More and more people around me eat less meat than before. They simply eat meat less often, decrease their portions or go vegetarian or vegan for several days of the week (the so called flexitarians). Some of them eat less meat to save the planet, some of them because they think it’s unhealthy. So, it was time for me to find out if science backs this choice or not. In this blog you’ll find two profound reasons why you should eat less meat, based on scientific reasons.
Eat less meat because livestock breeding isn’t animal friendly?
In the Netherlands, we eat on average 77.2 kilos of meat per person per year. In the past year, 31% of them started to eat less meat. Now, 90% of us eat no meat at least one day per week. Nevertheless, just as much and sometimes even more animals are being slaughtered. Vegetarian acquaintances regularly remind me that the large-scale meat industry isn’t serving animal welfare. For instance, there are many stable fires – killing >200.000 animals per year, according to Greenpeace. But cattle factories also cause animal diseases, stress and chronic pain, because of too small styes. Personally, knowing this doesn’t make me eat less meat, because I mostly view those animals as products (like many of us?). Still, there are two other reasons that made me search for scientific (dis)proof for the advantages and disadvantages of eating less meat.
Eat less meat to save the planet!
Producing meat and fodder costs a huge amound of fuel and it takes land, fertilizer and water. Furthermore, meat needs to be sealed, cooled and transported. That’s why the meat industry is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gases (mainly CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) and 8% of used drinking water. To illustrate, one beef hamburger of 100 grams costs 2,5 kilograms of fodder, 1.8 kilograms of greenhouses gases and a a month’s worth of 6 minute showers! Additional problems are manure surplus, environmental pollution by nitrogen, phosphate and pesticides and demolition of rainforests. All in all, an enormous ecological footprint. Not okay when you know that in 2050, the worldwide demand for meat will be 70% higher than today.
Eat less meat to save the planet, it will decrease the usage of fuel, water and land, greenhouse emissions and environmental pollution. Westhoek et al. (2014) shows that if we would cut European meat consumption in half, the meat industry will emit 40% less nitrogen (which improves air and water quality) and 25-40% less greenhouse gases – and 23% less farm fields to feed Europe.
Does individual behaviour make a difference?
These are beautiful statistics, but you can make a difference on your own as well! For instance, if you would only eat 100 grams less meat per week and substitute meat with legumes, you’ll decrease your impact already with 7-10%. This is because the impact of legumes on the environment is 20 times smaller impact. You can choose to structurally decrease your sizes, or eat no meat on one or more days per week – then you can call yourself a flexitarian. The farmer can of course sell that small amount of meat to others, but less demand will eventually mean less supply and less negative impact on the environment.
Eat less meat to improve your health!
Meat contains useful nutrients – like protein, vitamins A and B12, folium acid and iron – but also contains bad substances – like saturated fat. And because animals are being fed with fodder that contains arsenic, rotten meat and antibiotics, we also ingest these substances.
The more meat you consume, the greater the risk of diseases. Scientists who analysed all the published studies until 2012 found that a vegetarian diet or a diet with less meat significantly decreases the risk of different diseases. -This was especially true for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Simply put, people that consumed less meat were just healthier.
Eating more than 100 grams of processed or red meat per day increases your risk of diabetes type 2 by 15%, of colon cancer by 10% and of lung cancer by 20%. Eating more than 100 grams meat per day will increase your risk on a stroke by 10%. Very alarming, because in the Netherlands, we are already used to eating more than 100 grams of meat at dinner only.
You should stay away from processed meat as much as possible. Processed meat is meat that is i.e. smoked, salted or dried or contains preservatives, like grounded, breaded, marinated or seasoned. Examples are all cold cuts, like salami, ham, chicken fillet, salami, bacon and pate, but also minced meat, sausages, schnitzel, frankfurters, seasoned fillet steaks, minced meat, beef burgers and chicken burgers.
You should eat no more that 300 grams of red meat per week. For red meat, many people think of roast beef or steak. It actually means all the meat that comes from mammals, like beef, sheep, pigs, goats and lambs. Meat that comes from poultry, like chicken or turkey, is called white meat. By eating less meat and/or substituting meat for legumes and nuts lowers your risk of various diseases.
Are you a cardiovascular patient or do you take pills against high blood pressure? Then I have good news for you. The study of Esselstyn, Ellis, Medendorp, Crowe (1995) shows that even a group of patients with such serious hart problems that they didn’t qualify for regular surgery anymore, could extend their life by taking fat-decreasing medicines and chaning their diet to a plant-based diet. They stopped eating meat, dairy, eggs, oils, fat and processed food. While the world expected them to die at any moment, 14 of them were alive 20 years after the start of the experiment. 8 of the 17 patients followed the diet for more than two years and were even cured of their disease. After 10 years, 5 patients stopped with the diet. After that, they reported 10 strokes, while the other 6 din’t experience any heart or coronary problems.
Why does eating less meat lead to less cardiovascular disease? A diet based on meat and processed food breaks endothelial cells down, while a plant-based diet builds them back up. Healthy cells on the inside of our vaines produce nitric oxide that keep our blood flowing. The vaines can expand during strain, fat cannot stick to the walls and less inflammation occurs.
Shall I eat no meat..
World Health Organisation(W.H.O.) also acknowledges that a vegetarian diet, in comparison with a non-vegitarian diet, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. They explain that someone who eats more than 50 grams of processed meat per day (or more), is at a 18% bigger risk for colon cancer, than someone who doesn’t eat processed meat. Probably because of heme iron, which likely produces cancer inducing nitrosamins. So, to totally stop eating meat wouldn;t be a bad idea.
..or less meat?
But to stop eating meat and quiting cold turkey probably will give way to negative feelings (cognitive dissonance), objections from people with whom you share your meals and limits the chance of seeing it through for a long time. I personally experienced this too. So that’s why I propose that you and me will be going to eat leass meat and focus in the coming month on the advice of the Dutch Nutrition Center. They also acknowledge the negative effects of eating meat and present rules: to eat no more than 500 grams of unprocessed meat, of which no more than 300 grams red meat and avoid processed meat totally.
That’s a fine idea, because science proofs that this makes sure we stay under the threshold when saturated fat becomes bad for you and eliminates the added risk of cardiovascular disease. And although a vegetarian diet is best for the environment, we almost improve the environment evenly when we cut our meat and dairy ocnsumption in half. (Sources below).
Let’s do this!
Hopefully I was able to convince you by now that you should eat less meat, because I wish you good health too. Of course, I won’t let you down: I’ve written a roadmap to eat less meat that is simple and sustainable. You can read how you can decrease your portions, what the healthy and unhealthy choices are to replace meat, which vegetarian and vegan recipes are simple and quick to make and which mile-stones you should strive for on the way to a diet that optimizes your health, relisience, strength and stamina.
- Biesalski, 2005
- Chai, van der Voort, Grofelnik, Eliasdottir, Klöss, Perez-Cueto, 2019
- Esselstyn, Ellis, Medendorp, Crowe (1995)
- McEnvoy, Temple & Woodside, 2012
- Post, 2012
- Sanchez-Sabate, Bandilla-Biones & Sabaté, 2019
- Voedingscentrum, 2020
- Voedingscentrum, 2020
- Walker, Rhubart-Berg, McKenzie, Kelling & Lawrence, 2005
- Westhoek, Lesschen, Rood, Wagner, De Marco, Murphy-Bokern, Leip, Grinsven, Sutton & Oenema, 2014