Humans have been consuming meat for centuries. It has long been a staple of the human diet, and it is still referred to on the food triangle as being an important source of protein, vitamins, amino acids and omega three etc. But times are changing, information is becoming more readily available and people are starting to ask the question – do we need meat to be healthy?
Usually, one of the first things we think of when it comes to a balanced, omnivorous diet is meat is our dominant source of protein. This is probably true for most people who eat meat. However, could it be healthier to source our protein from non-animal products? Well, when you consider that meat also contains varying levels of saturated fat, sometimes hormones, and varying levels of cholesterol, then the answer may be that – yes, we can get our protein from healthier sources. While meat may be the most convenient option, it’s also not always the cheapest or best for us in the long term. Additional sources of protein that don’t contain the cholesterol and saturated fat that meat has include: lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy, tofu/tempeh/seitan (which can be bought in the form of meat substitutes such as sausages and burgers), beans (baked beans, kidney and butter beans, mixed beans, edamame beans, and so on), legumes, potatoes and leafy greens. While we may need larger quantities when it comes to gaining the same amount of protein from plants, it could be a healthier option. Plus, there are also plant-based protein shakes and bars if we’re hoping to get that extra dose.
Another concern regarding the requirement of meat for a healthy lifestyle is that it gives us strength and energy. However, much of this is based on the protein content, which we have already covered. But what if you’re looking to bulk up and perhaps start a career in fitness and health training. Your protein intake will have to be quite substantial. In cases like these, many still tend to rely on meat and animal products as an easy, familiar and convenient way to ensure they’re meeting protein requirements. Plus, if you’re exercising regularly, hopefully the saturated fat intake that comes along with meat consumption will be being managed by an overall health fitness routine. However, wouldn’t it be even healthier to cut out the cholesterol and fats that are contained in meat, if you could, and still build muscle? Well, it might help to know that there are body-builders and fitness fanatics out there that live on an entirely vegan diet. Paired with our comments on protein intake above (including easily accessible protein supplements such as shakes and bars), humans get the majority of their energy from carbohydrate-rich food such as potatoes, veg, beans, pasta and rice.
It could be argued that the biggest reason why people would choose meat over plants as their main protein intake is because it tastes so good. We can’t argue with that. Taste pleasure is a big factor in terms of our overall lifestyle: what we enjoy has a big impact on how we feel. But consider that most of the tastiest meat we eat is so good because it is seasoned, served in breadcrumbs, with gray or alongside an amazing sauce. With so many replacement options that taste just as good, and could potentially be better for our overall health – does taste pleasure outweigh the positive health and environmental impact of living on a plant-based diet?
At the end of the day, it’s likely that our dietary choices will come down to taste, convenience, health-impacts and potentially, our ethical concerns. So, while meat does come with higher health risks than a balanced, plant-based diet, it still offers a convenient and more familiar source of protein. However, trends are rapidly changing, and with them, suppliers are also changing. So, healthier options could become more readily available and avoiding meat could be the answer to a healthier lifestyle than consuming it.