Is meat bad for you?

I’ve found that many students want to know – is meat bad for you?

We can easily see that industrial meat production (in facilities such as certified animal feeding operations) harms the environment and facilitates antibiotic resistance.  But does meat really harm human health directly?  Should someone avoid eating meat altogether – even sustainably or organically grown beef and lean meats? Or are there benefits to eating meat in moderation? Overall, we believe that all foods can be part of a healthy diet – including meats.

Saying “meat is bad for you” is a very strong statement, and one that would be difficult to prove based on the scientific evidence we have. Understanding why requires digging into some of the overall challenges with evidence-based nutrition. For example, if we do a study and find that people who eat lots of meat are more likely to get cancer or be overweight, we still can’t know for sure whether it was the large amount of meat, the additives in processed foods or the lack of fruits/vegetables/whole grains that made them sick. Additionally, we don’t know that eating a moderate amount of meat in a single meal is going to cause any problems. If we imagine that we could prove meat causes bad health, we still wouldn’t know what makes meat harmful. Is it the meat itself, or just a component of the meat (i.e. saturated fat)? If the culprit was saturated fat, we could get just as sick drinking coconut milk even if we don’t eat meat.

Meat isn’t bad for you. That being said, we can use common sense based on proven nutrition science to understand the role of meat in a healthy diet. We know that:

  • Meat has some important nutrients in it like protein, vitamin B12, iron and folate.
  • Eating too many calories will make you gain weight.
  • Eating too much saturated fat can cause health problems.
  • Depending on the type of meat and how you prepare it, the calories and amount of saturated fat in it change.

The Mediterranean diet, for example, includes plenty of meat, and at the same time has been linked to improved health and lower risk of disease because it focuses on lean meats like chicken and fish.

Vegetarianism is not for everyone and it is certainly not the only way to be healthy. To get the most health benefits from your meat, focus on lean meats like chicken and fish and opt for baking or grilling rather than frying. Limit high-fat meats like bacon and beef. Try to eat meat for one meal during the day, and get your protein from beans, nuts, eggs or yogurt at other meals. Meat isn’t bad for you; indeed it can be part of your healthy and balanced diet.

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