There’s been a lot of research recently into the effects of meat consumption on health and longevity. Protein is still being researched like crazy as so many studies are coming up with clashing results. But one thing keeps on coming to the foreground as an irrefutable conclusion with sound, evidence based research; and that is that consumption of red meat and processed meat leads to premature death and increased risk of diseases such as certain cancers, heart disease and fatty liver, plus more.
Amounts of this type of meat consumed is still being debated, with some younger people showing less effects with red meat, but older people (middle aged and up) suffer more severe consequences with a higher protein diet.
Dr Valter Longo from the Longevity Institute of Southern California has studied effects of protein on a hormone called IGF-1. If his name is ringing a bell, it’s because his work has been shot to fame with the fasting diet phenomenon that sweeped the nation last year. In a documentary on the BBC we saw Dr. Valter Longo explain how fasting can turn off this cell-replicating hormone, leading our current cells to have the time to patch themselves up. However, he also mentioned that we must lower the amount of protein in our diets. This was somewhat overlooked in the rest of the documentary, but his research, as quoted in a Forbes article by Alice G. Walton, has found that
“Protein intake influences the levels of the growth hormone IGF-I, which not only affects the growth of healthy cells, but can also encourage cancer cell growth. In fact, in the current study, the team found that for every 10 ng/ml increase in IGF-I, people who ate high-protein diets were 9% more likely to die from cancer than those on a low-protein diet.”
The Telegraph recently published a piece on new research by Dr Ajit Varki, Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, showing that a certain sugar found in meat is indigestible to humans, leading to toxic inflammation in the gut. It will be interesting to find out more about this sugar; Neu5Gc but so far they have seen links between excess meat and cancer.
‘Should I Eat Less Meat – The Big Health Dilemma’ was a documentary by BBC Horizon, featuring Dr. Michael Mosely, which was aired in 2014. It showed how processed meats are created; the meats are rubbed full of nitrates and other preservatives, including lots of salt. It looked rather disgusting, and its effects on the body were equally so. In a write up on the findings, Dr. Mosely stated:
- “An increased mortality risk of 20% means your risk of dying over the next year is 20% higher than if you did not eat the processed meat.
- Professor Sir David Speigelhalter of Cambridge University says another way of looking at this is, if the studies are right, that you would expect someone who eats a bacon sandwich every day to live, on average, two years less than someone who does not.
- Pro rata, this is like losing an hour of your life for every bacon sandwich you eat. To put this into context, every time you smoke 20 cigarettes, this will take about five hours off your life.”
Those are pretty shocking statistics.
More than diet.
There are other reasons why we should aim to have less meat in our diet. Plant based foods are chock full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, bioflavonoids and phytochemicals and fiber. All those goodies are incredibly important to include in our diets, from protection against cancer causing free radicals, to allowing the body to get much needed vitamins that aren’t found elsewhere – eating plant foods is a must for health. If we cut out meat, then hopefully, we can replace a slab of thigh with some chunks of root veggies, salads and leaves that will give our bodies what they crave. Also, to rest your protein worries, ALL plant based foods have been found to have ALL the essential amino acids that your body needs. Amino acids make protein in the body, so don’t worry – protein is great (in low amounts) but amino acids are even better.
Another huge biggie, is the negative effect the eating animals has on ourselves as compassionate humans, and on the planet, which I won’t go into too much.
Factory farms are incredibly cruel, and slaughtering animals, even though said to be humane, really in all honesty, can never be called humane. I agree with Melanie Joy, who made a very strong Ted talk on Carnism that shared the message that choosing to eat animals has a detrimental effect on us, emotionally and mentally. It takes a strong denial to ignore the fact that you are stroking your dog with one hand, whilst eating a pig with the other. I believe it takes massive courage to face up to your meat and that everyone who eats meat, should look at footage of how their dinner was killed. Tortured, throats slit, writhing in agony on the floor. It is a strong argument against eating cheap, factory reared meat. If meat is your thing, then as a decent human being, you should 100% be choosing the most humane meat possible, and usually that means meat which is locally farmed in small scale meat production. But even then, animals are not kept in the best conditions. Go find out for yourselves.
Steps to Less Meat.
So with the knowledge that too much protein isn’t great for you, processed meats are sending you to an early grave, and the killing of animals is killing the planet and making your moral compass go a bit bonkers – what are the next steps?
Do you eat meat or dariy for every meal? Breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks? Where can you cut out excess protein? Can you start with one meat free meal a day? And work your way towards whole days without a single slice of animal? Keep in mind that every piece of meat replaced with vegetables is giving you a double dose of goodness. Less gunk for your guts for more fibre and goodness.
Milk on your cereal, or bacon on your toast – there are better options out there. Get back to nature and eat some plants! I’m a huge fan of green smoothies, and now and again, making them won’t be too much of a hassle. Just grab some bananas and some spinach and whizz up some nutrition. Check out my post on beginner green smoothies to learn more recipes.
Other options for breakfast are porridge, made with water. Pancakes with fruits and maple syrup. Muesli with dairy free milk, like almond of hemp milks.
Soups, salads, sandwiches and then some! Meats take much much longer to digest that fruits and veggies. Dr. Oz, Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, says. “A steak dinner can take you two, maybe three days to get out of your intestine. What that means is the way you digest it is basically to rot it in your intestines. On the other hand, if you eat vegetables and fruits, they’re out of your system in less than 12 hours.” As quoted in sharecare.com
Basically that means, a sluggish digestive system makes for sluggish energy. Keep your lunches full of wholegrains like brown rice, or seed pseudo-grains, like quinoa and mix them up with veggies like steamed carrots, broccoli, sweet potato and leeks. This way you will keep your energy alert for the rest of your day.
Go for potatoes and other root veggies in a delicious tomato sauce with basil and thyme, and from there you can make stews, casseroles, soups, sauces to pour over grains or pastas. Go for quality AND quantity, because with vegetables you can get much more volume with low calories, which will really fill you up.
With dinner you can experiment with meat-like substances like tofu, tempeh, Quorn or vegetable protein made into sausages and burgers. All good substitutes for someone missing the mouth-feel of meat. And easily found in the vegetarian section of supermarkets. With these to hand, you can just carry on as normal and make tacos, wraps, pizza toppings or whatever you’re usually drawn to.
For every meal like this, you are giving your body a digestive rest, you’re giving the planet a break and reducing the demand to cruelly farm animals. It’s all good. Have fun with it, and enjoy the benefits!