We’ve been told for an entire generation now to fill our plates with fruits and vegetables first and add a small portion of meat to go with it. In recent years, this advice has been amplified to encourage folks to eat a plant-based diet, with many nutritionists telling people that meat should be a treat reserved for special occasions only.
Today, more than 7 million Americans consider themselves vegetarians, with veganism increasing by 600% between 2014 and 2017.
While many of these individuals are making the choice to go meatless based on perceived health benefits, often they are listening to dietary recommendations that are based on false information and personal biases surrounding the environment impacts and animal welfare practices of modern animal agriculture.
No matter what the reason for switching to a plant-based diet, what’s really wrong with eating loads of vegetables anyway? It’s good for us, right?
That’s what we’ve been told; however, the science is showing there are nutritional ramifications when we routinely avoid consuming meat and saturated fats.
In a recent article titled, “Vegans and vegetarians think they’re ‘eating healthy.’ They’re not,” Dr. Ralph Green, University of California, Davis medical doctor and research scientist, writes, “Most vegans, those who don’t eat any animal products, and vegetarians, who don't eat red meat, seafood, or poultry, are short on B-12.
“A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found nine in 10 vegans had below-normal levels of B-12. Vegetarians fare a bit better thanks to dairy and eggs, but they also fall short -- more than two in three are below normal in B-12. And about 55% of children on a vegetarian diet have inadequate B-12 levels, according to a study by researchers at East Carolina University.”
So what does a B-12 deficiency look like? Green says the symptoms start slowly, first with indicators like fatigue, irritability, mood changes, memory loss and pale skin. Over time, the symptoms worsen and can escalate to serious issues like vision loss, paralysis, imbalance and even pyschosis. B-12 deficiencies also increase the risk of cancer, depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
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Green adds, “Babies who don't receive enough B-12 in the womb run the risk of developing dangerous defects – indeed, expectant mothers with B-12 deficiency are up to five times more likely to have a child with a potentially disabling or fatal birth defect, many of which involve the brain or spinal cord. A study just out from the Harvard School of Public Health reports that the children of women given B-12 supplements during pregnancy and in the weeks immediately after birth score higher on expressive language tests at age 2 ½.”
When we look at diets around the world, it turns out that those who consume the highest amount of meat tend to live longer.
In an article for Rogue Health and Fitness titled, “Meat, saturated fat and long life,” P.D. Manga shows how saturated fat consumption is not associated with increased cardiovascular disease rates or death rates, but lower rates.
Manga writes, “Hong Kong has the world’s highest meat consumption, and the highest life expectancy. The people of India eat little meat, and have a high rate of cardiovascular disease.
“While the evidence presented above is illustrative or associational only, and not 100% conclusive, it pokes a serious hole in the mainstream “plant-based” dogma that meat is unhealthy. Meat is in fact healthy, as is saturated fat. The real dietary culprits of our current epidemic of bad health and obesity are seed oils, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.”
For reference, Hong Kong consumes more meat per person (695 grams per day or about 1.5 pounds) than any other nation, with a life expectancy of 84.3 years, the world’s highest. Meanwhile, India has the second lowest per capita meat consumption in the world, and the average life expectancy is 68.3 years.
“Cardiovascular diseases are epidemic in India,” says Manga. “They accounted for 32% of adult deaths from 2010 to 2013. The figure for the U.S. is 23.4%.
“Now, there are obviously lots of differences between countries like Hong Kong and India, mainly wealth and poverty, which leads to widely differing standards of medical care. But if meat were the cause of cardiovascular disease, it seems unlikely that India would have a high rate, while Hong Kong has the world’s longest life expectancy. India should have a low rate of cardiovascular disease, given its low meat consumption.”
Additionally, France and Switzerland both rank highest on their consumption of saturated fats, and both rank low on mortality due to cardiovascular diseases.
I continue to see strong evidence that meat, particularly red meat, is a beneficial cornerstone to a healthy diet and a long life free of disease. This should be encouraging to every beef producer and beef lover reading this blog.
It’s going to be hard for the naysayers to continue to refute the growing body of research that supports a meat-centered diet. Of course, you know they’ll try (their professional careers and reputations depend on it), but I’m confident that eventually the truth about the healthfulness of red meat will prevail.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.