This was the interesting question posed on a BBC2 Horizon programme series commencing on 20th August, presented by the excellent Dr Michael Mosley. The two episodes that I watched began with the possible health consequences of a (in his opinion), “high meat diet”, and how it would affect him over the course of the 28 days during which he followed it. The second episode focused on the dilemma posed for anyone who wanted to be an “ethical carnivore” and concentrated on the massively deleterious environmental impact of raising animals for food. As a health-conscious vegan who is familiar with the science surrounding these subjects, I was interested in the programmes to find out the conclusions that would be drawn.
Prior to embarking on his high meat diet, Dr Mosley had a blood sample taken and his body stats measured, including body fat percentage. These parameters were repeated at the end of his experiment. This brought to mind a slightly less extreme version of “Supersize Me”. Dr Mosley was only going to double his meat intake to 120 grams per day; an amount frequently consumed by people in the UK, whose meat consumption has been rising quite dramatically since the 1950s.
At the beginning of the first episode, viewers were informed by a dietitian of the beneficial nutrients found in meat, for example the old protein story, and vitamin B12 (interesting that up to 70% of meat eaters have been shown to be deficient in B12, despite their diet). Meat was then compared to “vegetarian” sources of protein. What a pity that those chosen were soya and cheese, unhealthy options which would be conspicuous by their absence on the living foods vegan diet that I personally follow. Dr Mosley then travelled to the USA, and met some 7th Day Adventists, whose religion discourages meat eating, and unearthed some interesting findings about the long-running Adventists Study – notably their relative lack of heart disease and cancer in comparison not just with the general population, but also other Adventists who choose to eat meat. He also interviewed an epidemiologist involved in a huge cancer and heart disease study that had followed participants for 30 years. This well respected doctor now ate hardly any meat as a result of the findings of the study, which were, in a nutshell, that the more meat the subjects consumed, the more cancer, heart disease and diabetes they were likely to get, not to mention obesity and its associated problems. Unfortunately Colin Campbell’s China Study was not mentioned, but we got the message anyway.
The most interesting aspect of following the so-called “high meat diet”, which wasn’t even particularly high in meat, were the changes that Dr Mosley noted as a result of his experiment. Like all good scientists, he stated at the outset that these were changes that happened to him personally, and therefore may not be 100% applicable to the millions of meat eaters in the UK (for a study to be representative, it needs many more participants). After just 28 days on eating twice as much meat as he normally would, he gained 3kg of visceral fat (the most dangerous type, and a strong predictor of heart disease), and his blood cholesterol rose significantly. I have stated in several other blog posts that elevated total cholesterol is not the only indicator of heart disease, but these individual findings are interesting nonetheless. Immediately upon receipt of this news, Dr Mosley changed his diet again; not eliminating meat consumption but reducing it, despite his discussions with the scientists and study participants in the USA.
In the second episode, the question of “can I be an ethical carnivore” appeared to be answered quite simply: no. The most environmentally friendly way of producing meat is stated to be corn fed animals on feedlot, since this intensive method of livestock farming uses less land and produces less methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas known to play its part in global warming, in addition to getting the cattle to slaughter weight more rapidly. Corn fed beef is however a less healthy choice than grass fed beef (please note – my opinion is that neither is health-giving and both should be avoided), since the fatty acid and amino acid spectrum in the meat is altered by such rapid fattening.
The issue of the developing world becoming more affluent and therefore increasing global demand for meat was skimmed over, but sadly a major point was missed, that being that if the price of meat more closely reflected what it costs to produce (i.e. if subsidies were removed), most people would not be able to afford to eat meat in the quantities they currently do, so a major part of the problem would disappear. It was disappointing that probably the best and most stringently researched book on this subject, “Food Choices and Sustainability”, by Dr Richard Oppenlander, who presented at The Real Truth about Health conference in New York in January 2014, was never mentioned; neither was Oppenlander interviewed.
Meat eating is a personal choice. If we are striving for a more sustainable and ethical world, we must radically change our eating habits. Would our health suffer as a consequence of eliminating meat and dairy products? The answer appears to be a resounding no. Adopting a plant based approach to nutrition would not only improve the health of nations, but that of the planet. A plant-based diet with a strong emphasis on living foods is slowly but surely coming to the fore as the healthiest and most sustainable way of nourishing oneself. For an overview of the scientific rationale of a plant-based diet, please read the first chapter of my latest book “The Whole Body Solution”, the first 34 pages of which are now available to view for free here.