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Why Eating Meat (or Eggs or Dairy) Won’t Kill You

Why Eating Meat (or Eggs or Dairy) Won’t Kill You

Lately, animal products like eggs, dairy, and especially red meat have been blamed for cancer, heart disease and a host of other health problems.

If you went by the headlines, you would think that everyone is going to die if they don’t switch to a vegan diet, like, yesterday. But humans have been eating animal products without ill health effects for our entire existence.

In fact, some of the healthiest and longest-lived peoples on our planet, the Okinawans (Japan), Maasai (Kenya and Tanzania)** and Hunzakuts (Pakistan), among others, eat traditional, omnivorous diets that practically revere animal foods like pork, goat, sheep, yak, raw dairy and seafood—especially during the winter, when many crops don’t grow.

Indeed, for those who live in cold, dry or mountainous regions like Mongolia, Afghanistan, or Norway, livestock convert the grass on poor soils and steep slopes that can’t be farmed into nutrient-dense foods that people can eat, like yak butter, kefir, and goat cheese.

These foods, along with meat and seafood, if available, are sometimes the only major source of calories and nutrients available for half the year. But these populations don’t face even a quarter the rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity or cancer that Westerners do.

So, is meat bad for you, or what?

Then and Now

In my grandmother’s day, people used to whisper the word “cancer,” it was so rare. Today 1 in 3 people will face the disease. That’s just two generations.

Although we have been eating animals, seafood and insects for millions of years, it is really only in the past 60 years or so that heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses have become prevalent in Western countries. And it’s only in the last 20 years that they have become tragically epidemic.

It is no accident that our national health began its noticeable decline at the exact same time that our industrial food system came into existence.

With the Industrial Revolution and all the wonderous, new conveniences it offered, Americans turned away en masse from eating traditional, nutritious foods raised in humane, sustainable conditions on family farms and toward eating pesticide- and chemical-laden, mass-produced “pseudo-foods” made by huge industrial machines.

And with the birth of consumer culture, food moved from farms to factories, and these new industrial food products—and the corporations to manufacture and sell them—became the norm.

It is also no coincidence that today’s unprecedented epidemics of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autism, autoimmune disease, etc. has grown in tandem with the rate that these industrially-produced, highly-processed, and often genetically modified foods have become the very foundation of our diets.

The wide-scale adoption of industrial agriculture and food manufacturing has brought us new, high-tech food chemicals that humans have never tried to consume in our entire existence on this planet before now, like:

  • hexane processed, refined, bleached and deodorized high Omega-6 vegetable, Canola and soybean oils;
  • trans fats and hydrogenated oils;
  • high fructose corn syrup, refined, granulated sugar and chemical sugar substitutes in huge quantities;
  • MSG, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, chemical emulsifiers;
  • isolated soy protein; maltodextrin and other industrial byproducts;
  • bleached, brominated flours and machine-extruded puffs, chips and cereals that are closer to bio-plastics than food;
  • fortified foods sprayed with cheap, synthetic vitamins that your body can’t properly assimilate;
  • toxic pesticide and herbicide residues in almost all food;
  • BPA, BPS, phthalates, lead, antimony and other toxins from plastic food packaging;
  • genetically engineered crops in 80% of the food supply;
  • eggs, dairy and meat from GMO-fed, filthy, confined animals full of hormones, heavy metals and antibiotics; and
  • irradiated and ultra-pasteurized foods.

More and more scientific evidence is piling up that it these modern, industrially-created “foods” that are making us all sick.

But even without a looking at the huge pile of studies showing that everything from pesticides to BPA to GMOs causes harm, it seems really obvious what is going on if you just look at a bigger, more global and historical picture.

People in the world who still hunt and gather, or who live in cultures that still strongly support traditional diets and small farming simply do not have the health problems we modern, industrial cultures do.

And, when Westerners facing chronic health problems give up the “Standard Industrial Diet” of boxes, bags and cans, and take on traditional diets comprised of home-cooked, local, organic food, they often find their vitality returns, their metabolism normalizes, and their chronic conditions improve or go away.

What more evidence do you really need to justify eating a clean, whole food diet? :)

Is it the Meat, or Something Else?

When we raise animals and fish in concentrated operations where they can barely move, and feed them industrial food waste and genetically-engineered, pesticide-laden grains and soybean meal that are unnatural and harmful to their digestive systems, they inevitably become sick—at which point we then we pump them full of hormones, heavy metals like arsenic, and antibiotics.

These “medicines” are also growth promoters because they damage the animals’ systems so that they start putting on fat, and therefore weight, very fast. (Sound familiar?)

Under such dreadful conditions, you’d have to expect that the meat, fish, dairy and eggs from these mistreated animals would be unhealthy—even toxic! Such adulterated food would therefore leave us open to a plethora of nutrition-related diseases, like cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even tooth decay.

But if that wasn’t enough, we then take this depleted and deficient food and destroy it even further by processing it on high-speed machinery that is too big to clean, then we irradiate it, pasteurize it, treat it with nitrates, preservatives, colorings and MSG, ship it hundreds or thousands of miles, and finally take it home and cook it to death!

How can any food that has been produced and processed in such toxic, inconsiderate ways possibly be considered healthy or sustainable?

The Devil is In the Bathwater

When it comes to studies, the proverbial devil is in the details.

Not a single credible study that finds animal foods to be harmful was done using meat, eggs or dairy produced organically and humanely on fertile pasture and then prepared simply using traditional cooking and preserving methods—the way animal foods were consumed for thousands of years before cancer and heart disease became epidemics.

All of them rely on meat-eaters consuming a Standard Industrial Diet of very poor quality industrial animal foods and processed garbage, because that is who is easily available to study.

And on top of that, almost all of the studies that find fault with animal foods are either very poorly designed, or the data are very poorly interpreted.

For example, no study has ever found a direct cause-and-effect relationship between red-meat consumption and cancer. As for the population studies, they’re far from conclusive. That’s because they rely on observational surveys of people’s self-reported dietary habits and health afflictions, and those numbers are simply crunched to find trends, not causes. (See debunking articles at the end.)

Observational studies, by their very nature, CANNOT determine causes of disease or health. 

How credible would a study about causes of death be if it relied solely on data acquired by mailing out a questionnaire that asked people to write down what they remembered eating over the previous four years? That’s how most of these recent anti-meat studies are conducted, but the news outlets screaming that eating meat will kill you don’t tell you that; it doesn’t lead.

In fact the closest we have come to a comprehensive, well-designed, clinical study of the health effects of pure, unadulterated, pasture-raised animal products is a massive 2010 study of 1,212,380 individuals which found that consumption of unprocessed red meat had absolutely no association with heart disease or diabetes.

There are also a handful of studies that compare meat or eggs from industrially-raised animals to that of pasture-raised. Guess which comes out faaaaaaar better? (See studies at the end of article.)

But even without the “study of the day”, we can easily look at the health of our ancestors and of the people in the world who still eat a traditional, whole food diet for evidence of whether animal foods like meat, fish, dairy and eggs really do harm.

And based on a long history of human health up until the Industrial Revolution, and the continued health of the French, rural Asian, Maasai and other people who still eat mainly whole, unprocessed, farm-fresh and wild foods today, I do not think we can blame eating animal products in and of themselves for what ails us. 

Rather, we must point the finger at the inhumane, toxic, and totally unsustainable manner in which we modern societies produce and prepare most food today.

I would argue that when we indict modern animal foods for causing poor health, we are unfortunately throwing out the baby with the bath water. It’s important that we make the distinction between the healthy, minimally processed traditional foods that we have thrived on for generations, and the toxic, industrial methods in which we produce, prepare (and essentially destroy) these foods today.

Returning to Our Roots

While amounts vary culture by culture, there are no traditional populations in the world that forego animal foods altogether. None. Virtually all studies of both ancient humans and modern peoples who eat their traditional diets tell us that the healthiest people in the world get a large percentage of their calories in the form of calorie-rich and nutrient-dense animal protein and fat, including seafood and insects.

Even people living deeply isolated in the lush tropical rainforests of South America and Asia get the better part of their sustenance from hunting mammals like monkeys and bats, reptiles, insects and even spiders.

Additionally, about 50-80% of traditional diets around the world is comprised of raw or fermented foods—including raw and fermented animal, fish and insect foods. Fermenting and culturing foods like cabbage, yogurt, salami, or pickled herring is an ancient, time-tested way of preserving food for the winter.

The remainder of most traditional diets typically includes foods that are more nutritious when slow-cooked at low temperatures, like stews, broths and gruels made from bones, organs, leaves, roots and grains, where the long, low cooking time really breaks these tough foods down, making them more digestible and nutritious.

And perhaps most importantly, none of the food eaten by these robust, disease-free peoples comes from large-scale, modern, industrial agriculture practices.

How did we ever fall so far from our ancestral foodways?

The culinary wisdom and and agricultural heritage that nourished and sustained us in good health for millennia is almost lost for most of us in the U.S.

It would seem that 75-100 years is just long enough for the generations who remember our food and farming traditions to die, so that we younger people—dependent on the industrial food system since birth—have no food roots, no customs to pass on, and no memory of how to raise, harvest and prepare healthy food in sustainable ways.

Fortunately, there are some of us who are endeavoring to study and preserve some of this ancient wisdom, and I count myself as one of them. I hope you do, too!

The good news is sustainably-raised, grass-fed animal products are available in most parts of the country now, and the number of sustainable small farms providing these wholesome foods continues to grow every year in response to the burgeoning demand.

In fact, using holistic managed grazing, permaculture, and agroecological techniques, it is possible to produce enough animal products to feed everyone who desires it a moderate amount of meat, dairy and eggs without harming the environment. In fact, holistically managed livestock can improve the environment, sequester carbon and restore ecosystems. We just have to commit to supporting these methods and to moderate consumption.

Quality is Everything

We get grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free, local beef from the farmer’s market and as part of our CSA share. You can also find small farms producing grass-fed eggs, meat or dairy in your area at EatWild.com. Another good place to find clean animal foods is through online retailers like U.S. Wellness Meats and Vital Choice Seafood.

Because cattle, pigs and chickens raised on pasture get plenty of exercise, sunshine and pesticide-free forage naturally inoculated with healthy probiotic bacteria, they tend to be naturally healthy and free of disease.

And raising livestock holistically on pastures that can’t be used for crops is actually beneficial to the environment, too.

And unlike industrially-raised animals, naturally-raised meats, fish, dairy and eggs are very high in Vitamins A, B-12, folate, E, D, and K, as well as bioavailable heme iron, zinc and other essential minerals. During winter months, pasture-raised animal foods and wild seafood are pretty much the only good source of Vitamin D many people have access to.

Pasture-raised animal foods also contain lots of cancer-preventing, heart-healthy Omega-3s, and are rich dietary sources of cancer-fighting, weight-reducing Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). Industrial grain-fed animal foods, in contrast, contain much more Omega-6s than are healthy to consume, which can contribute to nutritional deficiency and inflammation in the body.

For example, compared to industrial eggs, pasture raised eggs have:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

Additionally, eggs from hens raised outdoors on pasture have from three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement. Eating just two pasture-raised eggs can give you from 63-126% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D!

With so much nutrition in pasture-raised foods—and none of the hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, Omega-6s, chemical additives or GMOs—why would anyone eat industrial meat, fish, eggs or dairy again?

Despite the fearmongering, both modern science and traditional wisdom tell us that animal foods, when raised right, can be very healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

So you really don’t have to go vegan to be healthy (unless you want to for animal rights reasons). Just be sure to avoid the industrial toxins that can make you sick by choosing only grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products produced naturally and humanely by a farmer you trust.

Studies That Show Animal Foods Do No Harm

Articles That Explain and Debunk Recent Studies Condemning Meat

Related Articles at Small Footprint Family:

** Many claim that the short life expectancy of the Maasai (about age 45) is evidence of the dangers of their high-fat, meat and dairy-centric diet. Actually, despite eating mainly fermented raw dairy and cow’s blood every day, the Maasai have extremely low levels of cholesterol and heart disease. The Maasai have relatively high infant mortality due to lack of sanitation and access to modern medicine, which skews their life expectancy averages. What also shortens their life expectancy is the fact that the leading cause of death for the Maasai is syphilis, followed by homicide. The Maasai are warriors after all, and are known to raid each other’s clans in a lethal battle for cattle.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including Amazon.com links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.




26 Comments

  1. While I do appreciate the research that went into this article and agree with the basis that local organic meat and animal products do provide nutrition, there is one significant concern that is not addressed here. The consumption of meat and animal products has drastically increased over the past 100 years, especially recently. Between 1961 and 2009, the average person’s diet changed from consuming 23kg of meat to 42kg of meat per year (Weis, 2013). WIth the “meatification” of global diets comes significant environmental impacts; including deforestation, desertification, and emission of enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Meat and dairy products require much more energy to produce, and provide significantly less calories in return, compared to a plant based diet. The increased demand for meat has resulted in substantial rates of deforestation of the Amazon and other areas crucial for biodiversity and carbon sequestration. There is no possible way that enough meat can be produced using organic free-range methods to feed the growing global population. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products will result in a significant reduction of agricultural impacts such as land, water, fertilizer, and chemical use, GHG emissions and climate change acceleration, and eutrophication of water sources. For more information see http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf or Weis, T. (2013). The meat of the global food crisis. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40, 65-85.

    • While we cannot sustain an American level of animal product consumption, even with sustainable methods, there is a lot of evidence that we can indeed sustain a moderate consumption, even in a growing global population. If we transition to using permaculture and agroecological methods like holistic managed grazing, among other decentralized techniques that use biomimicry to integrate livestock fully into the farm and pastoral ecosystems, we can not only feed ourselves well, but we can actually improve the watershed, sequester tons of carbon and have a net positive effect on the land we use. For more information on some of these systems, check out this post.

  2. We are 5th generation farmer/ranchers raising grass fed beef in Britis Columbia since 1887. We never joined the chemical agriculture revolution of the past 60 years. Only 5% of BC is arable and only 1% has te soil and climate for substantial vegetable production. Our cattle graze on some of the remaining 95% of BC land that is unsuitable for growing crops. Without producing livestock for food much of the worlds grasslands, and partly forested grasslands like BC, would not be producing food. More land would have to be cleared for crop production even though the ability to grow food was marginal. Beef has been a safe part of our diet for centuries. Herbicides, pesticides, hormones, antibiotic and GMOs are the new inputs that are causing so much disease and misery, not organically raised livestock that has been safe since time began.

  3. Haha, loves this post. So much people told me that meat and egg’s are bad in general and can kill you. This article has given me so much insights, especially because i eat egg’s on a daily basis. Next time when people confront we with those lies i am prepared now. Thanks a lot.

  4. Incredibly well written, researched and fair minded articles with tons of useful stuff to go away and think about. I knew organic was much better but this added some substance.
    Thanks

  5. This is a great article, thanks. I stumbled across it while doing a little research after watching Forks Over Knives and being simultaneously terrified and dubious of what they were saying about animal proteins. Do you know if the science they put forth — specifically the part where they explained how animal protein affects the lining of our arteries — is legit? And their claim that animal proteins “feed” cancer — is there any truth to that, or is that what you’re countering here by surfacing all of the other factors that come into play (chemicals, toxins, etc.)?

    Basically, Forks Over Knives blinded me with science, and I’m not scientifically minded enough to know whether it was legit or not. Halp.

    • You’re right to smell bunk. Check out this article: The science is sketchy at best.

      Denise Minger is a pro at debunking this kind of stuff: “For starters, cholesterol from animal foods does not have some magical ability to set up permanent camp in your bloodstream and turn into plaque. This was a common line of thought decades ago, but as research progressed, we figured out that the body is actually pretty awesome at regulating cholesterol production in response to what we ingest from food. As this paper from 2009 explains, the supposed link between dietary and serum cholesterol stems from studies that had fundamental design flaws, failed to separate the effects of cholesterol different types of fat intake, or were performed on animals that are obligate herbivores (hey there, rabbits!). The doctors in “Forks Over Knives,” it seems, are among the few stragglers who still believe dietary cholesterol is harmful.”

      The rest of her analysis is equally brilliant. In sum, the data just isn’t there for any of the anti-meat arguments in the film. However, the film is correct in that diet can be a very powerful tool for health and vitality.

  6. Thanks so much for this information,they said lack of knowledge make my people perish,here in nigeria everything is misunderstood,cow meat and diary products are been avoided bc of fear of so many diseases,God will help us

  7. Hi Dawn,
    I’m one of those crazy homesteaders who butchers my own chickens and I appreciate the level headed approach! Thanks so much for sharing on The HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you again today at:
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/06/the-homeacre-hop-25-exciting-news.html

    Stop by and say hi to our new co-host!

  8. Can you kill, gut and cut up an animal for your own consumption? I cannot so I choose to be vegan. This is a good article BUT fails to address those long lived people who are vegetarian. Also many meat eaters eat far too much meat and why it causes health problems nowadays as the energy requirement is different. In Australia for example our indigenous people used to eat lean meat like kangaroo and goanna but not everyday. Now they consume beef and have many health problems which didn’t exist before white man arrived.

    • Thanks for commenting. There are lots of small farmers and homesteaders that read SFF who do indeed raise, slaughter and prepare their own meat, eggs and dairy. These livestock are an essential part of the sustainable and holistic management of their farms. Vegetarians eat animal foods like insects (particularly in Asia), eggs and dairy, and were included de facto in the article. (However, the very longest lived peoples in the world do eat meat.) Quality of meat does matter greatly in the health equation, as you’ve noted.

      • May I suggest cechking out the new documentary : Peaceable Kingdom, The Journey Home

        I believe it will address the humanity issue of eating animals as well as the arguement “humanely raised, humanely killed”. It is a counter-arguement to your point.

        I will disclose that I am pescetarian – I do not eat mammals or birds, or eggs/dairy. Orginally I took on this diet for the health benefits, I quickly added on the humane aspect after watching this documentary. (It is NOT gruesome and it does NOT contain “behind the scenes footage” of anything) I talks to farmers, ones on a very small local lever as well as large.

  9. Verygood post! We eat clean meat and our own eggs!

  10. I agree, I have based my entire life on this. Clean foods create a clean body.

  11. Thank you for taking the time to so clearly present the facts about our modern diet and the flawed information floating around. Excellent round up of research.

  12. Wonderful article!!!! In the last 6 months or so I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying both the Vegan and Paleo Philosophies of Diet and Nutrition. It’s always a good idea to know what both sides are saying. We have been eating a whole foods diet for about a year or so. I have to say that studying Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s teachiings has helped our entire family incorporate a lot more vegetation into our diets (which I feel were lacking). Since having done so, my eczema has basically disappeared (I’ve had it on my wedding ring finger for about 2 years). So I think that there are things that we can take away from both camps. I have to article has helped me feel less guilty about not being completely vegan..LOL. Thank you! Found you through Little House In the Suburbs.

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  13. This is a wonderful post!! Thank you so much for your common sense approach to… It is a shame that more do not. You are so correct in that studies are so easily misleading and come out on the side of who is funding the research. That is not to say there are those who actually run a study and publish the exact results that are found.
    We must look at the bigger picture and do a little research for ourselves.

  14. Super article! It’s going to take words like yours and those of many others to show the devastating damage that can be blamed squarely upon belief in the phrase that has become North America’s mantra, “high cholesterol artery-clogging saturated fats.” It’s scary, as you point out, that the dietary wisdom of thousands and thousands of years can so easily be almost wiped out in a couple of generations – obviously at our peril. Thanks to writers like you and the wise people at the Weston A. Price Foundation, there is hope that we will return to traditional farming practices and eat nutrient-dense, clean and full-fat animal foods and forget all about the cholesterol myth. My favourite line I’ve read about cholesterol states that cholesterol was found guilty because it was at the scene of the crime – the crime being the damage caused to the interior of our veins from eating the industrialized, polluted, and high carb foods of our modern world. More and more people are realizing that cholesterol repairs our bodies and is, in fact, health-giving in so many ways.

  15. Thanks for this detailed post on the “dangers” of red meat. I’ve been having this debate off and on with my family lately (one of whom is a doctor) because of all the negative media coverage of research implying that red meat is the root of all evil. I find it really frustrating as these studies come out and continue to just misinform the general public about what they should and should not be eating. We buy grass-fed beef in bulk from a small local farmer once or twice a year. The cows we get our meat from are entirely different animals from the cows that most people get their hamburger meat from on sale at the supermarket. The former is healthy, nutrient rich, and nourishing, while the latter is straight up toxic. Still, family members and vegetarian friends seem to be concerned about OUR health because we eat red meat! Oh, the irony.

  16. Thanks for this! My husband is Mongolian. When we moved there after we got married it was a BIG–HUGE–paradigm shift for me. I saw these people in the countryside who were so old–many over 100, and they lived off red meat, animal fat, and milk products and virtually no produce at all, at least in the winter when it wasn’t growing while.

    It went against everything I had ever learned about nutrition!

    Now I am proud to say that our family lives off red meat and milk. I love it that our diet is high in fat. We are all slim and healthy and I am so grateful that I had that wake-up call in Mongolia!

  17. Loved this post! I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans and I will use these arguments against them. They say animal protein is the number one cause of cancer. I just have to laugh. Thanks for this post!

  18. Interesting info, like that on the nutritional value of eggs. Wow! Thanks for sharing this at the Healthy Tuesday hop. :)

  19. Thank you so much for helping to cut through the plethora of nutritional misinformation that’s out there! It breaks my heart that so many people purposely avoid eating meat and eggs because they think they aren’t healthy choices.

    There is such a huge nutritional difference between factory farmed products and pasture based, organically farmed ones, not only for our people, but for our planet too. It’s time for quality to be put back into the food debate once again.

    Articles like yours make a world of difference. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Amen! A conversation about quality is long overdue.

  20. Great article. I have been writing for a year at life less hurried. I have most recently been covering topics like this. It is so hard with the media screaming so much in your ears. People are so confused about what is good and what is bad. I throw out all the advice. and go with my gut. If it grows on a tree or in a farmers feild, then I eat it. If it comes out of a box or bag with health claims on it, it is a no go. If they have to shout it out on the front of the package that this food is “healthy” I know that it is probably associated with some stupid study that they have skewed the data in thier favor. I think it was Mark Twain who said “There are three kinds of lies in this world; lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

    • Thanks so much for your comment! More than ever it is important to sift through the reductive headlines and the bright, shiny objects and return to common sense and traditional wisdom. I love that quote!

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