There are possibly many people who feel confused about the pros and cons of eating meat products. Different news stories either praise or are negative towards meat, however in this case we gathered information from both sides. After our summary you might think actually both sides and right and a middle ground can be found.
Meat is regarded as any animal flesh (mostly the skeletal muscle) which is used for eating. This therefore not just includes beef, lamb and chicken but also fish products. Sometimes this term however is used specifically for the mammal species therefore excluding chicken and seafood.
Nutrition of meat from different sources
The main benefits of eating meat are the high amino acid (protein) content however usually it comes with a price – high fat content. We gathered data for different meat sources with regards to their calorie, protein and fat content.
It is not surprising that Lamb and Beef top the table with their calorie content. The most skinny protein source cod however the oily fish salmon and lean veal are also pretty good. Salmon beets everyone with its protein content but just 6g of fat in a 100g portion. Just 2 g less protein but almost no fat contains the cod. This is just an example of a white fish which a great source for different vitamins (A, D and E) and of course, Omega-3 like salmon. The least protein actually comes from beef whilst ‘winning’ the fat value competition.
Let’s look at some specifics between all types of meet sources listed above which extend their benefits above just a pure protein values.
Apart from plant products like chia and flax seeds (read more here), fish and grass fed animals are a great source for this essential fatty acid. Salmon and lamb are especially good way to get omega-3 from your diet. Omega-3 is present in the chloroplasts of leaves therefore animals who are grass fed contain these fatty acids in great amounts. There is also grass fed beef available to buy which is nutritionally much better than the conventional type. Apparently grass fed beef contains almost half less fat, 50% more of vitamin A, 2 times the amount of vitamin E and higher in minerals like Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium.
Fish, eggs and beef liver are very good sources for vitamin D3 which is an important nutrient if you live in less sunny climate. Usually the human body can synthesize vitamin D from cholesterol if there is enough sun exposure. Vegetarian sources of vitamin D2 are mushrooms. Lack of this vitamin however might cause low bone density, rickets, multiple sclerosis and weaken immunity.
Phosphorus is mostly found in protein rich foods – meat, milk and soya and is important for the bone structures and the nervous system.
Iron is part of haemoglobin which makes the red blood cells look red and help them to transport gases. It is hard for the body to absorb iron from plants however red meat, chicken and fish are mostly very rich in this metal. Most commonly anaemia (low red blood cell level) in the West is due to iron deficiency caused by blood loss, pregnancy, inability to absorb iron or lack of iron in the diet. Women who have heavy periods therefore might be at great risk to develop some level of iron deficiency.
Lack of vitamin B complex might cause very severe health problems, however plants loose less during the processing then animal products although they might be richer in these vitamins initially.
B12 is produced thanks to bacteria and plays a major role in the prevention of pernicious anaemia and autoimmune disease. An adult should get at least 2 micrograms of B12 every day found in greatest amounts in liver, shellfish, meat and dairy. More common become also fortified grain products. B12 is also linked to the mental health.
Niacin (B3) can be found in chicken, beef, fish and eggs but in lower doses also avocados, dates, seeds and yeast. Constant lack of B3 might even cause pellagra because its functions involve repairing the DNA and regulating the endocrine system.
Cod and chicken are excellent sources for choline which has anti-inflammatory effects and is used to treat liver disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and might have a positive effect on treating alcoholism. Folate (B9) and choline interact during pregnancy and contribute to a healthy development of the baby.
Concerns and thoughts about eating meat
Animal right consideration, Environmental issues and Religion are just some of the very strong reasons why people take the choice of not eating meat. The other side also raises some ethical issues with regards to complete vegetarianism: 1) Agricultural development destroys rainforests and therefore kills animals too, contributes to global warming; 2) Lack of a fair trade between the West and developing countries. Animal feeding however also requires crops and use of fuel and water.
Some studies have discovered possible links between eating meat in particular – red and processed meat.
Consumption of processed meat has been raising many health concerns. Sodium nitrite is used to preserve the meats red colour and is able to form carcinogenic nitrosamines during heating. These substances also found in balloons, tobacco smoke raise especially the risk of gastric and liver cancers.
Studies in 1999 found though that the highest mortality rate is for regular meat eaters and vegans (1.0). Lower levels were for vegetarians and occasional meat eaters (0.84). The lowest mortality rate was for the fish consumers (0.82). It clearly shows us that both high intake of meat and no intake of animal products of any kind are both not beneficial for health. This might be explained by overconsumption or lack of certain nutrients found in meat. Ovo- or Lacto- vegetarians still have a chance to gain the nutrients found so commonly in dairy and eggs in order to be healthy. Consumption of fish and other seafood however proves to be a great solution to someone who wants to live a long and healthy life alongside maybe satisfying his/hers ethical standards too.
Balanced diet and meat
According to the ‘eatwell plate’, 12% of your daily food should consist of protein rich non-dairy products – meat, fish, eggs and beans for example. Portion of fish in a size of 140g should be eaten twice a week. It is strongly advised however to avoid processed meats and not eat red meat more than twice a week. Individual requirements might vary though and if you have any concerns about your diet and uncertainty about how much protein rich food you should consume, consult with a certified nutritionist or dietician. The same advise we would give to people who might decide to not eat meat products and have to consider other ways to get some essential nutrients.