Many people have reduced their consumption of meat due to concerns about the effect of methane belched by ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) on climate warming.
There are also claims that a vegetarian diet aids longevity. However, this claim has recently been disputed by scientists.
However, consuming meat regularly can reduce the risk of early death and increase longevity, according to a study led by University of Adelaide scientists of more than 218,000 adults from more than 50 countries around the world.
The researchers found that the consumption of energy from carbohydrate crops (grains and tubers) does not lead to greater life expectancy, and that total meat consumption correlates to greater life expectancy, independent of the competing effects of total calories intake, economic affluence, urban advantages and obesity.
Dr Wenpeng You, researcher in biomedicine, says humans have evolved and thrived over millions of years because of their significant consumption of meat.
“We wanted to look more closely at research that has thrown a negative spotlight on meat consumption in the human diet,” he says.
“Looking only at correlations of meat consumption with people’s health or life expectancy within a particular group, and or, a particular region or country, can lead to complex and misleading conclusions.
“Our team analysed the correlations between meat eating and life expectancy, and child mortality, at global and regional levels, minimising the study bias, and making our conclusion more representative of the general health effects of meat eating.”
Senior author of the study, Emeritus Professor, Maciej Henneberg, says humans have adapted to meat-eating during more than two million years of evolution.
“Meat of small and large animals provided optimal nutrition to our ancestors who developed genetic, physiological, and morphological adaptations to eating meat products and we have inherited those adaptations,” he said.
The complete nutritional profile of meat and human adaptation to meat eating have enabled humans to gain many physical benefits, including greater life expectancy.
Research has shown vegetarian diets may result in longevity, but almost all vegetarians consume some animal protein in the form of dairy products, eggs or fish.
Vegan diets contain no animal products but need to be carefully supplemented with relatively exotic ingredients to include all essential nutrients.
Co-author Dr Arthur Saniotis says the findings are in line with other studies that show cereal-based foods have lower nutritional value than meat.
“While this is no surprise to many of us, it still needs to be pointed out,” he said.
Meat not only provides energy but also all essential amino acids and other nutrients contributing to our overall health. Without meat in our diet, we may not thrive.
“Our take home message is that meat-eating is beneficial to human health provided that it is consumed in moderation and that the meat industry is conducted in an ethical way, said Dr Saniotis.
Meat cultured from lab-grown animal cells may provide a solution for people who are ethically opposed to killing animals. However, religious authorities are unclear as to whether cultured meat is Kosher or Halal (compliant with Jewish or Islamic dietary laws).
The research was published last year in the International Journal of General Medicine.