The age old proverb “You are what you eat” has been heard by us all many times throughout our lives, but only a few of us take this statement seriously in regard to our health and ultimately our lives. But there is a deeper, implied meaning embedded in this statement and today our society is affected with the epidemic of cancer, obesity and other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, dementia and arthritis because of our prolonged negligence towards diet and our preconditioned mind that believes “meat is essential for survival”, which is a complete myth in reality.
Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, sheep, veal, duck and goose. It is perhaps the most controversial food of the world yet our ancestors have been eating it since the beginning of time and our body is well equipped to handle it. But it must be clarified the meat which we eat today is completely different from that which was eaten by our forefathers. Imagine how healthy an animal could possibly be that was born in a warehouse, stayed cooped up in a cage, feed with grains and heavily treated with hormones and antibiotics?
Meat and other animal products such as, eggs and dairy are loaded with saturated fats. These fats are usually solid at room temperature and poses major risk for cardiovascular diseases. Saturated fats raise the level of acetate fragments in body that boosts the production of cholesterol. Saturated fats have a tendency to clump together and deposit in the blood vessels and arteries and causing heart diseases, obesity, breast and colon cancer.
Our body has the capacity to produce cholesterol for its proper functioning and hoarding it from other external sources such as meat is not really necessary. High fat meat increases the level of cholesterol and excessive cholesterol level in blood leads to atherosclerosis- a condition in which plaques build up on the inner walls of the arteries, thereby multiplying the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Animal flesh produces carcinogenic compounds when cooked at high temperatures and meat takes longer to clear out of the intestinal tracts because of the high level of protein that takes longer to digest. This extended time factor allows the carcinogenic compounds to damage the intestinal walls. In addition, red meat contains haem-a pigment found in hemoglobin that gives red meat its characteristic red color. Haem is broken down to N-nitroso compounds in the gout that damage DNA of the digestive system cells, which is the first step towards cancer. As the DNA are damaged, it promotes rapid cell division to create new cells and this excessive cell division in turn raises the chances of colorectal/colon cancer.
Obesity has turned out as one of the most serious health issues in adults as well as children around the world and especially in developed countries. Meat has a higher level of total fat, total calories and saturated fats compared to vegetables that makes it a major cause of weight gain and obesity. Researchers conducted tests on two separate groups of people taking in equal amount of calories on a daily basis- one group received their calories from meat and the other received its calories from other food sources. The result shows that the group that ate meat had higher rate of weight gain and increased belly fat compared to the other group.
The high level of saturated fats in red meat leads to higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and aggravating the problem in those already suffering from it. Saturated fats have been shown to increase the body’s insulin resistance, thereby making it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar.
The high level of proteins in meat makes it difficult to break down and digest and it requires a substantial amount of fiber to clear out completely from the system. During this long period of time, the meat rots in the digestive tract, thereby producing harmful toxins and amines that kills healthy bacteria and destroys the walls of the intestine leading to various health problems like- inflammatory bowel syndrome, constipation, stomach cramps, hemorrhoids and many more. Processed and instant foods further aggravate these problems.
Majority of livestock today are treated with hormone injections with the sole purpose of increasing productivity and speeding up growth. But these synthetic hormones don’t disappear in their body and most of its traces remains there which not only unsettles our hormonal balance but also leads to several serious health conditions like the premature onset of puberty in children today.
The high level of iron in red meat has been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although, iron is integral for proper cell functioning, but excess of it may promote damaging reaction of harmful free radicals and oxidative stress. Over a long period of red meat rich diet, iron builds up in the grey matter region of the brain and leads to the onset of Alzheimer’s and other age related ailments.
The immune system protects the body from foreign threats such as, allergens and infections by creating protective antibodies. But as animal proteins are quite similar to humans, the body tends to fight them off and after a certain period of time the immune system fails to recognize between self and foreign animal proteins and directs the antibodies towards the body’s own tissues that attack healthy cells. Some examples of autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Meat contains a natural substance called purine that leads to high levels of uric acid in the body, which in turn increases the risk of gout and arthritis. Excessive meat consumption has also been linked to degenerative arthritis and soft tissue disorders. Red meat also contains high level of saturated that aggravates inflammation and muscle pain.
A high animal protein diet can very well lead to the chronic diseases mentioned above, but that does not mean that we should completely cut out proteins from our regular food. Instead it should be planned and balanced in a way that optimizes our health.
This article is not asking you to give up meat and become a vegetarian or vegan. But it’s always better to have it in moderation and combine it with other food groups like vegetables, fruits and dairy to create a complete, balanced diet.