Despite the Trendiness of Plant-Based Diets, Americans Are Eating More Meat Than Ever
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And yet a new survey shows that many Americans are still uncomfortable thinking about where dinner comes from.
For the first time, 100 billion pounds of meat will be produced by the end of this year, partly due to cheaper production costs and higher export demand, according to Bloomberg.
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According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lower prices at grocery stores will encourage Americans to buy more meat than before, whereas general supply of meat is abundant due to the lower cost of feed grain and livestock production materials. Data shows that shoppers are enjoying the lowest prices on chicken breasts in a span of five years, and steak and ham are also at more affordable price points—the same is true for eggs.
Despite low prices, more people might be inclined to reduce how much meat they're eating if they were required to face where the meat is actually coming from—which is to say if they had to harvest it themselves.
A new survey from Cherry Digital, a public relations agency, asked 2,500 meat eaters from across all 50 states if knowing how the animal was raised and slaughtered would change their habits.
Thinking of giving up meat? Read these first:
Nearly half of those surveyed said they wouldn't eat meat if they had to butcher the animal at home—of those who said they would, 68 percent were men whereas only 34 percent were women. These numbers actually correlate with existing data on who is most likely to stick to a vegetarian diet in the U.S.: 59 percent of vegetarians are women, whereas 41 percent are men. If you're interested, you can see a state-by-state breakdown of who would be more likely to give up meat if they had to harvest it themselves:
Cherry Digital's survey also reveals that more Americans would be willing to alter their diet to go meatless at least two days a week. This correlates with the uptick in popularity of plant-based eating. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they would consider what's commonly referred to as a "flexitarian" diet: Primarily eating a vegetarian diet, with the occasional meat or fish dish included. Luckily, that turns out to be much healthier.
The bottom line: While Americans seem to be relying more on meat than ever, the growth of plant-based items is also just as strong: Sources of alternative proteins is one of this year's top trends, and we can expect to only see growth for meat-free items in the future.
Plant-based or fish-heavy diets lower odds of severe COVID infection
GREENWICH, Conn. — After more than a year of research into what makes some coronavirus patients sicker than others, could the answer come down to what they’re eating? A new study finds a healthy diet focusing on plant-based foods and fish may lower the odds of a severe COVID-19 infection.
Specifically, Dr. Sara Seidelmann from Stamford Hospital and her team say eating more greens can reduce the chances of developing moderate coronavirus symptoms by more than 70 percent. Plant-based or fish diets also cut the risk of severe symptoms by nearly 60 percent.
Several studies have suggested diet plays an important role when it comes to how badly COVID affects people, and for how long, but there is little evidence to support this. Now, researchers have found what foods dull the deadly virus and should therefore be on the menu.
“The trends in this study are limited by study size (small numbers with a confirmed positive test) and design (self-reporting on diet and symptoms) so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings,” says Deputy Chair of the NNEdPro Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce, Shane McAuliffe, in a media release.
Did plant-based diets save hospital workers from COVID?
Study authors analyzed survey data from 2,884 frontline doctors and nurses heavily exposed to the virus while working in hospitals in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The team asked participants to provide detailed information about their dietary patterns in an online survey from July to September 2020.
Questions included whether they had experienced any COVID symptoms and how severe they had been, as well as inquiries into their backgrounds, medical histories, and lifestyles. Researchers divided diet information into different categories, including plant-based, plant-based with fish, and low carb-high protein diets.
Plant-based diets are typically higher in vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and lower in poultry and red or processed meats. Out of the 568 workers infected with COVID-19, 138 said they had experienced moderate or severe symptoms. However, those who followed a plant-based diet had 73 percent lower odds of a moderate infection.
Likewise, those primarily eating fish or plant-based foods were 59 percent less likely to end up with a severe case of the virus. Even when taking into account people’s weight and other health conditions, eating more vegetables helped tame COVID.
What makes fish and greens so healthy?
Dr. Seidelmann’s team notes men outnumbered women in the study, making it possible that the results may be less applicable to women. Despite this, they add plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, especially phytochemicals like polyphenols and carotenoids. These foods also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, all of which are important for a healthy immune system.
Additionally, fish are an important source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which have vital anti-inflammatory properties. Replacing red meat with fruit and vegetables could therefore help protect those who are most at risk of ending up in the hospital with severe COVID symptoms.
“Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,” study authors conclude.
Meat sales at retail surge despite rise of plant-based options and fewer consumers identifying as meat-eatersSource: Getty/ Noel Hendrickson
Related tags: Meat, FMI
The 16 th annual “Power of Meat” report released last week reports retail meat department sales surged 19.2% in 2020 to $82.5 billion – a dramatic increase from 1% sales growth in 2019. While much of this growth can be attributed to a 7.4% increase in the price per volume of meat last year, volume still increased 11% in the period.
Much of this increase was driven by shifting habits during the pandemic, such as consuming more food at home, including lunch, which previously may have been eaten at school, the office, or on-the-go.
“More than three-quarters of shoppers changed something about their meat purchases during the pandemic,” according to the report. “Driven by dinner and lunch, 43% of shoppers bough more meat and poultry. Additionally, four in 10 shoppers bought differently, whether different types (42%), different cuts (40%) or different brands (45%). The biggest drivers of buying differently are looking for better value, cooking more meals and fewer store trips.”
The jump in retail meat sales and volume at retail comes even as many Americans say they are cutting back on their meat consumption and focusing on more plant-based diets.
According to the report, 19% of consumers now describe themselves as ‘flexitarians,’ who eat mostly plants but occasionally meat or poultry. This was up from 10% in 2019. At the same time, the percentage of people who describe themselves as meat-eaters fell from 85% in 2019 to 71% in 2021. In addition, 34% of shoppers say they want to reduce their meat and poultry consumption, but only 6% have committed to a vegetarian or vegan diet, the report notes.
Plant-Based Meat Has Roots in the 1970s
Plant-based meats may be high tech, but the ideas behind them have been around for decades.
“We all know that Americans love the hamburger. But now, scientists are trying to cancel beef.” “The Impossible Whopper —” Alternative meat is a hot commodity. “That patty is 100 percent plant-based protein.” “No way.” “No way.” But there’s more to it than just its beefy taste. “Meat takes an enormous toll on natural resources and the environment.” “Under the current system, it’s not sustainable. It has to change.” While the new plant-based meats may be high-tech, the ideas behind them have been around for decades. “Choosing a plant diet, you can both help yourself and change the world all at the same time.” “So much of what we do was in that book. You know, it was written there. But it takes that long for it to get into mainstream dialogue.” “Hello.” “What’s happening?” Ethan Brown started his alternative meat company, Beyond Meat, in 2009, with a radical idea: You don’t need an animal to make meat. “So this is the 2.0 burger, which hasn’t been released yet, right? If we can make it so it tastes and delights just like animal protein, very few consumers are going to say, ‘Nah, I just don’t want to do that.’” Brown wants Beyond to play a role in the fight against climate change. “That’s excellent. Very good. “You know, for a long time, I worked in the energy sector. Spending all of my career in this area, but not really focusing on that main problem. And that main problem is really livestock.” Cattle, especially in feedlots, emit dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases, like methane and nitrous oxide. “Our farming methods,, agriculture land use, deforestation, are contributing substantially to the climate crisis.” Because cows consume large amounts of grain, rising global meat consumption means increased exploitation of land and water. According to the United Nations, nearly 80 percent of the world’s agricultural land is used to graze or grow food for livestock. “We’ve known about the resource-intense nature of agriculture. We’ve known about its implications in climate. We’ve known about the health implications of consumption of high levels of animal protein. And we’ve, of course, known about the, you know, conditions that animals are raised in, in industrial agriculture. And every day we work away at solving for those problems by focusing on one thing: transitioning the protein at the center of the plate from an animal-based protein to a plant-based protein. That’s it.” At Beyond Meat’s lab, they study every detail, hoping to replicate the taste, texture, aroma and even the sizzle of meat. “The product we’re best-known for is the Beyond Burger. And we’ve spent years actually working toward getting it to the point where a mainstream consumer would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a really meat-like experience for me. It’s delivering the protein I need. It’s satiating, et cetera.’” Companies like Beyond want consumers to consider the social and environmental impact of the food they eat. But while their products are new, this idea — that an individual’s choice to eat less meat can benefit the world — is not. It was first introduced by a young author, Frances Moore Lappé, nearly 50 years ago. “Frances Moore Lappé, author of the popular bestseller, ‘Diet for a Small Planet.’” In 1971, when she published “Diet For a Small Planet” … “A new hard look at the problem of hunger in America.” … the world was facing a hunger crisis. “Even though we are growing more grain on this planet, there are many more mouths to feed.” “The world was obsessed with feeding people. And I thought, ah, if I could just understand why people are hungry.” Conventional wisdom said we were reaching the Earth’s capacity to produce food. But Moore Lappé, who was only 27 years old, buried herself in data about global production. “It is the original manuscript for ‘Diet for a Small Planet,’ dated Jan. 6, 1971. I just said, O.K., I’m going to figure out, are we really at the Earth’s limits? Is that really the cause of hunger? These are all the calculations that I did with little line rulers. And so, I got my dad’s slide rule, and I just, I just sat there, hour after hour, literally putting two and two together.” What she discovered astounded her. If all of the world’s grain was fed to people, there would be plenty to eat. “There’s more than enough for us all. If you take, as I did, very simply, you take the world food supply and you divide it by the number of people on the planet, more, more than enough.” But we were feeding much of what we grew to cattle, which were remarkably inefficient at making meat. In one chart, Moore Lappé illustrated how 21 pounds of protein fed to a cow made just one pound of protein for people. “What I wanted to get across is that our current food system is inefficient, unjust, illogical and destructive, you know? That it’s just, not — we can do a lot better, and we need not have hunger.” Her solution, a meat-free diet, was, in the beef-loving 1970s … “They’re the beef people.” . so alien, the publisher asked her to include recipes showing options for meat-free meals. “I wanted to encourage people that, hey, we can be part of the solution, because I think we want to have meaning in our lives. And it feels good if we can align our daily choices with something larger.” “Has it helped people change their diets? Are people changing their diets?” “Oh, definitely. I think it has been a jumping off point for many people.” Despite little media attention, “Diet for a Small Planet” became a counterculture best seller, inspiring readers with the message that everyday choices and individual actions could make a difference. One of them was a young environmentalist, Seth Tibbott. “I read that book, and I became a vegetarian.” In 1980, he started a business in Forest Grove, Ore., the Turtle Island Soy Dairy, which made some of the first alternative meats from a soy protein called tempeh. “This was the first ad that I created for Turtle Island Tempeh, and you see I have the soy tempeh — good old soy — and five-grain tempeh, which was right out of the pages of ‘Diet for a Small Planet,’ and then the soy tempeh with herbs was my tempehroni.” Even though he was barely breaking even, in 1995, Tibbott introduced a new product for Thanksgiving. It was called Tofurky. “Nobody thought it was a good idea. They said, ‘That’s a stupid name, that’s silly.’” “Do you have any Tofurky?” “Tofurky?” “Yeah, tofu turkey.” “Tofurky, anyone?” “Is this Tofurky?” “Tofurky. To-bagel with cream to-cheese.” “Tofurky.” “We had no ad budget. But what we did have going for us was this quirky product with this quirky name. And we started finding that the media just couldn’t get enough of it.” He made other products, too, like tofu sausages and deli slices. After decades of slow but steady growth, about two years ago, demand for Tofurky’s products suddenly exploded. “The conversation for us changed from, where in the world are we going to sell all this product that we are set up to make, to how in the world are we going to make enough to meet the demand of this new industry?” While the shift seems quick, it’s also something animal rights activists have been working toward for decades. “I read ‘Diet for a Small Planet’ in 1987 and it blew my mind.” Like Seth Tibbott, Bruce Friedrich stopped eating meat after reading “Diet for a Small Planet.” But he eventually grew to believe it was unethical to eat animals at all. He became an animal rights advocate, and tried everything — from throwing fake blood on fur coats to farm animal rescue — to get people to stop eating meat. “I spent a whole bunch of time focused on individual dietary change. So, educating people about who farm animals are. And yet, year after year after year since then, per capita meat consumption has gone up.” So he switched — from activism to capitalism — and started a trade group that finds investors for alternative meat. To build market share, he says it’s essential to be mainstream, working with venture capitalists, fast food restaurants and even meat companies. “The market sector is everybody who eats. So, the market opportunity for investors, regardless of whether they care about the ethics, it’s hard to imagine anything more colossal. If all we do is continue to do the same sort of farm activism that we’ve been doing for decades, we’re not going to make progress.” That approach, shared by both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, seems to be working. In May of 2019, Beyond Meat had one of the best-performing public offerings by a major U.S. company in the past two decades. “We’re growing like crazy, the opportunities keep coming to us, and step by step, you’re sort of wearing down the barriers to this idea that existed even just 10 years ago.” “I think we have absolutely benefited from all the marketing efforts of our peer companies, which is great. I mean, they’re, they’re rising the tide.” Seth Tibbott’s stepson, Jaime Athos, who is now Tofurky’s C.E.O., says plant-based eating has made the shift from counterculture to mainstream. He points to sales trends from the past two years. “If you look at real animal meat sales, they’re like, more or less flat. If you look at meat-alternative sales, they grew by about 37 or 38 percent. So, that’s how a revolution happens. That kind of growth rate.” He also credits savvy marketing, and a new generation of consumers, influenced by social media and awareness of climate change and animal welfare. “Many think it’s cool to be a plant-based eater. It’s kind of on-trend right now. I think I’m pretty optimistic about people in general, but it’s nice to be surprised in that direction, that society could shift so quickly.” Frances Moore Lappé’s daughter, Anna Lappé, agrees. She’s a food writer and environmental activist who, a decade ago, wrote a book exploring food’s impact on climate. “I was at a food tech conference in San Francisco a few months back, and it was so amazing to me how almost every single pitch began with what sounded like the beginning of a Frances Moore Lappé speech about the environment and sustainability.” But, she believes her mother has always wanted more than for people to just give up meat. “She was never that simplistic. It’s really not having a conversation about what we want our plate to look like. It’s more, what do want our world to look like?” “To me, that ‘Diet for a Small Planet’ message is ultimately this message about democracy. Who is making that choice that we should take this vast amount of land that could be feeding people directly, and turn it over to be growing feed for livestock in a way that’s ultimately so inefficient?” Both Anna and her mother have concerns about the new meat alternatives. They worry that even if they do lead to less grain consumption, or are more humane for animals, many are heavily processed. They would also like to know more about how the plants that go into them are grown. “Any message that reinforces the idea that somehow you have to buy a packaged product in order to eat in the plant world is, is not helpful.” “One of the core principles of eating a climate-friendly diet, is eating as much real food as possible, so not processed food. I think the question should be not just is something meat, or is it not or is it not meat, but were pesticides used, toxic pesticides? Were synthetic fertilizers that are incredibly energy intensive to produce? All of these questions go into essentially understanding what is the impact of the food we’re eating.” “There’s Angie.” As for Frances Moore Lappé, herself, she is having a renaissance. She’s in demand as a speaker, and along with Anna, is preparing a 50th anniversary edition of “Diet for a Small Planet.” “Hi.” “There’s been enormous change in our culture around food since I wrote my book — just enormous change.” “Thank you so much.” “People often ask me, ‘Wasn’t it hard to give up meat?’ And I say, ‘No, it was so exciting.’ This was about foundational change. And a system that was really destructive and not serving us. It was very much about finding our voice and having power. And to make, in some small way, some difference in the world.”
Even as Americans mass in cities and their suburbs, the range-roaming cowboy has endured as a national symbol, along with the cholesterol-laden diet he represents: heavy on steaks, hamburgers, sausages and the like. What if that iconic image were replaced someday by, say, a technician in a lab coat producing a facsimile of a traditional burger, one made from plants and not animals?
Not very likely, you say? Perhaps not right away. But the lure of the cowboy notwithstanding, more Americans than ever are eating plant-based meat, convinced that it is less harmful to them and less taxing on the environment. Millennials in particular are giving the phrase “all sizzle, no steak” a positive spin it never had.
This slow but perhaps inexorable shift in food preferences is explored by Retro Report, whose mission is to focus on how the past influences present-day policies and customs. In this video offering, it turns to Frances Moore Lappé, whose 1971 best-selling book “Diet for a Small Planet” changed the way many people viewed global hunger in an era of rapid population growth. Ms. Lappé (pronounced Luh-PAY) concluded that there was plenty of food to go around. The problem, she said, was one of distribution. Too much of it went to nourish animals on four legs rather than directly to those on two.
“I just said, “O.K., I’m going to figure out are we really at the Earth’s limits — is that really the cause of hunger?” she told Retro Report. She took her father’s slide rule and “just sat there hour after hour literally putting two and two together.” Her bottom line: The world’s grain supply was “more than enough” to feed every human on the planet.
“What I wanted to get across is that our current food system is inefficient, unjust, illogical and destructive,” Ms. Lappé said, adding, “We need not have hunger.”
The inefficiency of a diet based on animal protein is evident in more recent studies as well. In one chart, Ms. Lappé illustrated how more than 21 pounds of protein fed to a cow made just one pound of protein for people. According to United Nations researchers, roughly 80 percent of agricultural land worldwide is used to sustain livestock, a proportion that is unlikely to drop much when a leader like Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is committed to deforesting the Amazon to clear a path for more cattle raising.
“We use 77 percent of our agricultural land in the world for livestock that gives us 17 percent of our calories,” Ms. Lappé, 76, told The New York Times Magazine in 2019. Those figures reflect the great influence wielded by the cattle business, she said: “I’m saying that if we had real democracy, if the agribusiness industry and the meat producers didn’t have the political wherewithal that they do, then we could really talk.”
There is also the impact on the air that surrounds us. Animals belch and break wind copiously, releasing huge amounts of methane, a prime greenhouse gas. When it comes to carbon dioxide, the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems calculates an emission of 6.6 pounds for every 4 ounces of beef that is served. By yet another measure, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that livestock accounts for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with two-thirds of the total coming from cattle alone.
In short, the studies suggest that devoting vast tracts of land for the purpose of converting plant energy into animal energy is as inefficient a method as can be for humans to get their protein.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these findings have encouraged the production of alternative meats, though cattle ranchers and their supporters in some statehouses are pursuing legislation to ban the word “meat” for anything other than that which comes from a live animal. A decade ago, Ethan Brown started a company called Beyond Meat, producing plant-derived burgers and other foods that their advocates say have all the sizzle, smell and taste of the animal variety. They require far less land and water, and lead to far fewer greenhouse gas emissions, than traditional meat production.
“If we can make it so it tastes and delights just like animal protein, I mean, very few consumers are going to say, ‘Nah, I just don’t want to do that,’ ” Mr. Brown said to Retro Report.
Perhaps also not surprisingly, meat producers and their allies have pushed back against the notion that tofu or other protein sources make the grade. They challenge, for instance, the notion that plant-based burgers are healthier, noting that while those foods have less saturated fat and no cholesterol, they also are very high in sodium content. As for the planet’s well-being, they say that meat production’s contribution to greenhouse gas levels is greatly overstated.
To be sure, McDonald’s and its brethren are not about to shut down anytime soon. Across a 12-month stretch ending last May, beef burgers outsold plant-based ones at fast-food outlets by a margin of 28 to 1 — 6.4 billion servings compared with 228 million. Still, plant-based producers believe they are riding a commercial tide.
Jaime Athos, the chief executive of Tofurky, a company whose products are rooted in soy protein, pointed to sales figures from the last two years, when real-animal meat sales were flat while sales of meat alternatives grew by about 37 or 38 percent. “So that’s how a revolution happens, that kind of growth rate,” he said.
Anna Lappé, like her mother a food writer and environmental activist, told Retro Report that her interests go deeper. The effects of food production on the world’s ecology deserve greater attention, she said. “I think the question should be not just is something meat or is not meat, but were pesticides used, toxic pesticides,” the younger Ms. Lappé said. “Were synthetic fertilizers that are incredibly energy intensive to produce? All of these questions go into essentially understanding what is the impact of the food we’re eating.”
Her mother, meanwhile, is convinced that “there’s been enormous change in our culture around food since I wrote my book.”
That would seem indisputable. And who knows? If sales of plant-based meat soar, we may even need to rethink those cowpokes who ride the range. Take an old country hit like “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” It might better serve a new generation if “don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks” were followed by a line like “make ’em eat tofu and whole grains and such.”
The video with this article is part of a documentary series presented by The New York Times. The video project was started with a grant from Christopher Buck. Retro Report, led by Kyra Darnton, is a nonprofit media organization examining the history and context behind today’s news. To watch more, subscribe to the Retro Report newsletter, and follow Retro Report on YouTube and Twitter.
Experts Face Off on Plant-Based Versus Meat-Based Diets
Dr. Paul Saladino is the author of “The Carnivore Code,” a book on nose-to-tail animal-based eating. He believes that animals, including organ meats, provide all of the nutrients needed for humans to thrive, in their most bioavailable forms. 1 In the video above, he debates Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician and author who coined the term “Nutritarian,” which refers to a nutrient-dense style of eating that’s primarily plant-based.
“It was a friendly debate but at times it got heated as all debates do,” Saladino said. “As you will hear in this video we disagreed on a lot of things.” Eventually, the two agree to disagree, but if you’ve ever wondered about which diet is best — animal-based or plant-based — this video provides some excellent food for thought.
Despite their differing opinions on diet, Saladino and Fuhrman share many similarities, including attending medical school in their 30s and ultimately pursuing nutrition and natural healing to promote human health. Both of their strategies have helped people to improve their health, but the underlying reasons why may differ, as may the ultimate long-term effects.
“It’s so interesting,” Saladino said, “that both animal-based diets and plant-based diets can lead to reversal of chronic disease that Western medicine calls untreatable and that mainstream Western medicine wants to treat with pharmaceuticals.” This may be because any diet that focuses on whole foods in lieu of the processed ones that make up a typical Western diet is a vast improvement.
In the Western world, people typically lose vitality consistently throughout life, but this doesn’t happen in native hunter-gatherer societies that are still eating their traditional — and meat-based — diet.
Observational Study in Favor of a Plant-Based Diet
Saladino asked Fuhrman why he believes meat is better off avoided, to which he replied, “I don’t really believe there’s a controversy here and I don’t really think there are two sides. I think the evidence is overwhelming and noncontroversial [in favor of a plant-based diet].”
He cited one study published in The Lancet Public Health, which found that, over a 25-year period, low-carb diets with higher animal-derived protein and fat sources were associated with higher mortality compared to diets that favored plant-derived protein and fats. 2 Others, he said, have linked increased animal protein intake to deaths from breast, colon and bowel cancers. Speaking to Saladino, he added:
“… You’re a nice guy but I think you’re very misguided … and it’s like a religion where people aren’t weighing science and logic and overwhelming amounts of evidence. They just pick the side they want to choose to be on and then they try to accumulate data to support that way of living and eating instead of having an open slate …
So if I can reverse a person’s heart disease, get them off their blood pressure medication or get rid of their psoriasis with a diet that’s going to enable them to live to be 100 years old, I’d rather do that … because using a diet style that you’re recommending is like using a chemotherapeutic agent by a rheumatologist because they may feel better and you know just from certain things they’re doing …
But long term it’s not going to be great for their health. So, you’re selling the people out with inadequate and misguided information.”
Flaws With Plant-Based Ideology
Saladino takes issue with The Lancet Public Health study, which is observational epidemiology, not an interventional study. “I offer you the opportunity to show me one single interventional study with nonprocessed red meat that shows harm because it does not exist that I’m aware of,” he said.
In contrast, he cites multiple studies that show increasing red meat in the human diet leads to improvements in inflammatory markers and other markers of human health, such as diabetes.
Observational studies are often plagued by healthy and unhealthy user bias. In western countries, increased consumption of red meat is often associated with other unhealthy behaviors, while those who eat more fruits and vegetables are more likely to be engaging in other healthy behaviors like outdoor activity.
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So, it’s not necessarily the eating of red meat that’s the problem, as the entire lifestyle must be factored in — something that isn’t accounted for in an observational study, which cannot determine causation. A reliance on observational epidemiological studies has contributed to the belief system that plant-based diets are better than meat-based ones. Saladino said:
“We have to look at these studies and ask is it really the red meat that is causing these problems in humans or is it something else these people are doing or not doing, and I think it is much more likely that it is the latter case because of unhealthy user bias … when I look at epidemiology I say, ‘This is garbage.’
There’s an acronym in computer programming — garbage in garbage out. We cannot base medical decisions on garbage science, but the good news is that we actually do have interventional studies with red meat studies where people replace large amounts of carbohydrates in their diet, presumably from grains, with eight ounces of red meat per day and they see lower CRP and improved markers of insulin sensitivity.”
Red Meat Does Not Increase Inflammation
Saladino cites a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, in which 60 people partially replaced carbohydrate-rich foods in their diet with 8 ounces of lean red meat daily for eight weeks. 3 Markers of oxidative stress and inflammation did not increase and, in fact, CRP, a marker for inflammation in the body, decreased. Markers of insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity also improved.
Fuhrman points out that the type of carbohydrates being replaced matters in studies like these, as removing processed white flour, for example, in favor of red meat may show benefits simply because it’s better than white flour — but if it were replacing nuts or vegetables a different effect may occur.
Another study Saladino mentioned, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 4 compared trends in meat consumption and associations with meat intake and mortality in Asia. Nearly 300,000 men and women were followed for 6.6 to 15.6 years.
No association was found between total meat intake and risks of all-cause, cardiovascular or cancer mortality. Further, red meat intake was inversely associated with death from cardiovascular disease in men and with cancer mortality in women.
Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology, which followed 223,170 people in Japan, also found the risk of mortality from cerebrovascular disease was inversely associated with the consumption of milk, meat and fish. 5 “I will admit this is correlation — we cannot draw causative inference,” Saladino said, “but you are incorrect if you make the statement that every study shows increasing meat … animal fat consumption is harmful.”
An interventional study cited by Saladino also found that beef tallow, compared to soybean oil, increases apoptosis and decreases aberrant crypt foci, which are considered the earliest lesions indicative of colon cancer, challenging the long-held notion that red meat increases colon cancer risk. 6
Plant-Based Diets Versus Animal-Based Diets
Fuhrman suggests that virtually every study available highlights the benefits of eating plant-based over meat-based, but Saladino quickly pulls up interventional studies pitting the two diets against one another — and meat doesn’t turn out to be the villain it’s widely portrayed as.
One 2020 study examined a high-protein diet against a high-plant protein diet in 37 people with Type 2 diabetes for six weeks. 7 Both of the diets ended up reducing levels of proinflammatory markers, although calprotectin, a marker of gastrointestinal inflammation, increased in those following the plant-protein diet while decreasing in those eating more animal protein.
Another study investigated the effects of diets high in animal protein — rich in meat and dairy foods — versus plant protein — primarily legume protein — in people with Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 8 Again, both of the diets reduced liver fat by 36% to 48% within six weeks. Markers of inflammation also decreased while insulin sensitivity increased.
“[These studies show] the exact same thing, that when we really look at this there is no evidence that meat is harmful for humans. It’s very clear, it’s extremely clear that meat is actually quite good for humans and improves so many of these outcomes,” Saladino said. He also takes issue with Fuhrman’s claims that saturated fats from animal foods are linked to heart disease — a myth that stems from Ancel Keys’ flawed hypothesis in 1960-1961. 9
The introduction of the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980, which recommended limiting saturated fat and cholesterol, coincided with a rapid rise in obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Are Phytonutrients Helpful or Harmful?
The debate briefly touches on the health benefits and hazards of phytonutrients, i.e., plant-based nutrients, which is highly controversial. I was under the belief that phytonutrients were largely responsible for activating profoundly powerful pathways for longevity.
Saladino does point out that grass fed meats and dairy products are naturally higher in phytonutrients, which accumulate in meat and liver. However, many phytochemicals are plant defense molecules that have negative effects in humans. Saladino’s work caused me to seriously reevaluate my views on phytonutrient supplementation.
Nutrient deficiencies are another risk of following a strictly plant-based diet. Nutrient deficiencies that can compromise immune function, for instance, include vitamins, A, C, D, E, B2, B6, B12, folate, iron, selenium and zinc. These vitamins are primarily found in animal foods, which is why shunning animal foods tends to lead to nutrient deficiencies. Even folate is found in organ meats in highly bioavailable form.
Nutrient deficiencies are not only possible with a strict plant-based diet but probable, depending on your diet, with choline being among them. Research has found that eating eggs is one of the best ways to improve choline intake, and it’s difficult to get enough of this essential nutrient if you don’t consume them. 10
Saladino cited studies showing that partially replacing animal proteins with plant proteins for 12 weeks had risks for bone health in healthy adults, 11 and another even suggested that while vegetarians may have an aversion to eating meat on a subjective level, on a neural level they’re still intrinsically motivated to eat this food. 12 He noted:
“I think this is a very strong argument for the fact that we evolved eating meat and it remains at the center of our nutritional paradigm for healthy humans and so with all of this taken together — the evolutionary past of humans, the fact that we evolved eating meat, that the unique nutrients in meat made us human — this is really difficult to debate.”
Problems With Blue Zone Observations
Blue Zones are areas in the world where people tend to be unusually long-lived. Many suggest that the unifying factor of the Blue Zones is that they consume limited amounts of animal protein, but Saladino points out that the five “Blue Zones” have been cherry-picked, avoiding areas that don’t fit with the hypothesis, like Hong Kong, where meat is consumed daily, and Iceland, which also has an animal-based diet yet has a high number of centenarians.
In one of the Blue Zones, Loma Linda, California, research even showed “the vegetables-based food intake decreased sperm quality,” 13 and, according to Saladino, many of the centenarians living in Blue Zones actually eat meat:
“The socio-demographic and lifestyle characteristics of the oldest people living in Korea … they do not eat less meat than the general Greek population. In fact, they eat more meat. I had a woman on my show named Mary Ruddock who lives in Greece, who spent time with the people in Ikoria and ate lamb liver with them.
They do not shun meat. Furthermore, we can move to Okinawa. The Okinawan diet … the Japanese elderly … they did not find a single centenarian among the vegetarians in Okinawa. And imagine that, the Okinawans also eat lots of meat … Why are people using Okinawans to support their concept of the Blue Zones when there were no centenarians among the vegetarians in Okinawa? The Blue Zones are a farce.”
Fuhrman suggested that the observational studies are still beneficial due to the long-term nature of nutrition it can take time for the health effects of a poor or healthy diet to show up. Yet, Saladino noted, human evolution may be the best long-term “study” of all, supporting the consumption of naturally raised, grass fed animal foods:
“The best long-term nutritional study that’s ever been done is human evolution. And so these hunter-gatherer tribes like the Hadza cannot be ignored because we find them hunting meat every single day of their life and yet they are free from chronic disease.
These are 50-, 60-, 70-year-old people who have decades and decades of observational studies if you’re going to do these. These have been done, it’s called anthropology. It’s called human evolution.
I just went to Tanzania and spent time with some of the last remaining hunter-gatherers on the planet, the Hadza. We hunted every single day. We ate meat over the fire, and they were healthy and fit and free from diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease, depression, cancer.”
When it comes to the interventional studies of animal foods causing worsened health outcomes, which Fuhrman said he could provide, Saladino is still waiting: “He could not produce a single one during the podcast, nor did he send me a single study, a single interventional study, showing that animal foods were harmful in humans. So, I continue to wait for these, but I’ve never seen them. They don’t exist as far as I can tell.”
Testing the Plant-Based Waters
I decided to try a plant-based diet to see if it would improve my gastrointestinal issues and aid in relieving my constant stomach pain, dysmotility, and colonic inertia. I’d always avoided plant-based diets in the past because of my soy allergy. I’d assumed that soy was the main protein source in a plant-based diet. But I was desperate and willing to try anything at this point.
To my delight, after doing more research I discovered that there were many different ways to get protein as a plant-based eater. One of my other concerns was getting enough vitamin B12 . This one was an easy fix with a supplement.
With this newfound knowledge I was ready to dive fully into a whole-food, plant-based diet. I knew that the structural issues I have would not be cured, but I hoped that I might at least improve my quality of life a bit while living with those conditions.
I was not disappointed. In a matter of just days my gastrointestinal issues started to improve. I experienced less gas and bloating, and the gnawing, painful feeling of being overly full was markedly less.
Health Concerns About Plant-Based Diets
Generally, patients on a plant-based diet are not at risk for protein deficiency. Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which, called essential amino acids, cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from food. Essential amino acids are found in meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as many plant-based foods, such as quinoa.32 Essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating certain combinations of plant-based foods. Examples include brown rice with beans, and hummus with whole wheat pita. Therefore, a well-balanced, plant-based diet will provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids and prevent protein deficiency.33
Soybeans and foods made from soybeans are good sources of protein and may help lower levels of low-density lipoprotein in the blood34 and reduce the risk of hip fractures35 and some cancers.
Vegetarian diets were associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure …
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association36 reported that women with breast cancer who regularly consumed soy products had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and a 29% decreased risk of death, compared with women who consumed little or no soy.36 An analysis of 14 studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that increased intake of soy resulted in a 26% reduction in prostate cancer risk.37
Because of concerns over the estrogenic nature of soy products, women with a history of breast cancer should discuss soy foods with their oncologists. Also, overly processed, soy-based meat substitutes are often high in isolated soy proteins and other ingredients that may not be as healthy as less processed soy products (ie, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk).
Plant-based diets contain iron, but the iron in plants has a lower bioavailability than the iron in meat. Plant-based foods that are rich in iron include kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal, cabbage, and tomato juice.38 Iron stores may be lower in individuals who follow a plant-based diet and consume little or no animal products. However, the American Dietetic Association states that iron-deficiency anemia is rare even in individuals who follow a plant-based diet.39
Vitamin B12 is needed for blood formation and cell division. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a very serious problem and can lead to macrocytic anemia and irreversible nerve damage. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria, not plants or animals. Individuals who follow a plant-based diet that includes no animal products may be vulnerable to B12 deficiency40 and need to supplement their diet with vitamin B12 or foods fortified with vitamin B12.41
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium intake can be adequate in a well-balanced, carefully planned, plant-based diet. People who do not eat plants that contain high amounts of calcium may be at risk for impaired bone mineralization and fractures. However, studies have shown that fracture risk was similar for vegetarians and nonvegetarians. The key to bone health is adequate calcium intake, which appears to be irrespective of dietary preferences.42 Some significant sources of calcium include tofu, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, and kale. Spinach and some other plants contain calcium that, although abundant, is bound to oxalate and therefore is poorly absorbed.43
Vitamin D deficiency is common in the general population. Plant-based products such as soy milk and cereal grains may be fortified to provide an adequate source of Vitamin D.44 Supplements are recommended for those who are at risk for low bone mineral density and for those found to be deficient in vitamin D.
Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that humans must ingest for good health because our bodies do not synthesize them. Only two such essential fatty acids are known: linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). Three other fatty acids are only conditionally essential: palmitoleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid), lauric acid (a saturated fatty acid), and gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Deficiency in essential fatty acids may manifest as skin, hair, and nail abnormalities.45
The fatty acids that vegans are most likely to be deficient in are the omega-3 fats (n-3 fats). Consumptions of the plant version of omega-3 fats, alpha-linolenic acid, are also low in vegans. Adequate intake of n-3 fats is associated with a reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke. Foods that are good sources of n-3 fats should be emphasized. They include ground flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, and canola oil.46
Flexitarians – or meat reducers – tend to consciously cut down on meat and replace it with plant-based foods. The poll showed that 43 percent of respondents see it as a ‘permanent lifestyle change’.
Of those quizzed, 68 percent said they would swap meat for a plant-based alternative if it tasted the same. 60 percent would make the switch if it had the same nutritional value.
Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) would swap because the plant-based alternative is ‘more ethical’. However, over a third (36 percent) were ‘completely unaware of what being a flexitarian means or what’s involved. This is even if they classify as one’.
Vegetarianism Around the World: A Brief Timeline
Despite the recent emphasis on cutting edge vegetarian and vegan products, plant-based and meat-free diets are not a modern invention, and certainly not a western one. Many anthropologists hypothesize that early humans ate a predominantly plant-based diet, supplemented with occasional meat and animal-derived ingredients.
This style of plant-forward diet has been linked with optimum health and particular longevity, as seen in Blue Zones such as Okinawa and the Mediterranean.
Prior to the popularization of the term vegetarian in the mid-1800s, vegetarianism was frequently referred to as a Pythagorean Diet named after the Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who was an early advocate for the diet.
Vegetarianism has been present in India since around the 5th Century BCE. Through the ancient religion of Jainism and from around 1500 BC, Hinduism. Both encourage a meat-free diet as a key part of practicing nonviolence, or ahiṃsā. This concept is also clearly present in Buddhism, which originated between the fifth and sixth centuries. Now practiced around the world, Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion.
In regions around the globe, emphasizing plant-based foods in place of or alongside meat is an integral part of the national cuisine. Plant-based staples such as tofu have been consumed in China for more than 2,000 years. They are present in Indonesian, Japanese, and Thai cuisines, too. On the African continent, and for centuries prior to European colonization, meals were frequently vegetarian.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when vegetarianism became more mainstream in the U.S. and UK. It gathered additional momentum in the 1970s, and Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975) first coined the term speciesism. Singer raised awareness of both the oppressive conditions in factory farms and the use of vivisection and animal testing, in particular.
As the modern, western iteration of vegetarianism gained popularity, it increasingly emphasized environmental considerations in addition to animal welfare and rights issues. Now, personal health is the most commonly-cited reason for ditching animal products.
Why stars like Simon Cowell are going vegan, plant-based: Death of the dad bod
Having a beer belly and a lax approach to fitness spawned the dad bod trend in recent years. Now, more men are committed to trimming down by cutting back on red meat and investing in plant-based diets and veganism instead.
“X Factor” host Simon Cowell lost a reported 20 pounds after adopting a vegan diet to help give him more energy to keep up with his son Eric. The 60-year-old talent show judge looked noticeably slim in recent photos, a stark transformation in comparison to four years ago when he made headlines for having one of “Hollywood’s hottest dad bods” in 2015, alongside the likes of Ben Affleckਊnd Leonardo DiCaprio also rocking a little extra gut around the middle at the time.
U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11 percent in the past year, bringing the total market value for the category to $4.5 billion, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association. The total U.S. retail food market has grown just 2 percent during the same time period, showing that there’s increased demand for meatless food products. And, nutritionists say more men are inquiring about plant-based diets, with some seeing dramatic weight loss results fast.
Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, says she&aposs noticed more male clients inquiring about plant-based diets lately.
"It&aposs resurfacing for men in their middle age when they’ve lost that identify maybe to being a father and being a husband and they just want to revamp their body," Zarabi said.
Just ask Dr. Russell Kateman, 67, an optometrist from New York who used to eat fried chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A almost three times a week. He was inspired to cut back on meat-eating after his son, Brian Kateman, started the Reducetarian movement, an effort to reduce meat consumption to protect animal welfare, the environment and improve overall health.
“I never watched what I ate,” Russell, who weighed 240 pounds, told FOXusiness. “I tried here and there to eat more vegetables and less meat.”
And he’s saved nearly $30 a week doing it. Now he makes salads and saut vegetables and will splurge on the occasional protein shake packed with kale, spinachਊnd ginger. He said he shed 20 pounds in three months.
“The weight is coming off like crazy,” Russell said, adding that his clothes fit betterਊnd he feels "like a new man.”
“The weight is coming off like crazy.”- Russell Kateman
Men are more likely to shed their dad bods as they near middle age. A study by international health care group Bupa Health Clinics surveyed 3,000 participants in the U.K. and found as adults reach milestone birthdays in their 40s and 50s, they tend to adopt healthier diets. Almost half (47 percent) of men surveyed made a “positively lifestyle change,” the research said.ਊnd of those, 24 percent went vegan and made healthier changes like reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking and working out.
A study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that following a plant-based diet is more effective at lowering the risk of heart disease. Red meat, like cold cuts, sausage, bacon and hot dogs, meanwhile, can have a negative impact on men’s health. A study from the American Heart Association from 2014 surveyed men ages 45 to 79 who ate 75 grams or more per day of pressed red meat and found that they had a 28 percent higher risk of heart failure compared with men who ate less than 25 grams.
Despite the myriad health benefits, not everyone is happy to see the dad bod go. The Daily Mail wrote a headline questioning: “Is Simon overdoing the diet?” after photos emerged of the star’s slim new physique, seemingly skinny-shaming him for losing the weight.