It could be said that the reason humanity has become such a successful species on this earth is may be due to eating meat. For thousands of years, our pre-human ancestors survived the hard conditions of prehistoric savannah by scavenging what other top predators managed to kill. It wasn’t until humans walked upright and evolved large brains for socialization that we started actively hunting for our tasty meal.
Meat is very caloric dense compared to eating plants. Plants are harder to digest and require a lot of energy to absorb. (1)
Meat, on the other, especially after it has been cooked, releases a lot of available energy for humans to use allowing our brains to grow larger and making us more adaptable no matter the environment we find ourselves in.
Health benefits of eating meat
There is a lot of debate about the ethics and morality of continuing to consume meat in this modern age of bioengineering. Why continue to eat animal meat when there are other sources of protein that are available to us? Below are the evidence based health benefits of eating meat and why it should remain in our diet.
Meat is a natural source of protein
The healthy lean human is made up of about 16% to 20% protein. And since the body is not designed to store protein, it is important that we get enough of it from our daily diet. It’s possible to get the protein we need from different sources, the most common of which are plants and animals. Many believe that it doesn’t matter where you source your protein so long as you get enough of it. Vegans and vegetarians tout that plant-based protein is better than animal-based protein. On the other hand, meat-lovers believe the opposite – that protein sourced from meat is more natural and offers more nutrients. (2) (3)
When we consume protein, it is broken down into its basic components called amino acids. These amino acids are very important for almost all metabolic processes that our bodies do. However, different kinds of proteins have different types of amino acids. Some plant-based proteins contain only low levels of certain amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, isoleucine, and lycine. Protein sourced from animals, on the other hand, tends to have a good balance of the amino acids that our bodies need. (3)
In general, humans need both essential and non-essential amino acids. The body is able to produce non-essential amino acids but not essential amino acids. This can only be obtained in our diet. Animal protein sources like poultry, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are considered complete proteins because they contain essential amino acids that the body needs. (2)
Heme iron source
Iron is an important mineral that the body needs in order to function properly. Of note, iron is crucial for the function of hemoglobin, the protein primarily responsible for the transport of oxygen in the blood. Shortage of iron in the body will lead to all sorts of health problems such as iron deficiency anemia. Most people who suffer from this disorder are normally those who don’t take iron supplements or whose diets are severely restricted, like those following a vegan diet. (4)
Heme is an essential nutrient as it critically impacts diverse physiological and pathological processes.
Dietary iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is primarily found in meat like fish and poultry. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is commonly found in plants. About 95% of the functional iron in the human body is heme hence there is a concerted effort to consider heme as an essential nutrient. (5)
Heme is found in meat in the form of myoglobin and hemoglobin.
The human body absorbs iron from animals better than plant-based iron. People who regularly eat meat are able to get enough heme iron through their diet. Vegans and vegetarians, on the other hand, need to take iron supplements. However, iron supplements are not something that is readily prescribed unless medical tests have revealed the need to take iron supplements. Although the body is able to regulate how much iron it absorbs, it has no mechanism to remove excess iron. (6)
Animal meat is good for muscle building
We’ve already discussed just how important protein is to the body. Our body just about needs 22 types of amino acids in order to function optimally. For example, we need protein in order to repair and grow damaged cells and tissues. Some of these amino acids the body is able to produce on its own, some require external sources such as plant-based or animal meat. (2) (3)
The good news is protein is readily abundant. Animal meat, in general, contains the most protein and is considered to be the best source. It should be said, also, that about 60% of the protein that is consumed around the world is sourced from plants. The difference between plant protein and animal protein is the amount of amino acid present in each source. Animal meat contains a higher concentration of the essential amino acid which means it’s possible to get more protein when you consume animal meat than plant-based protein. (7)(8)
Research has shown that proteins sourced from animals are also far easier to absorb than plant proteins. This is great news for people who have plans to bulk up. They don’t have to consume as much food just to reach their daily protein intake to build more muscles. Building muscles means consuming plenty of protein after a workout. This can be achieved best by consuming animal meat. (9)
Animal meat reduces appetite
The world is facing a rising health threat and that is obesity. The fact of the matter is producing cheap and unhealthy food with very little nutritional value is rampant in every corner of the globe and it is one main reason so many people are getting bigger and bigger. To combat this, there is a global effort to improve the quality of our diet. Obesity can also be address by reducing caloric intake – essentially reducing our appetite.
The body evolves during a time in human history when food was scarce. Finding enough food to eat expends just as much energy as finding it in the first place which means the body is finely attuned to getting as many calories as it can. Unfortunately, in an age where food scarcity is a thing of the past, our body’s natural tendency is to eat as much as we can think we might not get another chance which leads to obesity.
There are many ways to suppress appetite but new finds suggest that upping your protein intake is one way to do that. A diet high in protein triggers the release of a hormone that suppresses our hunger, according to research done using laboratory mice. When fed a high-protein diet, the mice produced high levels of peptide YY – an enzyme known to suppress hunger and appetite. These findings suggest that a diet high in protein – especially protein sourced from animals – is one way to reduce weight. (10)
Keeps brain healthy
A diet that comprises vegetables, fruits, and protein sources like meat and nuts all make up a balanced diet. It is recommended that about 20% of our daily caloric intake should come from lean protein. (11)
A review published in PLoS ONE expresses that access to a diet that is rich in protein high in B vitamins and animal protein helps nursing women wean their infants sooner. As we’ve established, meat is rich in iron and iron is crucial for the growth and development of the brain while the fetus is in the womb. Meat has also shown to be important for ancient humans and might have contributed to the success of Homo sapiens in an evolutionary sense. (12)
About 2.5 million years ago, meat first became an important part of the prehistoric human diet. Research involving the study of early hominids suggests that meat consumption led to changes in the human skull. As the access to calories and protein became more accessible, the brain had more sources of energy and thus allowed our brains to get bigger and more complex.
Animal meat is also rich in nutrients like zinc, selenium, magnesium, vitamins, and fatty acids. Not only are these important for proper brain development, but they also promote good vision, stronger bones, and teeth, and boost the body’s immunity.
Lean meat offers many benefits
Lean meat is an excellent source of protein and base on its name it has a very low-fat content. For the most part, lean meat is considered to be a safe source of protein. Examples of lean meat include:
- Chicken with the skin removed
- pork chops (with fats trimmed)
The fat contained in pork chops accounts for two-thirds of its total fat content while the skin on chickens accounts for about 80% of its total fat count.
Lean meats are considered to be staples for people who follow a low-fat and low-calorie diet. Meat from poultry is also rich in important vitamins and minerals like vitamin B3 and B6, choline, and selenium.
Selenium is an effective antioxidant which means it can neutralize free radicals which cause cell damage when it is left to accumulate in the body. Free radicals are harmful substances that are byproducts of natural metabolism. It is removed from the body but as we age that mechanism becomes less efficient. Free radicals are left to build up causing irreversible harm to cells and tissues.
Meat is Tasty as Tastes matter
One underrated reason why eating meat should be part of everyone’s daily diet has to do with taste. Let’s face it, meat is delicious, and although there have been numerous efforts to make sure alternative meat options or plant-based meats reach the same level of taste, eating real meat is just different. Even “restaurants with vegetarian options” have remarked that most of their customers still prefer the taste of real meat to any meat substitute.
Humanity’s relationship with food goes beyond achieving the required caloric intake in order to maintain crucial metabolic function. Tastes are also important in our overall experience. You would much prefer eating a delicious meal than a meal that is healthy and that has a significant effect on our food intake.
Stressing too much on what we eat in a day and how many calories it might contain only encourages us to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Consuming food that tastes good and also provides what our bodies need helps to satiate our hunger thereby faster than bland or unappetizing food. It forces our mind to have a new relationship with food, one that is based uncomplicated and sustainable, just like our prehistoric ancestors.
Whether you believe animal meat should be faced out, the fact still remains that meat is the number one source of protein and other nutrients and minerals that our body needs. It stands to reason that unless we are able to grow lab meat efficiently and quickly enough, many of us will have to remain eating meat the old fashion way.
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