© SAPIEN, LLC 2019

red meat

A True "Superfood" with a Bad Rap

 

Is there any food more villainized than red meat? If you believed every article on the internet demonizing the consumption of red meat, you would think that eating one steak per day would cause you to suffer obesity, diabetes, numerous cancers, heart disease, and destroy your kidneys simultaneously. Not only that, you’d also believe meat is the cause of global warming! If you take all of this at face value, you’d think nothing is more toxic to our health, to our bodies, or to the environment than red meat. Luckily for those who love a good steak, this is all based on faulty correlations, bad science, and an anti-meat agenda led by animal rights activists.

 

Religion, and more specifically The Seventh Day Adventist, was one of the original influences behind the demonization of meat. It was believed that eating the flesh of animals resulted in impure thoughts, violence, and as ridiculous as it sounds, made you more prone to masturbation. Bold claims were made, this time involving human health, as the church pushed their anti-meat propaganda. The science and research to come couldn’t prove any of this to be true. Learn more about this

 

The USA food pyramid was formed from bad science advocating a high carbohydrate, low-meat and low-fat diet. Obesity and heart disease did not reduce (predictably), and everyone from nutritionists to medical doctors advised everyone to eat this way based on this flawed study. Learn more about this

 


 

Animal foods are the Most Nutrient Dense Foods

 

Nutrient density is the concentration of healthy fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals in food, and how bioavailable they are to the human body. In other words, nutrients in foods that we as humans can actually absorb and utilize. Despite everything you have been told about plants as nutritional powerhouses, as far as science and evolution goes, animal-based foods contain almost every essential and non-essential nutrient humans need to thrive, in their most bioavailable form.

 

Protein

In contrast to plant proteins, animal proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids that humans need to obtain through diet since we do not synthesize them ourselves, in the most suitable and absorbable form for humans [1].

 

Vitamins

Most bioavailable from animal foods: vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin K2.

 

Minerals

Most bioavailable in animal foods: folate, heme-iron, calcium, iodine, zinc.

 

Essential Fats

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are the essential fatty acids, meaning humans are unable to synthesize them and must obtain them through diet. The form in which we need to consume them is EPA and DHA, both only found in animal based foods such as fish and other seafood (and ruminant brain). The form in plants is ALA which can be converted to DHA and EPA in the body at a rate of ~5%.

 

*bolded = not found in plants

 

Meat and Heart Disease

 

Meat is composed of protein (amino acids), some fat, and water, maybe a bit of carbohydrate in liver. The same macronutrients that make up all other foods.

 

The misunderstanding is that saturated fat increases the risk for heart disease. This certainly doesn’t make sense when the saturated fat in meat get vilified, while the saturated fat in avocados gets the title “healthy fats”.

 

Ancel Keys first started demonizing meat and saturated fat in the 1950’s when he began the “Seven Countries Study.” In this study, Ancel Keys supposedly proved a correlation between excess saturated fats (found in meat) and heart disease. Unethically, he published this study (showing correlation, not causation), knowing well that 15 countries he examined actually showed the exact opposite. When all 22 countries are incorporated into Ancel Keys’s analysis, there is no link between meat and heart disease.

 

Moreover, there is no link between and saturated fat and cardiovascular disease [2]. There never was. In fact, increased saturated fat doesn’t even lead to increased saturated fat in the blood, and there are studies to support this [3].

 

 

Meat Consumption and Cancer

 

To preface, humans have been eating meat for millions of years, and only within the last ~100 years has cancer been on the rise. How is meat being blamed for this?

 

There have been numerous studies that scare people to stop eating meat because it “causes cancer.” These are epidemiological studies, which make for extremely weak arguments. People report the foods they “remember” eating, and a pattern is apparently observed based on their responses. Imagine answering the question, “What have you been eating every day, every meal for the last 17 years,” and having medical advice provided based on your current health. If everyone that has cancer says they ate meat - did they also eat french fries, bread, drink soda, alcohol, and smoke cigarettes? Considering more than half of Americans eat processed foods, it’s safe to say that any of the people surveyed eat more than just red meat.

 

In addition, these studies barely show any risk of cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 came out with a report cautioning meat eaters that their diet causes cancer. However, they based their report off of cherry-picked epidemiological studies, and neglected those that showed no association. Many of the members of the WHO were vegetarians and vegans, and thus may have had a vested interest in the outcome Learn more about this. Even using the epidemiology research to date, smoking is 10X more likely to cause cancer than eating meat, and we’re talking processed meat, so it is undoubtedly less for fresh meat [4]. Processed meat is not something we would recommend you eat, but even so, who eats processed meats on their own, without a bun, a side of fries, and a coke? There is a lot more to consider before pointing fingers at meat, and to be frank these bold statements from WHO are incredibly misleading.

 

To bring this back to reality, there has been no randomized controlled trial showing cause and effect on meat consumption and cancer. So, whether or not meat has any association with cancer risk is actually something we can’t say for sure. But, we do believe it’s fair to say that the research to date is not convincing us that your steak is any more carcinogenic than the pesticides on your kale.  

 

Protein and Kidney Function

 

As a consequence of eating protein, we produce urea. Urea is a by-product of the breakdown of protein, and is excreted as waste through the urine. This is thought to have negative effects on our kidneys. However, research shows that this is only the case for those with existing kidney dysfunctions, and that there are no negative side effects for those with healthy kidney function [5]. In 1930, researchers followed two healthy men living solely on meat for an entire year and found no evidence of kidney damage [6], in fact, they found no evidence of any negative side effects. Additionally, and a little more recently, a 2-year study of a low-carbohydrate high-protein diet demonstrated no adverse effects on kidney function, in individuals without pre-existing kidney disease [7] 

 

 

Resources

 

1) Stephan van Vliet, Nicholas A Burd, Luc JC van Loon, The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 145, Issue 9, September 2015, Pages 1981–1991. LINK

2) Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions LINK

3) Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. LINK

4) Santarelli RL, Pierre F, Corpet DE. Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(2):131–144. doi:10.1080/01635580701684872 LINK

5) Controversies Surrounding High-Protein Diet Intake: Satiating Effect and Kidney and Bone Health LINK

6) McClellan WS. and Du Bois E. 1930. Clinical Calorimetry: Prolonged meat diets with a study of kidney function and ketosis. J. Biol. Chem. 87:651-668. LINK

7) Friedman AN, Ogden LG, Foster GD, et al. Comparative effects of low-carbohydrate high-protein versus low-fat diets on the kidney. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2012;7(7):1103–1111. doi:10.2215/CJN.11741111 LINK