In This Article
Is Meat Really Back on the Menu?
We’ve all heard we should stop eating meat, and also that we should eat more meat! What are we to believe?
A controversial study suggesting new dietary guidelines around meat was recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine, suggesting there was low evidence that red meat or processed meats were harmful, so adults should continue current consumption of both processed meats and red meat.1
Could it be true that red processed meats aren’t harmful? This study flies in the face of decades of cumulative studies linking processed meats and excess red meat consumption to cancers and other health concerns.
Backlash from the research community has been fierce. Dr. Frank Hu (chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) fired back, saying:
“This new red meat and processed meat recommendation was based on flawed methodology and a misinterpretation of nutritional evidence, the authors used a method often applied to randomized clinical trials for drugs and devices, which is typically not feasible in nutritional studies.”2
A study in the prestigious Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), published just two months after the flawed study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, confirms the link between red meats, processed meats, and cardiovascular risk.3,4
With links between processed meat consumption and increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality well-established, this study evaluated risks associated with consumption of unprocessed red meat, poultry, or fish.3
This study evaluated the diets of almost 30,000 adults for 31 years and concluded that: higher intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, or poultry, but not fish, was significantly associated with increased risk of incident CVD, whereas higher intake of processed meat or unprocessed red meat, but not poultry or fish, was significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality.
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis finds red and processed meat consumption to be associated with higher risk of overall colorectal cancer.5 A 2015 meta-analyses of 10 studies shows red meat and processed meat consumption convincingly increases colorectal cancer risk by 20-30%.6
Does Eating Less Meat Increase Longevity?
The amount of meat eaten by traditional cultures was not nearly as much as we might think. According to Dan Buettner, who wrote a series of books on centenarian cultures around the world—called blue zones—the longest-lived folks ate about two ounces of meat or less about five times a month, with about 10% of total calories being animal protein.8
One meta-study of six studies on longevity and meat consumption concludes that a diet with very low meat intake is associated with greater longevity.7 They found:
- A very low meat intake is associated with significant decrease in risk of death in four studies, a nonsignificant decrease in risk of death in the fifth study, and virtually no association in the sixth study.
- Two studies showed low meat intake significantly decreased mortality risk.
- The longer a low meat diet was adhered to, the greater the decrease in mortality risk, showing an average 3.6 year increase in life expectancy.
History of Seasonal Meat Eating
Each winter, foods available in the Northern Hemisphere shift us to a higher-fiber, higher-fat, and higher-protein diet.
Seasonal foods, such as meats, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, require a stronger digestive system. This is provided by a new stable of winter microbes better able to digest winter foods. To break down these foods, the stomach is required to produce more hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid helps break down anti-nutrients in grains and proteins in meats.
Digesting winter food also keeps us warm. Digestive acids, along with winter-based fermented foods (made with warming lactic acid fermentation), provide a welcome increase of internal heat.
During summer, the body could be overheated by the same diet and digestive microbes. Summer foods are cooked on the vine and much less digestive heat is required to break down the leafy greens, fruits, and berries of summer, which are cooling.
Eating cooler, easier-to-digest foods in summer allows us to not overheat. In winter, harder-to-digest foods boost digestive acids, provide a better winter fuel reserve, internal heat, and much-needed insulation.
The takeaway here is that we should seek out easy-to-digest foods in summer (fruits and vegetables cooked on the vine) and harder-to-digest, denser, heating, and insulating foods in winter.
Eat Less Meat in Summer
In traditional cultures, during winter months, animal protein intake would go up—as hunting may have been one of the only sources of food in more extreme climates. During summer, animal protein intake should decrease, while plant-based foods should be eaten in greater quantities.
Here in the West, many still eat meat two to three times a day, which is both unsustainable for the planet and an amount of animal protein never consumed by our ancestors.
Excess meat consumption has its health risks, and summer is a great time to dial down the meat and eat way more beans, green veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
The following reasons for consuming less meat may help you make the decision to eat a summer plant-based diet with only 10% animal protein.
7 Reasons to Eat Less Meat
- In 2012, the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated over 120,000 meat eaters. After 28 years, those who ate the most meat (two servings a day) had a 30% increased risk of dying compared to those who did not eat red meat.
- In a 2010 study published in the journal Circulation, 84,000 nurses were evaluated for 26 years. Those who ate three servings of meat per day had a 29% increased risk of chronic heart issues compared to those who ate only half a serving per day.
- Red meat is high in an amino acid called carnitine. When carnitine is digested by gut microbes, they produce a toxic byproduct called trimethylamine-N-oxide or TMAO. In a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 4,000 otherwise healthy patients who had the highest levels of TMAO had a 50% increased risk of a cardiovascular event over the next three years.
- In 2011, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggested reducing consumption of cooked red meat to less than 18 ounces per week and avoiding processed or packaged meats to reduce cancer risk.10
- A 2012 study in the journal Stroke followed 125,000 people over 22 years. For every one to two ounces of processed meat eaten per day, there was a 30% increased risk of a stroke.
- In a 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Harvard researchers followed more than 200,000 men and women for 28 years. For every two ounces of processed meat eaten per day, there was a 32% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- It takes 7-8 pounds of feed to produce just one pound of beef. It takes 1,000 tons of water to make just one ton of grain, and the vast majority of grain is produced to feed beef and pork. As our population grows, this way of eating is simply not sustainable.
What is now known from the ancient wisdom of seasonal eating is that circadian rhythms of nature change microbes in the soil, on the foods we eat, and in our guts.
These microbes regulate the diurnal and nocturnal functions of the body. Ayurveda hacked into and downloaded the intelligence of these rhythms thousands of years ago, and you can too!
Sign up for our free 3-Season Diet Challenge to find out more each month about what and how you should be eating.
14 thoughts on “Meat: the Good, the Bad + the Ayurvedic Perspective”
My grandfather was a butcher and meat was always available growing up but I found I usually didn’t feel great after eating. Perhaps, it was seeing the meat locker as a kid. My Dad had 7 brothers. After one of them died from a heart attack at 43 and my Dad had his first of 4 heart attacks soon thereafter. He died at 63. All of the other brothers died very young from heart disease except for one. Maybe, genetics? Maybe diet? A few were smokers. I decided to stop eating meat around 1975 and taught myself how to be a vegetarian without only eating pasta and pizza. I felt much better. I tried Macrobiotics for a few years. It taught me a lot about food. Then, I began to learn more of Ahimsa (non-harming) through Vedic studies and I became aware of the effect of meat production on the environment. True Ayurvedic health encompasses a spiritual component as well as herbs and diet. I’m 67 and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I occasionally have a little sushi but I am considering letting that go too. Everyone should watch “Meet Your Meat. https://www.peta.org/videos/meet-your-meat/
Be well, be safe. Om Nama Shivaya
I personally feel best when I include meat in my diet, including red meat. On a few occasions I have tried to become Vegetarian. Within a week or less I begin to dream about eating meat, always red meat. My energy is lower and I feel constantly unsatisfied. No amount of beans rice or soy can give my body the feeling of wellbeing the way including meat does.
I wish I could be a Vegetarian, but I need to listen to my body and it knows for certain that an Omnivorous diet is best for me. Oh, and I also eat an abundance of vegetables and fruit and tubers and healthy fats. Small amounts of grains, beans and dairy. So more or less a paleo diet.
I only eat meat , fish or poultry about once a day and and in a small quantity of 2-4 ounces.
I am a Registered Holistic Nutritionist so I am not guessing at this. For me this is the best diet, for others Vegetarian may be best for them.
Do not follow trends or even studies because they are ALL swayed by the belief of the people doing them. Sorry, but it’s human nature to find results that are in alignment with your beliefs.
Listen to your own body and how it responds to the food you are eating. Ayurveda teaches that well!!
Exactly. I’m an RHN too and found that a Weston Price style diet was what finally made me feel good and stop having tooth decay. After reading Dr. Cate Shanahan’s work I understand how industrial seed oils are likely the cause behind these heart attacks, as their increase in our diet correlated with the increase in heart attacks. None of these studies ever seem to mention what sort of oils have been used. Our mitochondria don’t burn these oils well at all and it produces a lot of what Dr. Shanahan calls “cellular smog”. Let’s maybe look to that instead, considering that’s been the major change to our diet this last decade. Further, as you likely know, meat can be grown sustainably too. I’m currently living with a friend who is starting up a hobby farm using regenerative agricultural techniques, and what I’m learning is opening my eyes a lot.
That’s awesome Lara! I too have a lot of faith in The Weston Price style of eating and follow a pretty similar style of eating and feel better than ever!
The food man has been eating the longest and requires the least processing is a clear winner to me!
A moderate, regular portion of meat is a good thing for those people who feel weak without it. However, the Weston Price diet has way too much animal foods of all kinds, every day, in rather large amounts.
I recall reading on Weston Price site about some parents proudly describing how quickly their child (now aged 4) was developing on a WP diet which included so many animal foods, every day – in this case “grass-fed meats,whole goat yogurt, salmon roe, kombucha, pastured eggs and A2 butter”. Yes, the child had good sized dental arch, a wonderful thing to have; however, the child’s over-fast development is in my opinion an ominous sign. The parent boasts that this boy “is often mistaken for being older because of his unusual vocabulary, stature and large head circumference. Meeting and interacting with new people of all ages adds to his amazing
I don’t know if such rapid growth is a good thing. My worry about feeding little kids so much animal product is that they are not developing flexibility. Animal foods contain much predigested, ready-to-go nutrients. Their bodies don’t have to learn how to get along on less rich food and then transmute it as necessary. I find it a bad sign that the above described baby is mistaken for being older because of his unusual vocabulary, large stature and large head. We were designed to develop at a certain rate and parents who are thrilled that little Johnny is such a genius are going to realize there is a sting in the tail down the line.
Since when does fast growth = health? Tell that to all those tiny but tough people in SE Asia. Also, at some point, the body will rebel against all this heavy animal food. Unless you are aboriginal, it is not in our genetic background to eat in this manner.
Just grist for the mill and I thank you for reading this.
Well said! And just wanted to clarify that when I said decade I meant century. Oops!
Nowhere am I seeing mention of the considerable environmental impact of producing and consuming a large amount of animals.
We currently grow and kill 11 billion animals a year. That causes one third to one half of our un-sustainability problem. We consume and pollute more resources than the earth can supply and we are running out. We can’t adequately supply our current population let alone the projected soon to be 11 billion humans.
Part of good logic and science is having an overview perspective. It doesn’t matter what is arguably a little more or less healthy for an individual when a practice specifically won’t allow masses of individuals to live.
The fossil fuel consumption of our level of animal farming is on par with the consumption we incur with our current driving habits. That not only means the consumption of a resource that we have deemed as a society worth decimating the Middle East for and in fact declaring endless war over; it also means pollution. Not only climate altering CO2, but a host of very destructive toxins. In the past 150 years we’ve used more than half of the planet’s readily available oil reserves, so, in order to extract every last drop of oil we can, we’ve started polluting our under ground water tables with fracking. The fracking which affects far reaching water tables is going on with little public fanfare and will likely get even harder to get industry profiteers to stop the more rare oil becomes.
The other pollution toll that large scale animal farming causes can’t be proven, but it sure can be felt. The number 2 cause of death behind heart disease is 600,000 people dying every year in the US from cancer. Industry proponents of all the leading cancer causing industries have a free pass on ducking blame here because you can’t say what specifically causes such a high number. Is it the result of fossil fuel consumption and use of which 1/3 to 1/2 of our consumption is directly related animal farming, is it the large quantities of toxic farming chemicals, is it directly from the meat, perhaps the nitrates added to the meat or meat itself. In a system as complex as a whole society we’ll never know, but considering some very plausible causes come from large scale animal production and consumption, it’s worth at least wondering about.
Take a look at what this doctor in Hungary is doing with autoimmune snd cancer patients…
This information is part of the problem with analyzing health regarding eating meat:
1) It does not differentiate processed meat from unprocessed meat.
2) It does not differentiate factory-farmed meat from organic meat from grass-fed, pastured animals.
3) It touches on quantity, but there hasn’t been a lot of research on the ideal quantity.
4) It does not address the issue that all bodies are different–some do well with no meat, others don’t.
5) It does not address the environmental reality that our meat-farming industries are the issue, not eating meat per se. If everyone stopped eating meat tomorrow, the ecology would collapse. There is a movement to return to sustainable animal grazing that would actually be helpful to the environment.
6) It does not address the issue of how animals are treated. Of course factory-farmed animals are treated horribly but this does not mean we should stop eating meat. We can choose to eat meat from animals who have been treated well and who have had a contented life.
7) It does not address the burgeoning body of research that indicates heart disease and other diseases are not caused by fatty buildup in the arteries, but rather by calcification of the arteries which in turn is caused by inflammation. Eating poor-quality processed foods increases inflammation. A diet of mostly vegetables with a little high-quality meat does not.
I have gone around and around with trying vegetarianism for several years off and on. What I have come to after my many decades of life is that what works for me is eating small amounts (around 4 ounces a day) of organic pastured unprocessed meat from animals that have had a good life and a good death. I realize this is more expensive than factory-farmed meat and not readily available or affordable to many people. I am fortunate to live in an area where I can easily attain it and trust its source. But rather than say no one should eat meat for these reasons, perhaps we could work on creating sustainable animal farming and accessibility to good food.
Great comment Rhonda. You really made some excellent points.
Thank you for your comments, Rhonda. As a male, I’ve never been able to eat the limited amounts of meat my wife can get by on. I still need poultry regularly and some red meat regularly. I use a lot of protein powders but nothing but red meat will satisfy at times.
It’s a blessing to me to see others say similar things, so thank you.
Awesome comments Rhonda. I believe knowing ones body is so important what is good for one is not for another. That are so many studies with pros and cons on eating meat that is confusing for those that are trying to do the right thing. But non of these articles are totally well rounded they only focus on one issue.
I appreciate your eye opening view,
Time and again, I’m absolutely baffled by these studies that show a positive correlation between certain factors to prove their point. Did the meat eaters who died young only have that one factor behind their early demise? How about other socio-economic factors, stress, family history of diseases etc. I’m not saying this because I’m a carnivore or something but the content loses its credibility when we start to use these studies as a crutch for evidence.