Are you someone who, when planning for a pizza party, cannot resist ordering a Meat Lovers pizza? Or perhaps when you go for an all-you-can-eat buffet, you avoid the vegetable section like the plague but orbit around the meat section?
From grilled to frying to slow-cooking meat and even eating it raw in cases of tartare and sashimi, it is undeniable that many people are fond of meat and its many ways of delectable preparation.
Meat Is A Good Source of Nutrition
Meat, from time prehistoric, is an essential ingredient for growth and sustenance thanks to its nutrient density. More than what you can derive from other food sources, meat pack significantly more protein gram for gram. Depending on your sources, meat can also more wallet-friendly if you are concerned about how much you spend to fill up the protein count in your diet. Just half a chicken breast gives you about 31g of protein, an amount that will take about 300g of boiled chickpeas or 360g of tofu.
Meat is also a natural source of various essential nutrients like choline, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, potassium, selenium and zinc. These minerals are essential for the proper functioning of the body’s many systems.
While meat is more economical for hitting the desired protein content, it is not anywhere cheaper than vegetables if filling up your hungry stomach is your main aim. But as societies become wealthier and the means of meat production become less costly, people of today are able to (and are definitely) consuming more meat than before.
But It Comes With A Health Cost
Beyond just contributing more fat to your already burgeoning waistline, people who consume a lot of meat are exposing themselves to a higher risk of developing liver disease due to their tendency of having excess liver fat as compared to people who derive protein from mainly vegetables, according to a Dutch study.
The Dutch researchers looked closely at non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition frequently linked to obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Although making healthier changes to diets are recommended treatments for sufferers of NAFLD, not much is known if such changes can actually prevent the onset of the disease.
To find out, the researchers looked at dietary surveys and liver scans of nearly four thousand adults whose average age is 70; 34 per cent of the subjects had NAFLD and a great majority of this group were overweight.
The analysis found that the people who consumed the most amount of meat were 50 per cent more likely to develop fatty livers than those who ate less. The results were independent of demographic, lifestyle and metabolism factors, and most importantly, of total calories consumed too; having a diverse diet was most important, it seems.
The participants who had healthy livers had an average caloric intake of 2,052 daily, while those with fatty livers had 1996 calories a day. The latter group derived more calories from meat at 16 per cent of total caloric intake as compared with the former group at 15.4 per cent.
Fatty Liver Disease
Most people have some fat in the liver, but when the amount of fat exceeds 5 per cent of the liver’s total weight, it can lead to fatty liver disease.
Drinking too much alcohol can harm the liver and cause an accumulation of fat to become what is known as alcoholic fatty liver. But this condition is not strictly reserved from heavy drinkers.
Although the study was not done in a controlled setting created to prove how changing one’s diet might affect the risk of fatty liver, and that the researchers relied on surveys which are not always reliable, the findings support existing evidence that suggests eating a healthy diet minimizes the risk.
Meats, especially red meat, contains more saturated fat than any other protein sources, and this fat can cause fatty livers to develop. Processed meats are particularly risky too, as it is a contributing factor to inflammation and insulin resistance that can exacerbate the situation.
Potential Cancer Risk
There is a growing body of evidence that high consumption of red meat is linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer. Red meats may add to the risk factors as the chemicals that are formed naturally during the digestion process damage the intestinal walls—prolonged damage may lead to cancer. Red meats are also a staple of processed meats and contain nitrates and nitrites which also form these chemicals.
Another possible factor could be the tendency of red and processed meat eaters missing out on other protective nutrients otherwise derived from a diet made up of fruits and vegetables.
How Now, Brown Cow?
If reducing total meat consumption is a non-question, then you should at least reduce your red meats, namely beef, lamb, pork and venison, to twice a week at maximum. Avoid processed meats like ham, sausages and canned ones totally or, at most, eaten rarely. Opt to replace them with chicken and fish instead.
One diet you could hop onto is the Mediterranean diet that features whole grains, loads of fresh vegetables, lean meats, fish and olive oil.