Researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia have found that eating meat provides important benefits for overall human health and life expectancy.
Published in the International Journal of General Medicine on Feb. 22, the study looked into the overall health effects of total meat consumption in over 170 countries.
Researchers found that the consumption of energy from carbohydrate crops (grains and tubers) does not result in greater life expectancy, while total meat consumption does, independent of the competing effects of total calorie intake, financial status, urban advantages, and obesity.
Author of the study, University of Adelaide researcher in biomedicine, Dr. Wenpeng You, said that due to meat consumption, humans have evolved and thrived for millions of years.
“We wanted to look more closely at research that has thrown a negative spotlight on meat consumption in the human diet,” he said in a release.
“While detrimental effects of meat consumption on human health have been found in some studies in the past, the methods and findings in these studies are controversial and circumstantial.”
You added that complex and misleading conclusions can be drawn when studies only look at how eating meat correlates with people’s health or life expectancy within a particular group or country.
Therefore, You’s team analysed the correlations between meat consumption and life expectancy, as well as child mortality, at regional and global levels, which minimised study bias, making their conclusions more representative of the general effects of eating meat.
This was done by considering all the countries and territories of the world where data on meat intake is available, which left researchers with a set of data made up of 175 populations with all the required information for the study, covering approximately 90 percent of the world.
Co-author and University of Adelaide biologist, Dr. Renata Henneberg, said the extent of meat’s role in human health may vary depending on the type of group studied and meat chosen.
“However, when all meat types for all the populations are considered, as they are in this study, the positive correlation between meat consumption and overall health at a population level is not sporadic,” she said.
Meanwhile, nutritionist Yanfei Ge pointed out that although some studies in certain populations in developed countries have associated vegetarian and vegan diets with improved health, this doesn’t necessarily contradict the beneficial effects of meat consumption.
“Studies looking into the diets of wealthy, highly educated communities, are looking at people who have the purchasing power and the knowledge to select plant-based diets that access the full nutrients normally contained in meat,” Ge said.
“Essentially, they have replaced meat with all the same nutrition meat provides.”
According to Statista, in 2019, 42 percent of people in Australia were eating less meat or none at all. Of these, 10 percent classified themselves as vegetarians or vegans, 12 percent as meat reducers, and 20 percent as flexitarians, which means they follow a primarily vegetarian diet, but occasionally eat meat or fish.
University of Adelaide anthropologist and biologist at the Polish Academy of Science, Dr. Arthur Saniotis, who co-authored the report, said that the take home message from the study is that meat consumption in beneficial to human health as long as it is consumed in moderation and the meat industry is run ethically.