March 2015 Newsletter: Red Light for Red Meat? Not a Bad Idea!

The idea of having less meat is spreading around the world as we find mounting evidence about the negative impact of eating too much meat, especially red meat, on one's health, on the environment, on animal welfare, and on one's budget.

The health implications are complicated and controversial. There is some evidence that eating too much red meat, such as beef and lamb, can increase the risk of death from certain types of cancer and heart disease, but it is difficult to isolate the independent effects of red meat consumption on the likelihood of getting cancer or heart disease (1, 2, 3).

Nevertheless, I think there is some rationale for reducing red meat consumption, an idea I and many others support. If you eat meat more than 5 times a week, I encourage taking a break from meat and having at least 3 meat-free days a week (4, 5) for these three reasons below.

First, aside from the potential health implications of eating too much red meat, meat is more expensive than fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, so going meat-free a little more often would reduce the strain on your wallet and budget. Also, by saving a little money, you can afford the best quality when you do buy meat.

Second, with the money you save by eating meat only occasionally, the most “eco-friendly” meat is more affordable. A growing number of studies are showing that beef and sheep have a greater adverse environmental impact than pigs and chickens, so it's best for the planet to avoid, as much as possible, the “unsustainable” meats. (6, 7, 8).

Red meat is still the largest proportion of meat consumed in the U.S. (58%), and the total meat intake average per person is 4.5 oz (128 g)/day (9). Also, the reported type and quantities of meat consumed varied by education, race, age, and gender (10). If you want to be an environmentally friendly carnivore, you may want to get no more than 3 oz (85 g) of your protein from meat sources (when and if you eat it) and the rest of your protein from beans, nuts, seeds, specific vegetables and fruits, dairy, etc. On average, women ages 19-70 need about 40-46 grams of protein/day and men 50-56 grams of protein/day (11).

Third, if you strongly believe in animal welfare, eating meat of any kind is really not a viable option given that all animals raised for human consumption endure stress and pain at some point in their lives and those raised in intensive confinement facilities in industrial production suffer even more.

Although I am a strong proponent of vegetarianism, I am not suggesting that it's the right choice for everyone or that you should give up your traditional Sunday brunch of eggs with bacon or sausage. Meat can be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but do consider how much meat, especially red and processed meat, you have in your diet and at each serving. If you want to cut back on your meat consumption and are interested in changing your diet to incorporate more plant-based dishes, check out my recipes at http://healthwithgita.com/recipes-and-cooking/ and feel free to reach out to me for healthy cooking classes and/or health and nutrition counseling at http://healthwithgita.com/contact/.

And I close with some of my favorite quotes from Michael Pollan: “ Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and “Don't eat anything incapable of rotting” (Taken from: In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan, 2008).

References:

  1. Red meat and cancer: the biological evidence, Kobayashi, 2014. http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2014/11/17/red-meat-biological-evidence/

  2. Red meat and breast cancer: still no solid evidence, Peel. 2014 http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/06/11/red-meat-and-breast-cancer-still-no-solid-evidence/

  3. Red meat and colorectal cancer: a critical summary of prospective epidemiologic studies. Alexander and Cushing. 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20663065

  4. Meatless Monday: Why meatless? http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/why-meatless/

  5. Meatless meals: the benefits of eating less meat: Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193?pg=1

  6. Can eating meat be eco-friendly? Mosley, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28858289

  7. Is meat sustainable? World Watch Institute Magazine, 2004. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/549

  8. Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprints more than cars, say experts, BBC World News. 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars

  9. Trends in meat consumption in the United States, Public Health Nutrition, 2011http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045642/

  10. Meat consumption patterns by race and gender, Counting Animals, 2012. http://www.countinganimals.com/meat-consumption-patterns-by-race-and-gender/

  11. Nutrition for everyone: Protein Basics, CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html