The Health Impacts of Eating Less Meat
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
This article is part two of a two part discussion. What we eat has a huge effect on our personal health and the health of the entire planet. With obesity on the rise across the western world and many people struggling to meet their diet and exercise goals, perhaps there's an easy way to improve our health and well-being. According to a new report published in The Lancet, eating less meat is crucial if we want better environmental outcomes and improved personal health. We have already looked at the environmental angle of this report in part one of this article, now let's analyse this important issue from a health perspective.
According to the new report from the EAT–Lancet Commission, one significant change to our diet could have a very positive effect on our personal health. Rather than eating between 50 and 80 grams of meat per day like the average person in the western world, the report recommends a dramatically reduced figure of 100 grams per week. Along with freeing up many of the agricultural resources tied up with meat production, a reduction in meat intake could also have a positive effect on our general health.
According to Dr. Walter Willet, the lead author of the report, reduced meat consumption would be beneficial for us all: "We looked at all the evidence on diet and health" and determined that red meat should be limited "to less than an ounce per day - or about a hamburger a week." While Dr. Willet recognised that "This may seem a little extreme to many Americans," he also said it "is actually in line with what the traditional Mediterranean diet was when the Greeks were the healthiest people in the world." The report concludes that "high risks of cardiovascular disease and other outcomes associated with high consumption of red meat are probably partly due to multiple food constituents of animal sources of protein."
Not everyone is on-board with Dr. Willet and his team, however, with resistance likely to come from two very different angles. As you might expect, the Animal Agriculture Alliance has come out against the report, saying "The [EAT-Lancet] Commission's radical recommendations to drastically limit meat and dairy consumption would have serious, negative consequences for the health of people and the planet." With a number of famous health practitioners promoting carnivorous diets such as the paleo diet over recent years, a reduction in meat intake is unlikely to be accepted by everyone.
While the health effects of meat consumption are unclear, any reduction to current levels would need to be done carefully. According to the EAT–Lancet Commission, "If we replace red meat with a lot of white starch, [such as] white rice, white bread, potatoes and sugar – then that's not going to be a win." While the recommended level of meat reduction may be radical in today's climate, the transition away from red meat and towards plant-based proteins such as nuts and beans is completely in-line with current health recommendations. According to the report, a reduction in red meat, refined grains, and sugar could prevent an estimated 11 million premature deaths per year.
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