Despite the decline in beef consumption in recent decades, America’s favorite protein is still a punching bag for many of our nation’s health woes. From cancer to diabetes to heart disease and more, everyone loves to point the finger at beef and ignore the fact that this product is a nutritional powerhouse packed with zinc, protein, highly absorbable iron, B vitamins and brain-fueling saturated fats.
Yet, this misguided rhetoric is complete white noise when we begin to look at diets that avoid animal fats and proteins altogether.
In a recent article from The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton studies the long-term effects of vegetarian diets. Her conclusion — going meatless can lead to genetic mutations that raise the risk of heart disease and cancer.
According to the article, “Populations who have had a primarily vegetarian diet for generations were found to be far more likely to carry DNA which makes them susceptible to inflammation. Scientists in the U.S. believe that the mutation occurred to make it easier for vegetarians to absorb essential fatty acids from plants.
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“But it has the knock-on effect of boosting the production of arachidonic acid, which is linked to inflammatory disease and cancer. When coupled with a diet high in vegetable oils - such as sunflower oil - the mutated gene quickly turns fatty acids into dangerous arachidonic acid.”
Knapton referenced previous research that found vegetarian populations are 40% more likely to suffer colorectal cancer when compared to meat eaters. The study comes from Cornell University, which compared the genomes of hundreds of vegetarians living in Pune, India to traditional meat-eating people in Kansas. The contrast in genetic differences was significant.
“Those whose ancestry derives from vegetarians are more likely to carry genetics that more rapidly metabolize plant fatty acids,” said Tom Brenna, professor of human nutrition at Cornell. “In such individuals, vegetable oils will be converted to the more pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid, increasing the risk for chronic inflammation that is implicated in the development of heart disease, and exacerbates cancer. The mutation appeared in the human genome long ago, and has been passed down through the human family.”
In other words, while we’ve been told for years to eat less meat and more salads, maybe we need to reverse our thinking.
Not only can a vegetarian diet lead to increased chronic inflammation, researchers are discovering that the mutation of the genes also impacts the production of omega 3 fatty acids, which are protective against heart disease.
On top of it all, Knapton says a vegetarian or vegan diet can lead to fertility problems by lowering sperm counts. And looking at our overall health, when someone decides to go meatless, they are also committing to a lifetime of pill popping, as supplements will be needed to obtain the proper nutrients to thrive.
According to Knapton, “Many vegetarians also struggle to get enough iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium, which are essential for health. One study found that vegetarians had approximately 5% lower bone-mineral density (BMD) than non-vegetarians.”
I’m sure I’ll get plenty of vegans and vegetarians writing in to contradict these new findings; however, I’m pleased to see more research coming forward that exhibits the importance of meat in the diet. Move over kale; steak is the new superfood!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.