For thousands of years, the eating habits of humans has mean an animal protein diet, but over the past half century many vegetarians, vegans and low-fat enthusiasts have made a point to eschew animals as a source of protein. Is an animal protein diet really dangerous or is it maligned unfairly?
Avoiding animal products for health reasons stemmed from a research study in the 1950s called the 7 Countries Study, in which researcher Ancel Key’s analyzed the eating habits of various different cultures around the globe. His findings showed that people eating the most saturated fat had higher cholesterol levels and therefore predicted they would have the most heart disease.
From that point on, it was only a matter of time before Americans began to avoid animal products and began seeking protein in their diets from other sources.
Unfortunately, there were several issues with Keys’ study. First of all, he excluded the vast majority of the countries in the original analysis and only published the 7 that supported his hypothesis. When all countries were included, there was no correlation. Second, further research has shown that cholesterol itself doesn’t actually cause heart disease, but is simply raised by other factors that lead to heart disease. So even if saturated fat did raise cholesterol levels heart disease would not necessarily be reduced by avoiding saturated fat.
Decades later, the Nurse’s Health Study and the Framingham study were conducted to find out once and for all if low-fat diets that were low in animal products and higher in polyunsaturated fat actually made people healthier or reduced risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, they did neither.
Despite the consistent failure of low fat diets to reduce heart disease rates or improve lifespan, the low-fat paradigm still clings on due to skewed presentation of research results and anecdotal evidence.
Why We Need to Eat Animal Products
Animal products are the only natural source of vitamin B12, which is essential for proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, as well as regulation of hemoglobin and blood clot formation. Virtually the only other way to obtain vitamin B12 is to eat artificially fortified vegan alternatives, which are often horrendously unhealthy, as are most processed or artificially constructed foods.
Animal products also have much higher nutrient content than their alternatives, such as various grains. Quality meats, eggs and dairy are rich in countless vitamins and minerals, and some organ meats even contain very high amounts of vitamin C, a vitamin often attributed only to fruits and vegetables. Of course, the rich source of protein makes it a top choice as well.
Quality meat and other animal products are in no way detrimental to your health, as we’ve been made to believe. In fact, Dr. Stephenson, a researcher contesting the low-fat paradigm conducted a study in which participants ate nothing but animal products (including organ meats to compensate for lack of vitamin C) for an entire year. When various markers of health were taken at the end of the study, there seemed to be no negative consequences. Not that eating this way is recommended, but the study sheds light on how unwarranted our fear of fat and dietary cholesterol really is.
So How Much Meat Should You Eat?
In truth, the exact amount doesn’t really matter. Various groups of people throughout history have lived disease-free lives eating both extremely high quantities of meat and relatively low quantities of meat. But it’s important to get some, and if eating more means replacing processed foods, artificial low-fat concoctions, vegetable oils and refined grains, by all means, eat more meat!