% of calories come from plant-based foods. The major protein source for people in these regions tend to be beans, lentils, tofu, chickpeas, whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables. Those that do consume meats consume it in very small quantities and quite infrequently.
Research funded by the NIH showed that people who ate protein mostly from plant sources were 27% less likely to die of any cause and 29% less likely to die from heart disease. Furthermore, researchers discussed that replacing just 5% of calories from animal protein to plant protein could decrease risk for dying from any cause including heart disease by 50% and replacing only 2% of calories from processed meat protein to plant protein to be associated with a 32% reduced risk of death. Furthermore, red meat, poultry and processed meat have all been found to increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
One can find individual studies pointing towards the health benefits of eating meat due to its protein content and certain nutrients. There are three important things to consider here.
Protein is originally made in plants and one can get ample protein and all the essential nutrients eating a plant-based diet without consuming meat.
Meat doesn't just have protein. It has other compounds as well that can be detrimental to health, such as saturated fat, cholesterol, heme-iron (highly inflammatory), L-Carnitine (which converts to TMAO in your body) and more.
Animal protein itself also increases risk for insulin resistance, ageing, IGF-1 stimulation which can induce cancer growth, and increases higher acidic load to your kidneys due to different amino acid profile compared to plant protein.
When looking at if something is healthy, always look at "compared to what".
Compared to processed meat, red meat is healthy. Compared to red meat, chicken is healthy. Compared to chicken, fish is healthy. Now compared to any animal sources of protein, plant protein sources have been shown to be much healthier. So if one does choose to consume meat, it is important to limit it significantly and get most of protein requirements met from plant sources. Plant sources of protein provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals alongside meeting your protein requirements.
Red meats include beef, lamb, mutton, pork, veal, venison, and goat.
World Health Organization declared red meat as group 2A carcinogen.