ANTI-AGING: IS EATING MEAT REALLY BAD FOR OUR HEALTH?

 

This article is intended solely for informational purposes. It is not meant to be taken as, and should not be construed, as medical advice. Any changes to your lifestyle or diet should be done in consultation with your doctor or health care professional.


There’s some evidence that eating meat may have benefits in terms of both health and longevity –– but other evidence that it may be problematic.

The evidence for eating meat

  • Meat and other animal-based foods (such as fish, poultry, eggs and milk) are high in nutrients. The nutrients in meat tend to be more bioavailable than those in plants.
  • Our ability to absorb nutrients from food drops off as we age.
  • This suggests that meat –– or other animal-based foods –– may need to become a bigger, not smaller, part of our diet as we age.
  • Most plants are toxic to some degree to the animals that eat them. Plants can’t get up and run away from predators, so they’ve developed an array of chemical defenses, including natural insecticides and other phytotoxins, to sicken the insects, birds, and small and large animals preying on them. Our bodies have evolved to deal with this toxicity, but it can still wear on us as the years go by. (This may be why some people report feeling much better when they take a break from eating plant foods for a while.)
  • Older people who let their protein intake drop too low are in danger of muscle wasting, making them more vulnerable to falling and other health problems associated with aging.
  • Low-protein diets are also associated with more likelihood of succumbing to dementia. 

The evidence against  meat

  • But there’s other evidence, which is getting a lot of press these days, that eating meat may have drawbacks. 
  • A recent study, which is fairly typical, looks at levels of meat consumption and the odd of developing some common diseases.
  • Its authors gather and examine some statistical evidence, then repeat the now-common refrain that it would be wise to avoid meat and switch to plant based diets if we want to live long, healthy lives.

But there are a number of problems with this study. 

  1. One problem that it asks people to remember what they were eating decades ago. (Can you remember what you had for breakfast three months ago? How about back in 1995?)
  2. Another problem is that, like all studies to date focusing on the supposed dangers of meat, it does not differentiate those who were eating meat from animals raised in factory farms and fed grains which were often sprayed with toxic chemicals, from those who reported eating meat from animals raised on small family farms, i.e, meat from grass-fed animals (whose food had not been sprayed with toxic chemicals) instead.
  3. A third problem is that it doesn’t examine how the meat was prepared. Both curing and charring meat can create carcinogens. Cook it more carefully, and the association with cancer may turn out to be an illusion.
  4. I would postulate that if you eat meat from animals that were raised under stressful conditions and fed grains that had been sprayed with toxic carcinogens instead of grass, confined to tiny spaces all of their lives, and pumped up with antibiotics to keep them from dying of the disease that tend to sweep through confined feeding lots –– then yes, you’re likely to have health problems.
  5. If you eat meat from animals that lived stress-free lives, wandering in the sun, eating grass, avoiding food that had been herbicides, fungicides and pesticides –– and prepare it thoughtfully –– and don’t eat it an excessive amount of it –– then you’re much more likely to live a long healthy life.

Others point out that meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. But the evidence that either of these are inherently harmful is not as well-established scientifically as many people believe. To the extent that it is a real problem, it could be solved by switching to eating poultry, fish, or leaner cuts of meat.

What about mTOR?
A related question for those of us in the anti-aging community is whether eating high levels of PROTEIN from any source –– plant or animals –– might be problematic, particularly in terms of longevity.
There’s stronger evidence for this possibility.
Eating large amounts of protein raises mTOR. This has some benefits, actually;  mTOR facilitates muscle growth, and keeps us from losing muscle mass as we age. But many different laboratory studies have shown that too much mTOR is correlated with a shorter lifespan. 
But again, jumping from this to saying that “meat is bad for people” or “meat is bad for longevity” is questionable. MTOR does go up when we eat protein, particularly protein from animal sources. But it also goes up when we eat carbohydrates (i.e., plant-based foods). High carbohydrate diets raise insulin, which in turns drives up mTOR.
Things that LOWER mTOR include eating ketogenic diets (which are usually high in fat, moderate or adequate in protein, and low in carbohydrates), time-restricted eating, and FASTING. If you fast every few days –– i.e., just take days off now and then from eating –– there’s strong evidence that it’s much less important what you eat. 
My hunch (after looking at the data) is that it may turn out that the best diet is cyclical, i.e., cycling between days when we do and don’t eat; days when we eat animal foods and days when we eat plant-based; days when our protein is high and days when it’s low; and days when we eat whatever we feel like eating. 

 

This article is intended solely for informational purposes. It is not meant to be taken as, and should not be construed, as medical advice. Any changes to your lifestyle or diet should be done in consultation with your doctor or health care professional.