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While the majority of Americans are leading an omnivorous lifestyle, many are making the switch to a vegan or plant-based diet. While not all meats are bad for your health, in fact, the leaner ones have many great benefits, processed meats and fatty cuts of red meat can be especially dangerous to your health. Although there are some undeniable benefits to a protein-rich meat-eating diet, there are just as many benefits to eliminating meat from your diet altogether. Take a look at a few of the reasons you might consider nixing meat from your diet.
Important Note: All the assertions made herein are based on the most up-to-date scientific research at the time of this publication.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
No matter how lean the cuts of meat you consume are, red meats and processed meats such as ground beef have been conclusively linked to an increased risk for heart disease. Moreover, many studies have drawn the frightening connection between saturated fat, primarily found in red and processed meats, and cardiovascular disease. Besides the saturated fat content in processed meats, they’re also high in sodium which can lead to high blood pressure. It’s worth noting that scientists caution against the following cuts of meat if you hope to reduce your risk for potential heart disease: hot dogs, fatty cuts of red meat, sausages, and bacon (bummer, right?).
Notably, it’s not entirely necessary to eliminate meat from your diet to stave off heart disease. Better meat cuts with less saturated fat include chicken, turkey, other poultry, and lean cuts of red meat. Although meat is a great source of protein, there are other, more heart-healthy ways to improve your protein intake. By replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, the likes of which are found in fish, nuts, and flax, you can maintain your body’s protein needs while simultaneously reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, a plant-based diet that includes nuts/seeds, avocado, and olive oil delivers more heart-conscious nutrients and healthy fats than meat products.
General Consensus: 5/5 and here is why. Undoubtedly, choosing leaner cuts of meat and/or following a plant-based diet is scientifically known to reduce one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Supports Weight Management
To some degree, limiting or excluding meat from one’s diet can be beneficial to weight loss and management. Multiple studies have found that people following a strict vegetarian diet for an extended length of time had much better weight-loss results than those who included meat in their diets. Another facet of a vegetarian diet that has a positive effect on weight loss is that vegetarians typically consume fewer calories and less fat than meat-eaters. As with any weight-loss program, simply eliminating meat from your diet won’t necessarily have positive results; mindfully substituting protein sources and nutritious foods will lead to those positive results. However, substituting meat for processed foods can have adverse effects on weight loss.
General Consensus: 3.5/5 and here is why. While mindful elimination of meat that substitutes for nutritious, protein-packed food sources can lead to positive weight-loss outcomes, removing meat from your diet will not necessarily equate to weight loss.
Improves Gut Health
Individuals who exclude meat from their diets tend to have a vegetable- and fruit-rich diet. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of dietary fiber which is integral to your gut health. Of note, dietary fiber feeds the good gut bacteria which produces necessary anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting compounds. A healthy gut is important to protect against chronic illness, cancer, and type-2 diabetes. What’s more, when plant proteins are substituted for meat proteins a type of compound called polyphenols aid in maintaining healthy gut bacteria. Although there’s not a ton of research about the effect of animal proteins on gut health, there is tons of research on the benefits of a vegetarian diet and its positive effects on gut health.
General Consensus: 4/5 and here is why. While not a lot is known about possible negative effects meat may have on gut health, there is tons of research touting the benefits of a vegetarian diet to gut health.
Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers
There are a few significant studies that suggest eating a meat-free diet may reduce your risk of a future cancer diagnosis. For starters, different types of meats and how they’re processed come with different risk factors for particular cancer types. For instance, cured and smoked meats, as well as bacon and hot dogs, have been linked to a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer; red and processed meat such as ground beef has been connected to an increased risk for the development of breast cancer. Although the exact ways in which these meats induce certain cancers are unclear, it’s believed that the processing and cooking methods of meats may be to blame. While the connection between meat and cancer isn’t concrete, it is clear that plant-based diets do protect against some of the aforementioned cancers.
General Consensus: 3/5 and here is why. Only a handful of studies show a clear connection between diets that include meat and a higher risk for cancer; more research is warranted.
Red meat is one of the leading causes of high cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, and diabetes among other chronic illnesses. By reducing or entirely eliminating your intake of red meat you can limit a major source of high cholesterol. If you eliminate meat from your diet and choose plant-based proteins instead, you’ll inherently boost your intake of dietary fiber which is known to lower cholesterol. Finally, consuming comparable amounts of plant-based proteins instead of meat proteins will undeniably lead to better management of cholesterol levels.
General Consensus: 5/5 and here is why. Thousands of scientific studies link red meat intake to high cholesterol; by reducing or eliminating red meat from your diet, you may be able to better manage your cholesterol.
Lessens the Likelihood of a Type-2 Diabetes Diagnosis
Although lean meats are generally a recommended protein source consistent with many diet-controlled diabetes plans, plant-based proteins seem to improve insulin resistance better than meat sources might. Furthermore, as previously noted, plant-based diets are rich in dietary fiber which is beneficial to gut health; gut health, in turn, can protect against the onset of type-2 diabetes. A final way that reducing or eliminating meat from your diet may protect against diabetes is by reducing abdominal fat caused by the saturated fat in meat. It’s well-known that individuals with higher body fat are at a higher risk for developing type-2 diabetes. By managing abdominal fat through the elimination of meat, you may inadvertently reduce your diabetes risk.
General Consensus: 3.5/5 and here is why. While eliminating meat from your diet may lead to a reduced risk for type-2 diabetes, there are so many other factors that lead to such a diagnosis. It’s not likely this one step will rule out your odds of a diabetes diagnosis altogether.
Unlikely Benefit: Further Research Needed
General Consensus: 2/5 and here is why. While it’s true that some meats may cause inflammation, there are so many other inflammatory foods that eliminating meat alone won’t necessarily maintain reduced inflammation.