Is Meat Part of a Healthy Diet?

Part 1

It’s no surprise that people feel confused about what to eat and what to avoid for optimal health. “Experts” are promoting a wide range of eating plans and many of their arguments sound convincing. We observe that our fellow Americans are struggling more than ever with weight issues, diabetes, heart disease, circulation troubles, arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic inflammation, immune problems, digestive challenges and the seemingly endless symptoms that result from these problems. For those who are seeking a solution to health challenges I suggest to first look at what you choose to eat and drink. In this article the word “diet” is about what we consume and is not about weight loss.

What We Eat Matters

Every day I speak with people who have serious, painful, frightening and debilitating health challenges that substantially impede functioning and quality of life. The majority of these lovely people describe what they eat and drink and it becomes clear that their diet is a habit. The discrepancy in diet between the healthiest folks and the sickest is significant and fairly consistent, no matter the age. This has convinced me that the most current research into the effects of specific foods matches my observations, and is important to share for the benefit of those who are willing to make changes. If what you’ve been doing for a long time isn’t helping you to feel better it’s time to do things differently. If you’re suffering, this isn’t time for timid half-measures but instead to “take the bull by the horns” and do things differently starting now. If other people prepare your meals I encourage you to be proactive and communicate your desired new food choices with that person. Time is of the essence!

Many of us grew up eating a (so-called) balanced diet that included all of the food groups:  grains (boxed cereal, corn, pasta, white rice, oatmeal, pastries, white bread); vegetables (2-4 servings/day and sometimes a salad made with iceberg lettuce); fruits (orange juice from concentrate for breakfast, and occasionally raisins, an apple and other fruit in desserts); meat – which includes poultry and seafood (2 servings/day);  eggs (several times/week); dairy (cow’s milk on cereal, cheese with lunch and a glass of milk at each meal.); beans (in soup, canned pork and beans or added to a salad); and nuts and seeds (now and then, often in desserts or at Christmas time). Soft drinks, candy, fast food and snack/junk foods were popular but not as ubiquitous as today. Obesity was fairly rare but dentists had a field day.

For many Americans raised in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s this may resemble your formative-years’ diet, unless you were blessed to have a home garden or grew up on a farm. More vegetables were consumed by these fortunate ones, and often more meat, eggs and dairy as well. This kind of diet was common and led to a variety of health challenges in children ranging from acne, asthma, immune system problems, ear infections, digestive disorders, constipation, sleep disorders and many more. Some children made it through childhood eating this way without problems but they were the exception. As we get older, eating a diet high in animal foods to the exclusion of high fiber plant foods leads to more chronic issues that slowly and steadily develop into very real and painful problems. By the time we reach middle age the problems turn into diagnoses of things like diabetes, overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, psoriasis and more.

Yet there are people who avoid animal foods and instead focus on a whole foods plant-based diet consisting of five daily servings of vegetables, four of fruit, three of beans/legumes, three of whole grains and one of nuts/seeds. This is a low-inflammation, high nutrient and high fiber diet and with some minor variations can be considered the healthiest diet for humans.

I once worked for the man who opened the first health food store in the southwest. Bob was a life-long vegetarian who wasn’t sick a day in his life and never suffered from any degenerative diseases, chronic pain or any other problems. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 96.

Heart Disease and Animal Foods

Beginning in the 1950’s, Dr. Ancel Key’s goal was to discover why heart disease rates in the United States soared after WW2 ended. During the war many foods, especially meat, eggs and butter, were rationed and heart disease rates dropped. Many Americans grew “Victory Gardens” in their yards, and consumed a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Dr. Keys was convinced that saturated fat from animal foods was the cause for heart disease and succeeded in proving it. Unfortunately, one of the results of his groundbreaking research was the proliferation and wide use of highly processed and unnatural vegetable oils from corn, soy, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut, etc.  as well as Crisco, margarine and other hydrogenated fats. These products are contaminated with chemicals and many are rancid due to processing. These oils are not heart protective and instead exacerbate the heart disease problem, along with the advent and proliferation of cheap high fructose corn syrup.

Dr. Keys championed the whole foods plant-based Mediterranean diet and spent the last 30 years of his life in Italy, living to just short of his 101st birthday. The people who famously reside in the “Blue Zones” around the world and live very long and healthy lives are known to consume between zero and five small servings of animal-based foods per month. Compare this with the typical American consumption of animal foods at every meal.

All animal fats, with the exception of wild fish, are saturated. Should you decide to experiment with the currently popular Paleo or Ketogenic diets please keep an eye on your cholesterol level, blood sugar level and blood pressure. A recommended counterbalance is consuming walnuts (or walnut oil) which have a measurable protective effect on endothelial cells lining our blood vessels, especially when added to a high fat meal. This will help to prevent the stiffening of the arteries that results from eating fats and oils.


Many factors are involved in the development and proliferation of cancer, including exposure to toxins and emotional stress. It appears that meat consumption may be a contributor as well. Modern factory farms utilize massive amounts of antibiotics, hormones and chemicals added to the corn, soy and other stuff fed to the animals. At the present time it’s difficult to determine the exact cancer triggers in meat, but the correlation is clear. No doubt there are scientists and doctors who have well-informed theories but it may take more time before there are studies to prove them.

Acidity and the Blood

Animal foods are very high in amino acids (the building blocks of protein). When acid forming foods are consumed (in excess) the body has no option but to borrow alkalizing minerals from bones to maintain the optimal pH of the blood. When this loan is repeated regularly for years the deficit to the bones can become a serious problem. Certain foods are known to be acid-forming, for example: high-protein foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, certain dairy products and seafood; sugar and other sweeteners, soft drinks, coffee, alcohol, processed foods, some grains, some fruits and some nuts and seeds. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of testing your urine and saliva pH on a weekly basis (at least) to measure the effects of your diet and lifestyle on your health. Constant levels of acidity and inflammation contribute to loss of cartilage in the joints and spine and can lead to arthritis.  (Stress is another powerful acidifier so please do whatever you can to keep it to a minimum.)

Part 2 will go into more detail about why nutrition-focused doctors are switching to a mostly vegan diet and why you might want to consider it for yourself.

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Plant-based versus animal protein video: