Plant-Based Diet More Healthful Than Red Meat

The health benefits associated with plant-based diets are steering people away from red meat.The health benefits associated with plant-based diets are steering people away from red meat.

Red meat contains numerous vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthful, balanced diet. In recent years however, studies have suggested that red meat intake can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. 

For many households, red meat is considered a food staple. But over the past 10 years alone, its consumption has fallen by around 10 pounds per person, with 2014 seeing the lowest intake since 1960, at just 101.7 pounds per person.

According to a 2016 Harris Poll, millions of people are opting for plant-based foods over meat-based products because they are more healthful. A number of studies have suggested that when it comes to health, a plant-based diet is the way to go. 

In December 2016, a position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claimed that a plant-based diet can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 62%, as well as reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, reported.

“If you could bottle up a plant-based prescription, it would become a blockbuster drug overnight,” commented paper co-author Susan Levin, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.

It is not only the health benefits associated with plant-based diets that are steering us away from red meat, but also the health risks that might arise from eating red meat, and cancer is perhaps the most well-established health implication.

In October 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report concluding that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” meaning that there is some evidence that it can increase the risk of cancer.

Additionally, the WHO concluded that processed meats - defined as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation” - is “carcinogenic to humans,” meaning that there is sufficient evidence that processed meat intake increases cancer risk.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group which reviewed more than 800 studies found that each 50-gram portion of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The IARC also uncovered evidence of a link between red meat intake and increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

In July 2016, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, reported a dose-dependent link between red meat consumption and risk of kidney failure. For example, participants who were in the highest 25% of red meat intake were found to have a 40% increased risk of kidney failure, compared with those in the lowest 25%.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the potential health risks of red meat intake, it is important to note that it is full of nutrients.

A 100-gram portion of raw ground beef contains around 25% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-3, and 32% of the recommended daily allowance of zinc. Red meat is also high in heme-iron - which is absorbed better than plant-derived iron - vitamin B-6, selenium, and other vitamins and minerals.

Still, based on the evidence to date, public health guidelines recommend limiting red meat consumption.

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