Did our ancestors eat meat and did it make them sick?
Welcome to our nutritional series where we discuss the topic “should you include meat in your diet.” Our goal is to provide you with knowledge and insights regarding conduming meat to help you make informed decisions. Please note that we aim to equip you with information, rather than advocating for a specific dietary choice, as there are various diets that can be beneficial depending on individual needs and preferences.
Let’s begin by addressing the question directly: Can you be healthy while eating meat? If we look at traditional cultures that thrived without common modern diseases, like heart disease, we find that they consumed meat as a significant part of their diet. For instance, the Inuit people relied on animal fats for about 60% of their daily energy intake. Interestingly, they experienced low rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in their traditional settings. These health benefits were not due to superior genetics, as the modern Inuit population, consuming a more Westernized diet and lifestyle, now faces similar health issues as the general population.
This highlights the fact that humans have been consuming animal products for centuries without experiencing the diseases commonly attributed to meat consumption. In our next section, we will delve into nutritional studies and research to explore this topic further.
Doesn’t research consistently demonstrate that eating meat causes heart disease?
In our previous section, we discussed how meat consumption in traditional cultures did not lead to widespread heart disease. However, when cultures transition to diets resembling our modern food choices (think fast food), their health risks begin to align with ours.
So why does research sometimes link meat to disease risk? To understand this, let’s consider the stark differences between traditional and modern environments. Traditional lifestyles involved reduced stress, a close connection to nature, daily physical activity such as hiking, and a natural inclination towards nutritious foods. In contrast, our modern lifestyle often entails long work hours, sedentary habits, indoor living, and a reliance on processed foods designed to be addictive.
This disparity is a major challenge in epidemiological research. While cellular studies can demonstrate the impact of individual molecules on cells, we need real-world, population-based studies conducted over a lifespan to understand how these molecules affect us in a holistic context. Many population studies fail to account for the quality of life factors. For example, if someone smokes, leads a sedentary lifestyle, and eats a steak taco from a fast-food chain, they are categorized as a “meat eater.” On the other hand, someone who exercises regularly, doesn’t smoke, consumes high-quality meat, and enjoys outdoor activities is also considered a “meat eater.” When we compare vegetarians to helath-conscious omnivores, there are no significant differences in overall mortality rates. Essentially, it’s not solely about eating meat, but rather the quality of the meat and one’s lifestyle that matter.
This phenomenon is also evident in the Inuit tribes. When they departed from their traditional environment, their disease risk factors increased, much like the rest of us.
Is meat an unhealthy food?
In the previous sections, we explored meat consumption in traditional cultures and the challenges with nutritional research. Now, let’s consider nutrient density as a useful guideline for making a decision about meat. We are specifically addressing concerns regarding animal product consumption and its association with modern diseases like cardiovascular disease.
Firstly, it’s essential to note that even the “perfect diet” cannot guarantee good health if one is under constant stress, overworked, or sleep-deprived, among other factors.
When it comes to nutrient density studies, animal products often face bias due to their high saturated fat and cholesterol content. However, extensive research indicates that saturated fat is more like a nutrient than a toxin. Explore this link, written by one of my favorite practitioners Chris Kresser. He reviews the issues around saturated fat research and health.
In conclusion, should you include meat into your diet? Overall, meat may not be the all consuming disease causing mysterious monster that we thought it once was. But, our sedentary lifestyle, exposure to external toxins like cigarette smoke, and highly processed foods are more to blame. Meat is a nutrient dense food that has helped humans live with a high fitness level (good health) for generations.
If you want to learn more I also highly recommend the documentary Sacred Cow.
If you are curious how you can include meat into your health diet consider scheduling a free discovery call with me and we talk about your concerns and develop a few strategies for healthy meat reintroduction.