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The Case for Meat

Updated: Jun 14

The Benefits of Animal Foods: A Nutritional Perspective


This post has been a long time coming. I get so many questions from clients around eating meat, and hear so many comments about why they've cut back, and are eating more beans and daals, I thought I'd pour out all the key points in one post so that I could direct everyone here.


There are generally three big arguments people make against eating animal foods – ethics, the environment, and nutrition. While I've already covered the environmental argument here, and will dive into the ethics aspect soon, today I want to talk solely about the nutritional benefits and necessity of animal foods.


Mongolian hunter

The Role of Animal Foods in Human Evolution

Our ancestors thrived on animal foods and plant foods. The amount of plant foods varied by region and climate, but animal foods were nonnegotiable. They were crucial for our evolutionary development. They provided dense, easily absorbed nutrients that helped us survive and grow. The high-quality protein and essential fats from meat and dairy supported the development of larger brains and more complex societies. I love Professor Miki Ben-Dor's work in this area of humans as "fat hunters," and encourage you to check out his research in this area if you want more on this topic or need more hard evidence.


The idea that plant foods can provide all the nutrients we need, in the amounts we need them, and in the most usable forms, for optimal human health and functioning is a myth at best and deliberate misinformation at worst. Animal foods are packed with nutrients that are often missing or less available in plant-based diets. For example, vitamin B12, which is vital for nerve function and DNA synthesis, is only found in significant amounts in animal products. Similarly, the heme iron, which helps prevent anemia and keeps energy levels up, from meat is more easily absorbed by our bodies compared to the non-heme iron found in plants.


raw steaks

New research is finding many more nutrients in meat that we are only now learning about. Known as metabolomics, this is a cutting-edge field that reveals the complex nutrients in foods. This science shows that animal foods contain many previously unrecognized compounds vital for health. For example, carnosine and taurine, found only in meat, have antioxidant properties and support muscle and cardiovascular health. And bioactive peptides in dairy products also have impressive health benefits, including antihypertensive, antimicrobial, and immune-modulating effects.




The idea that plant foods can provide all the nutrients we need, in the amounts we need them, and in the most usable forms, for optimal human health and functioning is a myth at best and deliberate misinformation at worst.

Nutrient Density and Bioavailability

Animal foods are nutritional powerhouses. Think about red meat, eggs, liver, and fish – they’re all loaded with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as essential minerals like zinc, selenium, and iodine. These nutrients are highly bioavailable, meaning our bodies can absorb and use them easily.


3 brown eggs

Animal proteins are complete proteins, which means they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need for muscle growth, tissue repair, and enzyme production. This makes them superior to most plant proteins, which often lack one or more essential amino acids.


Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Human Health

Fat-soluble vitamins, such as K2, A, and D, are critical for our health and are found predominantly in fatty animal foods. The healthy fats in these foods help with the digestion and absorption of these vitamins. Given how critical these vitamins are for human health, it doesn't make any logical sense that fat, the very means by which these nutrients are accessed and absorbed, should be bad for us.


cheese board

- Vitamin K2: This vitamin is crucial for heart health. It helps direct calcium to our bones and teeth, where it’s needed, and away from our arteries, where it can cause calcification and lead to heart disease. Foods like cheese, egg yolks, and liver are excellent sources of K2. K2 also works hand-in-hand with vitamin D to ensure calcium is properly used in the body, enhancing its protective effects on our hearts and bones.


- Vitamin A: Essential for fertility and prenatal development, vitamin A supports the healthy formation of organs and tissues during pregnancy. It also plays a vital role in maintaining healthy vision, immune function, and skin health. Liver, egg yolks, and butter are rich sources of vitamin A. Many people are surprised to learn that beta-carotene, found in red and orange plant foods, is not vitamin A, but a precursor. It must be converted (very inefficiently) into vitamin A in the body. Only 8% of beta-carotene is actually converted into the active form of vitamin that our body can use. And for individuals with hypothyroidism or other issues, hardly any beta-carotene is converted. And as you can guess - vitamin A from animal foods is already in its active form and more readily used by our bodies.


2 cans of sardines

- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is known for its role in bone health, but it’s also crucial for neurotransmitter and hormone functioning. Adequate levels of vitamin D help regulate mood, reduce depression, and support overall brain health. Fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks are top sources. Interestingly, vitamin D is synthesized in the skin from cholesterol when exposed to sunlight. This connection highlights the vital role of cholesterol, which is often misunderstood. Cholesterol is not just something to fear; it’s essential for producing vitamin D and many other vital functions.

Vitamin A from animal foods is already in its active form and more readily used by our bodies

Cholesterol serves as a building block for cell membranes, making them strong and flexible. Plant sterols, found in foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fortified margarines, are often promoted for their cholesterol-lowering properties. But is that really what we want? We've accepted the narrative that cholesterol should be as low as possible for so long that we've stopped considering what cholesterol actually does in the body. Cholesterol helps repair damaged tissues, produce bile acids for digestion, and synthesize hormones like cortisol and sex hormones. It plays a crucial role in the body's response to injury, helping to repair and regenerate cells. This old paradigm needs to be revisited because maintaining adequate cholesterol levels is vital for holistic health.

Given how critical [Vitamins A, D, and K2] are for human health, it doesn't make any logical sense that fat, the very means by which these nutrients are accessed and absorbed, should be bad for us.

Saturated Fats and Their Role in Our Diet

Saturated fats, found in meats, butter, and cheese, saturated fats play important roles in cell membrane integrity, hormone production, and energy storage. Research suggests that saturated fats do not increase heart disease risk.


a baby breastfeeding

Saturated fats are also crucial for brain development, especially in children. These fats provide the building blocks for brain cells, supporting cognitive functions and overall brain health. It's not an accident that ~60% of breast milk is saturated fat.


Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies with Animal Foods

Many common health issues today can be linked to nutrient deficiencies that might be improved by incorporating more animal foods into our diets. Yes, genetics can play a role, but environment (nutrition, stress, trauma, etc.) often has a bigger impact. New findings in epigenetics proves this point. For example:


- Depression and Anxiety: Did you know that neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain that regulate mood, are made from proteins? Animal proteins are complete proteins, providing all the essential amino acids needed for neurotransmitter production. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D are linked to mood disorders. Animal foods like fatty fish, red meat, and eggs provide these crucial nutrients, potentially helping to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.


raw liver and onions on a cutting board

- Infertility: Vitamin A is vital for reproductive health. Adequate levels support fertility and healthy prenatal development. Animal sources like liver and eggs provide this nutrient in its most bioavailable form.


- Moodiness and Impatience: Stable blood sugar levels are crucial for mood regulation. Stable fats and protein from animal foods helps maintain these levels, reducing mood swings and irritability.


- Developmental Delays: Nutrients like DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) and choline (found in eggs) are essential for brain development. Including these in the diet can support cognitive function and reduce developmental delays in children. Saturated fats also play a critical role in brain development, providing the necessary components for building and maintaining healthy brain cells.


butter

- Neurodegenerative Disorders: Research suggests that saturated fats may be protective for the brain, potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's. These fats support the structure and function of brain cells, helping to maintain cognitive health as we age.


the cover of Dr. Weston Price's book

- Small Jaws and Dental Issues: Modern diets often lack the nutrients needed for proper bone development, leading to smaller jaws and crowded teeth. Vitamin K2 and other bone-supporting nutrients in animal foods can help ensure proper jaw development and dental health. Check out the work of Weston A. Price, an early 20th century dentist who traveled the world to find out why more and more kids were coming in with cavities, crowded teeth, and jaws too small to hold all their teeth. You'll be blown away.


Historical and Cultural Insights

Historically, cultures that included animal foods in their diets thrived. Traditional diets from the Mediterranean to the Inuit incorporated a balance of plant and animal foods, providing a broad spectrum of nutrients. These diets are linked to longevity and low rates of chronic diseases, suggesting that animal foods are an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.


I guess that's it for now...

To sum up: eating animal foods is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and backed by modern science. Their nutrient density, bioavailability, and unique health benefits make them an essential part of a balanced diet. As we explore nutrition through metabolomics and other advanced fields, it becomes clear that animal foods play a vital role in supporting human health and development. Embrace a diet with high-quality animal products like red meat, eggs, cheese, liver, and fish to ensure you get the full spectrum of nutrients for optimal well-being. If you learned something new, please share this article with friends and family.


Stay tuned - I'm going to write another article on the ethics of eating meat, the third leg of the 3-legged vegan stool. Check out my article on the first-leg of the stool: the environmental impact of eating meat, and also the one I wrote for Women's Day, on the role livestock play in women's empowerment if you haven't already.


Remember, health is a birthright, claim yours!

Lubna

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