How sick are you meat? | Knowledge and the environment | DW

Bake salami for breakfast, steaks for lunch, roast with friends in the evening – that’s how a lot of meat can end up on the plate in just one day. In the USA and Australia, each person consumes an average of 100 kg of meat per year, in Europe about 80 kg and in Germany about 60 kg per capita per year.

This is – sorry – way too much. So much for the environment, which is not what this text is about. Too much to sustain the amount of animals being raised for massive meat hunger in a species-appropriate manner. But that’s not the point here either. Also, the amount of meat eaten in industrialized countries is too much for their health.

Therefore, the German Dietetic Association (DGE) recommends a maximum of 600 grams of meat per week. According to a nutrition report recently published by the DGE, men in Germany in particular consume nearly twice as much. The meta-analyses included in the study showed that high consumption of red and processed meat has a somewhat negative impact on certain disease risks, DGE wrote in the press release accompanying the report.

What diseases caused by meat?

Walter Willett has been dealing with the relationship between nutrition, disease and health for 40 years. He is Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

When asked about the main health problems caused by eating meat, he mentioned cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Red meat, that is, that comes from cattle, pigs, lambs or goats, is particularly harmful here.

“Red meat is rich in saturated fat, which raises LDL cholesterol and is a specific cause of heart attacks,” Willett says. At the same time, red meat almost does not contain polyunsaturated fatty acids. This, in turn, lowers the levels of fats in the blood and thus the risk of heart disease.

Red meat increases a risk factor known to cardiologists: trimethylamine oxide, or TMAO for short. It leads to an abnormal buildup of cholesterol and other fats in the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis. According to an American study from 2019, the first signs of atherosclerosis become noticeable after short-term excessive consumption of red meat. Extreme here means two servings of meat a day. Many Europeans manage to do this in a very convenient way.

Researchers also suspect that eating red meat also impairs kidney function. They observed that the kidneys were less efficient at removing TMAO after a meat meal.

Meat increases the risk of type 2 diabetes

Walter Willett himself was involved in some studies that examined the relationship between meat consumption and diabetes, also known as type 2 diabetes.

According to studies, red meat in particular promotes diabetes. In another study, Willett and colleagues also found a link between grilled or grilled meats and an increased risk of diabetes. The result was applied not only to beef steaks, but also to chicken thighs.

The World Health Organization counts about 60 million people with diabetes in Europe. upward trend. The World Health Organization says on its website that diabetes is “largely avoidable through healthy eating and adequate exercise”.

Of course, meat is only one variable. “Leaving meat out and eating sugar-sweetened beverages instead doesn’t have a single health benefit,” Willett says. Anyone who eats only French fries and cola can be vegetarian and diabetic at the same time.

Is meat carcinogenic?

The risk of developing certain types of cancer has been linked to meat consumption in various studies. Red and processed meats, including sausages, ham and salami, are particularly problematic here.

However, in 2019, a publication by a team of scientists from the so-called NutriRECS consortium made headlines, recommending that adults continue to consume red and processed meat as before.

The publication drew criticism from experts because, as the authors themselves write, the recommendations were based on very weak evidence.

In fact, three of the five meta-analyses that the consortium authors used as the basis for their recommendations found that red and processed meats lead to higher cancer mortality.

Another meta-analysis from 2021 also came to the conclusion that extreme hunger for meat significantly increases the risk of breast and colon cancer, for example. Other carcinogens are also produced when roasting or grilling.

Can I give up meat?

Many people are convinced that meat is just part of a healthy diet. In fact, this is true in areas where vegetables and legumes are difficult to grow and where people depend on the nutrients provided by the meat of their animals.

“Even vegetarians can be healthy,” says Walter Willett.

“Of course, meat also contains valuable ingredients,” Walter Willett says. Chicken meat is less harmful than red meat and fish can also contribute to a healthy diet. No one should give up meat and animal products entirely to stay healthy. Conversely, vegetarians and vegans can be very quick-witted.

“The best thing is a mostly plant-based diet,” says the nutritionist. Nuts, legumes and soy products are good sources of protein. Vegetables also contain a lot of dietary fiber and phytochemicals that reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

A predominantly plant-based diet contributes to environmental protection and animal welfare. So Walter Willett believes that the environmental consequences of eating meat should be taken into account when answering the question of how bad meat is. “There are no healthy people without a healthy planet.”

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