29 February 2024
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To Meat or not to Meat – that is the question!

Dr Ross Walker
9 August 2022

I have often said, “fish for therapy and meat for enjoyment”. As a committed carnivore, I will admit that I do enjoy eating a variety of natural meats and acknowledge that it would be better for the planet in many ways if we were all vegetarian.

This extraordinary piece of hypocrisy on my part is pure honesty and I was certainly heartened (pardon the pun) to read an article from the University of Bath published in the journal Future Foods which strengthens the notion that plant-based meat is healthier and more sustainable than animal products.

Science and technology are taking us closer to solving many of our current global and lifestyle issues. There are numerous laboratories around the world that are formulating plant-based products to replicate the taste, texture and overall eating experience of animal products. A report from the University of Bath reviewed 43 published studies examining the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods, in comparison to meat products.

The study concluded that plant-based foods reduce the use of agricultural land, utilise less water and create less pollution. This is at a communal level but also for each individual, plant-based foods encourage weight loss and muscle mass. There is also the potential to create so-called functional foods, adding beneficial fungi, algae and spirulina, providing an increase in essential macro and micronutrients.

One interesting study suggested that replacing 5% of German beef consumption with pea protein would reduce the carbon dioxide emissions in Germany by 8 million tonnes per year. Another study suggested consuming plant-based burgers rather than beefburgers would reduce 98% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the years there have been a variety of studies suggesting that saturated fat from meat and dairy sources increases all manner of diseases, in particular cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, the largest dietary epidemiologic study in the world, the PURE study examined the dietary habits of 220,000 people for nine years in 50 different countries demonstrating those people who ingested on average 100 grams of red meat per day along with three servings of high-fat dairy had a 25% reduction in death and cardiovascular disease over the study period.

Although I'm not convinced about the link between moderate saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease from all the conflicting evidence from many studies over decades, there is overwhelming science supporting the ingestion of 2-3 pieces of fruit per day and 3-5 servings of vegetables per day (one serving is about half a carrot, as an example). Those people in our community who consume this amount of fruit and vegetables have the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Tragically, less than 10% of people do this.

With the increasing population globally, we are probably headed for food shortages, (already experienced by many populations around the planet) and we will all need to make responsible decisions, not only for our own health but also for the health of the planet. Although I do enjoy my meat, there is no doubt that shifting to more of a plant-based diet is beneficial, not only for ourselves but also for the entire global community.

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