One of the hottest topics worldwide right now is the human diet, but the problem is that there are so many opinions on what the ideal human diet should be, that it’s almost impossible to know which one to follow. What we do know is that diet has a direct effect on both mental and physical health. Inappropriate diets have been shown to lead to undesirable diseases such as type 2 diabetes or even cancer. Recent research has lead many people to believe that a plant-based diet may be the answer to the worlds growing diet dilemma. It is often debated whether humans should be meat eaters or not – from our teeth (with a lack of true canines as found in carnivores) to our gut (which is similar to that of apes, who survive on a diet of fruit, leaves, nuts, insects and the occasional scrap of meat as opposed to that of bears, who are true omnivores) all the signs point towards a diet without meat. However, evolutionists have suggested that without meat and animal products we may not have evolved as successfully and speedily as we did. But the important question for us to consider now is whether it is really necessary for us to continue to incorporate meat into our diets? Secret Number 1 In the world that we live in today everything is much more accessible — and this includes plant- based food sources that are high in protein such as nuts, seeds, quorn and soy-based meat replacements. Iron can be sourced from legumes, grains, nuts and a range of vegetables instead of from meat. Even Vitamin B12 can be sourced from non-meat products such as cheese, eggs, milk and artificially fortified products. This seemingly renders meat an unnecessary part of the diet as the nutrients that meat is claimed to provide could be sources elsewhere. But does this mean that we would be better off without meat? Or that it is simply possible to meet nutritional needs without it? Secret Number 2 When meat is cooked, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PACs) are formed, and these are known to form carcinogens when metabolised in the body. Carcinogens are molecules that cause cancer. Cancer is a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body – these abnormal cells are often the result of DNA damage following checkpoint failures that are supposed to prevent cell division progression if DNA is replicated incorrectly.
Secret Number 3 Meat is a high source of N-nitroso compounds (NOC) and a form of iron (haem) that is not present elsewhere, which increases the formation of endogenous NOC production. NOC are carcinogenic; this has been confirmed in over 40 animal studies wherein NOC has been found to produce tumours, as well as in case-control studies where higher risk subjects were observed to have a greater exposure to endogenous NOC. Secret Number 4 Increased non-haem iron from consumption of meat has been found to increase reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS increase the chances of DNA mutations through a high rate of oxidation of the DNA bases. This may lead to increasing cell proliferation in the large intestine if checkpoints fail to detect this DNA damage. This is a possible mechanism explaining case-control studies with findings that there is an increased risk of colorectal cancer with high intakes of red and processed meat. Secret Number 5 There are many health pros to the removal of meat from the diet. Studies such as Tai Le “beyond meat- less” have shown evidence that a plant-based diet has many health benefits such as protection against car- diovascular disease, some cancers and total mortal- ity. Vegan diets have been shown to further protect against obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular mortality. Research, conducted by Dr. Kahleova and published in the Nutrients journal, has shown that in overweight people who adopted a vegan diet for 16 weeks there was an improvement in insulin sensitivity and beta cell function compared to that of a control group. A large-scale meta-analysis reported that there was a significant protective effect of a vegetarian diet against heart disease and all cancers. In most cases a plant-based diet has been shown to have preventative effects; however, there are also incidences of those already diagnosed with diseases wherein the removal of meat from the diet was shown to greatly aid in their treatment and recovery. In fact, people who were chronically ill were found to reap even more benefits from plant based diets than those that were healthy. According to the NHS, in those with asthma it has been found that eating cured or red meat over four times a week increased the risk of having worsened asthma by 76%. Eating red and processed meats was also found to increase the risk of depression by over 25% in a meta-analysis conducted by Li Y et al’ published on PudMed, whilst fruit and vegetables were found to have the opposite relationship. Animal products are not innocent either – it is said that there is a 40% increased risk of death in breast cancer patients who drank cows milk.
Recently, some doctors have begun prescribing plant-based diets to patients to overcome many diseases, or at least reduce their symptoms. An example of this is with rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms are believed to be relieved by reducing the patients exposure to an inflammatory compound (Neu5GC) that is found in meat and animal products, with evidence showing that the removal of meat in the diet has left sufferers feeling better within weeks. Evidence supporting this arises from “The China Study”, Campbell (2004), wherein it was shown that in countries with a lower consumption of animal products there was also a lower incidence of rheumatoid arthritis. Secret Number 6 Meals incorporating meat have a tendency to lean towards unhealthiness. Steak and chips. Burger and chips. Cured meat platters. These are not well-rounded meals as in many cases they unfortunately do not contain any vegetables. Therefore it maybe possible that the health benefits observed from
switching to a plant-based diet may simply be the result of removing meat from the diet. It could follow that the benefits seen are the result of vegetarians (and especially vegans) needing to monitor what they eat to ensure that they are meeting all of their nutritional needs. Many case-control studies have shown that there is a decreased risk of colorectal cancer with an increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. It is thought that this is because of the dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals obtained from their consumption. Vitamin C and E, beta-carotene and selenium show antioxidant activity, acting to neutralise the reactive oxygen species that can damage DNA, resulting in mutations, which may lead to cancer development. Folate (also gained from fruit and vegetable consumption) is essential for DNA synthesis and methylation. It therefore seems that vegetarianism leading to an increased awareness of dietary consumption is equally as important as the decreased consumption of meat products in prevention of diseases such as cancer. However, it seems that red and processed meat must play a role in development of these dis- eases due to the presence of NOC and ROS following their metabolism and so it is not enough to simply increase fruit and vegetable consumption. I know what you’re all thinking – how can I give up steak, burgers and lasagne?! Dr. William Kormos from Harvard Mens Health Watch has stated that there is a rise in the risk of disease with consumption of 50-100g of meat. But there is evidence that if you reduce your meat consumption by 50g per day, you will reap many of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. However, as the average UK citizen only consumes 17g of meat per day, this seems to show that most people would simply be better off without it. Just remember – just because the shops sell it, doesn’t mean we should eat it. Think about what you eat, whether it is meat or plant, diet is important!