Eating meat and animal products has been under fire for a while lately. Medical experts have linked eating meat to heart disease and other problems, because of studies on diet and health. But there also have been studies that show just the opposite.
Like many other complex health issues, the research is not consistent about eating meat. Many of the earlier studies that showed a link between meat consumption and disease were population studies, where if meat eaters had more heart disease, it was assumed meat was the cause of the problem. This type of study is known to be inaccurate in making decisions about cause and effect, especially when it comes to diet.
As a result of this type of population-based research, we are in the middle of a low-meat and low-fat craze; we are told the saturated fats in animal products lead to heart disease. Therefore, animal products are to either be avoided eaten only in reduced-fat form. Because of this, some nutritionists label vegetarianism (eating no meat) and veganism (eating no animal products, including dairy products, eggs, etc.) as the best diet.
Yet my nutrition training strongly discourages veganism. There are two reasons: First is the clinical observation that vegans are prone to many health problems, especially when they follow the diet in the long term. Another is based on the fact that our ancestors were not vegan, and this is not a natural diet for us. In fact, many native cultures ate almost exclusively animal products, yet they were largely free of heart disease and other “diseases of civilization.” An example was the Masai tribe from Africa, who ate almost no plant-based foods, but only developed cardiovascular problems when they lost their native lifestyle and adopted modern ways.
This was the message of Dr. Westin Price, a dentist who developed an interest in nutrition. He traveled the world in the 1930s, investigating the relationship between diet and health, especially dental health, in native cultures. He found very few vegetarian cultures, and those were of necessity; native humans live “off the land,” eating whatever is nearby. The cultures that did not have animals available were not as healthy as those who did. But when natives began eating the European “foods of commerce” — white flour, sugar and canned foods — their health went downhill fast.
Of course, it is important to remember that the source of the meat or other animal products affects their nutritional value. Milk or meat from cows raised in stressful environments and fed unnatural foods and hormones to “fatten them up” or increase production will not be as healthful as the same items from a grass-fed, free-range animal. Any health problems caused by eating meat are likely from products from sick, overweight, stressed animals, raised on artificial hormones and antibiotics.
So I stick to what I was taught in my first few nutrition classes in chiropractic school. The best foods are the least processed, without added sweeteners, preservatives and other chemicals, and those raised in their natural state, allowed to eat the foods nature intended, in an environment that is not a constant stress for them.
Our problem is not meat, or saturated fats. The problem is our foods are so unnatural. If you are looking to improve your diet, it really isn’t necessary — or, in my opinion, even recommended — that you stop eating meat. Much better to stop eating things that aren’t really even food, such as soda, chips, pastries, etc. Then select foods raised naturally, even organically, that are not canned or processed.
Most of your local farmers do not run “factory farms” where the quality of the food is sacrificed for high volume. The extra expense is more than offset by the reduction in health care costs in the long run.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.