A NEW study which has surveyed meat consumption in more than 170 countries across the world, has found eating meat still offers important benefits to overall human health and life expectancy.
The multidisciplinary team of researchers from across the globe were investigating the way meat had been treated by the public to see if it had been unfairly demonised as bad for health.
Study author and University of Adelaide researcher in biomedicine, Dr Wenpeng You said humans had evolved and thrived over millions of years because of their significant consumption of meat.
“We wanted to look more closely at research that has thrown a negative spotlight on meat consumption in the human diet,” Dr You said.
“Looking only at correlations of meat consumption with people’s health or life expectancy within a particular group, and or, a particular region or country, can lead to complex and misleading conclusions.
“Our team broadly analysed the correlations between meat eating and life expectancy, and child mortality, at global and regional levels, minimising the study bias, and making our conclusion more representative of the general health effects of meat eating.”
The researchers found the consumption of energy from carbohydrate crops (grains and tubers) did not lead to greater life expectancy – and total meat consumption correlated to greater life expectancy. Independent of the competing effects of total calories intake, economic affluence, urban advantages, and obesity.
“While detrimental effects of meat consumption on human health have been found in some studies in the past, the methods and findings in these studies are controversial and circumstantial,” Dr You said.
Senior author of the study, University of Adelaide Emeritus Professor Maciej Henneberg said humans had adapted to meat-eating from the perspective of their more than two million years evolution.
“Meat of small and large animals provided optimal nutrition to our ancestors who developed genetic, physiological, and morphological adaptations to eating meat products and we have inherited those adaptations,” Professor Henneberg said.
But with the strong development of nutrition science and economic affluence, studies in some populations in developed countries associated meat-free (vegetarian and vegan) diets with improved health.
“I think we need to understand that this may not contradict the beneficial effect of meat consumption,” nutritionist on the study, Yanfei Ge said.
“Studies looking into the diets of wealthy, highly educated communities, are looking at people who have the purchasing power and the knowledge to select plant-based diets that access the full nutrients normally contained in meat. Essentially, they have replaced meat with all the same nutrition meat provides.”
Co-author and University of Adelaide biologist, Dr Renata Henneberg said today meat was still a major food component in the diets of many people around the world.
“Before agriculture was introduced, 10,000 years ago, meat was a staple food in the human diet,” she said.
“Depending on which minor groups of people you study and which meat types you choose to consider, the measure of meat’s role in human health management may vary. However, when all meat types for all the populations are considered, as they are in this study, the positive correlation between meat consumption and overall health at a population level is not sporadic.”
Co-author, anthropologist at the University of Adelaide, and biologist at the Polish Academy of Science, Dr Arthur Saniotis said the findings were in line with other studies, which showed cereal-based foods had lower nutritional value than meat.
“While this is no surprise to many of us, it still needs to be pointed out,” Dr Saniotis said. “It highlights that meat has its own components contributing to our overall health beyond just the number of calories consumed, and that without meat in our diet, we may not thrive.
“Our take home message from the paper is that meat-eating is beneficial to human health provided that it is consumed in moderation and that the meat industry is conducted in an ethical way.”
Source: Scimex Journal