Eating Meat Good or Bad for You? Health Benefits, Myths & Why

Meat has been demonized a great deal over recent years, heavily linked by its detractors to diseases such as cancer which are on the rise. 

close up woman with red lipstick eating meat with fork

Much of what we read and hear about meat is propaganda, however. 

Think about it.  

Human beings have been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years.  

It does not make any sense that a food we have been eating that long without consequence would suddenly start causing modern diseases.

There are a lot of reasons people avoid eating meat. 

Not all of them are health-based.  Some are moral.  There are people who believe it is wrong to consume animals or animal products. 

There are also important issues of animal rights; factory farms are notorious for engaging in animal cruelty to make a quick and tidy profit.

But it is really a tragedy that these motivations are not always on the table during discussions of nutrition and health. 

The issues are easily conflated and distorted, and everyone should have the right to accurate nutritional information about the food on their plate.

Let us take a look at the evidence so that we can draw scientifically-backed conclusions about the nutritional profile of meat.

​Eating Meat Benefits Infographic

Eating Meat Benefits Infographic

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Before I get into the eight benefits of eating meat, I want to introduce you to some basic meat terminology. 

Types of Meat

Before we can launch into any discussion of meat, it is helpful to know more about the categories of meat.

You probably already talk about “red meat” and “white meat,” but not everyone is crystal clear about which types of meat fall into each bracket.

So for your reference:

  • Red meat: Beef, pork, veal, lamb, goat, and game meat (venison, elk, bison, etc.).
  • White meat: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, wild birds (quail, pheasant, etc.).

There is also a third category of meat:

  • Processed meat: Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meats, jerky.

What separates each of these categories?

You probably noticed that red meat typically comes from mammals, while white meat usually comes from birds. 

Red meat quite literally is redder and darker in color than white meat.  It contains more myoglobin, which is a special type of iron-rich protein. 

Note that pork is classified as a red meat.  

Pork causes some confusion thanks to a marketing slogan which referred to it as ​"the other white meat.​"

Do not be fooled; pork is not a white meat.  It is a red meat. 

Processed meat may be red or white meat, though it is usually red meat (with the exception of some lunch meats​ - or sausage made from turkey instead of pork). 

What separates this processed category from the others?  

If meat has been processed, that means that it has been modified in some way.  

It may have been smoked, dried, cured, salted, spiced, or so on.

KEY POINTSmall game and bird meat typically is classified as white meat, while larger game and mammal meat is classified as red meat.

If a meat is modified through smoking, curing, or another process, it is referred to as a processed meat.

​8 Benefits of Eating Meat​

Now that you are familiar with the different types of meat you can buy, let’s get into some of the health benefits of eating meat. 

1.  We are omnivores.

human digestive tract

There is a persistent myth (or perhaps an item of propaganda) among misinformed vegans that humans are natural herbivores.

The root of this myth seems to be the concept that our primate progenitors were herbivores, and therefore we must be as well.

In reality, extremes are typically human inventions.  They are rarely found in nature.

That includes super-strict diet categorization.

In actuality, human beings are natural omnivores, as are many of our progenitors (7, 8).

We have been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Our digestive tracts are similar to those found in other carnivores with long small intestines and short colons, not to mention the high concentrations of hydrochloric acid found in our guts.

The purpose of this hydrochloric acid is to break down protein from meat products (9).

Still, our digestive tracts do not entirely resemble those of predominantly carnivorous animals. 

In fact, they are a happy medium between those of carnivores and herbivores, suggesting indeed that we are optimized to function as omnivores (10).

Additionally, we are lacking certain organs which are found in fully herbivorous species and which are specalized to digest plant fiber. 

Additionally, there are other possible markers of our long patterns of predation in our physiologies. 

Consider the fact that our eyes are set forward in our heads, not on the sides.  This is a common feature of predatory animals. 

Eyes set forward help gauge depth and distance when pursuing prey. 

Eyes set on the side help prey to spot predators through a wider field of view.

Of course, this may also be tied to the fact that our ancestors swung from tree to tree. 

Eyes set forward allowed them to gauge the distance from tree limb to tree limb.

Speaking of evolution and adaptation, there is one more reason why we can state definitively that human beings are optimized to eat meat.

Researchers believe that a diet which included meat is a large part of what fueled the development of the human brain (11).

Our large brains are among our greatest gifts.  They set us apart from other animals. 

Ultimately, they account for our place at the top of the food chain.

Many other animals are stronger and faster than we are.

But none can match our brain power. 

Just how long have human beings been eating meat? 

We have evidence that humans have always eaten meat​ - and that even our pre-human progenitors were doing so 1.5 million years ago (12).

KEY POINTDespite the common myth that humans are optimized to function as herbivores, scientific evidence from multiple sources tells us that we are actually omnivores.

Not only that, but eating meat has played a crucial role in our evolution.

This started even before our ancestors evolved into modern humans.

​2.  Meat contains a great deal of nutrition.

There is a ton of nutrition in meat. 

raw skirt steak

Consider the nutritional profile of a lean portion of inside skirt steak (beef), which has been cooked and broiled.  One 3 ounce serving contains the following:

  • 23 grams of protein
  • 25.5 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Iron: 13% of your DV
  • Magnesium: 5% of your DV
  • Phosphorus: 20% of your DV
  • Potassium: 7% of your DV
  • Zinc: 42% of your DV
  • Selenium: 24% of your DV
  • Thiamin: 5% of your DV
  • Riboflavin: 10% of your DV
  • Niacin: 16% of your DV
  • Vitamin B6: 14% of your DV
  • Vitamin B12: 54% of your DV
  • Choline (a key nutrient for brain function): 86.3 mg

Here is the nutritional profile for a cup of chopped or diced chicken breast meat (140 g) which has been cooked and roasted:

  • 43 grams of protein
  • 98 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Iron: 8% of your DV
  • Magnesium: 10% of your DV
  • Phosphorus: 32% of your DV
  • Potassium: 10% of your DV
  • Zinc: 9% of your DV
  • Selenium: 55% of your DV
  • Thiamin: 7% of your DV
  • Riboflavin: 9% of your DV
  • Niacin: 96% of your DV
  • Vitamin K: 1% of your DV
  • Vitamin B6: 42% of your DV
  • Vitamin B12: 8% of your DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 14% of your DV
  • Choline: 119 mg

If you look up nutritional data for other types of meat, you will find variations in nutrition. 

If you are looking for meat which is high in thiamin, for example, pork is an excellent choice. 

Do not forget that you can also take in a lot of nutrition from eating organs such as liver.  

These tend to be high in vitamin B12, vitamin A, selenium, iron, and choline. 

Meat is also a great source of creatine

This important nutrient plays a key role in energy regulation in both the brain and muscles throughout the body.  

You cannot find creatine in plant-based food sources (13, 14, 15, 16).

Another important meat antioxidant is carnosine.  Once again, this is something you cannot get by eating plants (17, 18, 19).

You also get EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids from meats. 

While you can get omega-3 fatty acids from plants, they are in a form called ALA.  

It is harder for your body to convert ALA into an active form of omega-3 than it is to simply take in an active form like EPA or DHA to begin with (20, 21, 22).

KEY POINTMeat is incredibly nutritious in terms of its vitamin and mineral content.

It is also a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids in their active form, and it contains a lot of protein.

Meat also provides us with certain nutrients like carnosine and creatine which we cannot get from plant sources.

​3.  Meat is an excellent source of protein.

Man flexing his muscle

It is worth talking a little bit more about protein in-depth.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids.

Our body tissues in turn are made up of protein.  This includes our muscles, bones, skin, hair, and organs.  

More than 10,000 types of protein are found throughout the human body.

We use protein for:

  • The literal composition of our bodies.  Protein accounts for roughly 75% of your body weight
  • Wound healing
  • DNA replication
  • Hormone production and regulation
  • Immune function
  • Enzymes (proteins are their building blocks)
  • Digestion (which enzymes are necessary for)
  • Hemoglobin production

To function at our best, our diets need to not only have a gog protein but also be high in the type of protein that we need.

We require our proteins to contain a healthy and balanced profile of amino acids.

While our bodies can produce some types of amino acid chains, there are nine amino acids which we cannot make on our own. 

We must turn to dietary sources for these.

While we can take in protein from plants, not all of these protein sources include a complete amino acid profile (23).

The proteins found in meats contain a complete and balanced profile of amino acids​ - including the ones that we cannot make on our own.

KEY POINTWe need proteins with a complete profile of amino acids to function at our best.

We must acquire certain amino acids from diet because our bodies cannot produce them.

​Few plant proteins ​provide all the amino acids that meat products do​.

4.  Eating meat can help increase satiety while boosting metabolism.

Young happy woman eating shish kebab

Typically people worry that the relatively high-fat content in meat will cause them to get fat.

By eating lean meats, however, you can greatly reduce your fat intake. 

Plus, dietary fat is not all bad news.

But what many people do not realize is that a diet high in meat is high in protein, and protein promotes satiety while boosting metabolism (24, 25, 26, 27).

This means that a diet which includes meat actually promotes weight control or weight loss in two different ways.

When you eat meat, you feel fuller, so you are less tempted to overeat and snack.  

As a consequence, you'll likely eat less throughout the day (​80).

Since your metabolism speeds up, you burn through calories faster. 

This can help you to lose weight both while you are working out and throughout the day.

In fact, a diet high in protein can burn an extra 80 to 100 calories a day by boosting the metabolism (81​, ​82)

These are two of the reasons why high-fat low-carb (HFLC) diets are so successful in promoting weight loss (28, 29). 

Being able to lose weight on a high-fat diet debunks ‘eating fat makes you fat' myth.

When you eat a high-fat low-carb diet, you can easily eat a lot of meat. 

You can do HFLC as a vegetarian, but it is easier to cover your energy intake needs while consuming meat.

Because foods which are high in protein are so effective at increasing feelings of satiety, most people who are on low-carb diets which include a lot of protein-rich foods can simply eat until they are full to lose weight.  

They do not need to count calories. 

KEY POINTYou may worry that eating meat will make you gain weight due to the fat content, but high-fat low-carb diets can actually help you to lose weight.

The high protein content of meat helps to increase feelings of fullness while also boosting metabolism. Both can help you to
burn fat more efficiently.

​5.  When you eat meat, you support bone health.

Osteoporosis is an extremely common condition, affecting around 200 million people around the world. 

It is particularly common in elderly men and women.

A diet high in meat protein can increase the density of your bones, strengthening them (30).

One study (31) which looked at the relationship between dietary protein intake and hip fractures concluded, ​"Intake of dietary protein, especially from animal sources, may be associated with reduced incidence of hip fractures in postmenopausal women.​"

KEY POINTProtein forms the building blocks of healthy bone tissue.

When you eat a diet which is high in protein, like one rich in meat products, you strengthen your bones and prevent the development of bone disease or fractures. 

Research has found that protein from animal sources in particular may have a strong protective effect.

​6.  Eating meat helps you to increase and retain muscle mass.

Man weightlifting with dumbbells

If you are into bodybuilding, you probably are already aware of the importance of protein when it comes to bulking out.

Eating protein from animals can help you to build and retain muscle mass.

This is especially true in older men and women (32, 33, 34, 35, 36).

Additionally, meat protein can help to reduce inflammation markers.

This is very helpful when building muscle since inflammation is always part of the process to some degree, but it can lead to pain.

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This means you may not only be more successful bodybuilding with a diet rich in animal protein, but you also may find that you experience less aching after your workouts.

KEY POINTIf you want to build and retain muscle mass, a diet which contains meat will provide you with the proteins you need to do so effectively.

​7.  Meat contains iron which your body can easily absorb.

Iron is another essential nutrient. 

It plays a number of roles in your body, including helping you to metabolize proteins and produce new blood cells.

You can get iron from both plants and meat sources, but your body has an easier time absorbing iron from meat (37, 38, 39).

This is because it comes in a form with higher bioavailability called ​"heme iron.​"

KEY POINTWhile iron is available in both plant and animal food sources, the iron in meat is easier to absorb.

This may make meat a particularly important dietary resource if you have difficulties with iron absorption.

​8.  There are no proven nutritional benefits to giving up meat. 

Lamb meat with stir fried vegetables

So far, there is little evidence that giving up meat for an all-vegetarian diet has any solid health benefits. 

But as you now know, there is a great deal of evidence backing up the nutritional value of meat. 

One study (40) does report that eating a vegetarian diet may lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.

This study does say, "The relationship [between the diet and the lower risk of disease] persisted after adjusting for lifestyle and demographic factors.​"

Some studies directly contradict this finding however. 

One such study (41) looked at 4,336 men and 6,435 women. 

All participants in the study were health-conscious but with differing diets and lifestyles (43% were vegetarian). 

After a 17-year follow-up, it was found that the mortality rate was around half of that for the general population.  

But no significant gap was found in the mortality rates between vegetarian and non-vegetarian participants. 

Instead, it was discovered that the daily consumption of fresh fruit (77% of participants) was the factor which significantly reduced mortality for all causes combined as well as several specific causes.

Then again, a third study (42) indicates that vegetarians have a lower risk of death from heart disease than meat eaters. 

But this study also noted, ​"There were no significant differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in mortality from the other causes of death examined.​" 

These other causes included various cancers as well as cerebrovascular disease. 

KEY POINTThere is very little evidence that giving up meat may reduce the chances of dying from ischemic heart disease, but currently there is little evidence to suggest that mortality from other causes is reduced at all on a vegetarian diet.

​Concerns ​About ​Eating ​Meat​

Now that I have addressed the benefits of eating meat, I would like to discuss several concerns. 

Let’s start with how to prepare your meat safely so that you do not expose yourself unnecessarily to carcinogens. 

How to Cook Meat Properly to Reduce Exposure to Carcinogens

For meat to be healthy, you need to cook it properly.

One of the reasons there are concerns about carcinogens in meat is that not everyone knows how to cook meat the healthy way.

If you grill, smoke or barbecue your meat at a high temperature, fat drips out of the meat.  

The fat then drips down and splatters onto the cooking surface below.​

Beef meat slices on barbecue grill

​Contact with the heated surface leads to a reaction which in turn produces carcinogenic compounds.

These compounds are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAHs can rise back up in the smoke and percolate into your meat as it cooks.

If you do nothing to prevent this, you will have those carcinogenic compounds present in your meat when you eat it.

Thankfully taking simple steps while cooking can prevent this to a large degree.

If you simply wipe the drippings away the moment they fall onto the heated surface and do what you can to ventilate the smoke, you can reduce the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by as much as 89% (1, 2, 3).

Also potentially concerning are Heterocyclic amines (HAs).  

When you heat up your meat to a very high temperature while cooking, sometimes a blackened crust will form directly on the meat.  

This is the result of the formation of HAs.

Heterocyclic amines are carcinogenic.  Once again however, you can take steps to prevent their formation. 

​Lengthy cooking and cool-down times can lead to higher levels of heterocyclic amines (4, 5).

So if you can avoid extended cooking and cool-down times while you are preparing your meat, you can reduce the amount of heterocyclic amines you are exposed to.

Finally, there are a couple of additives found in processed meats which you should be aware of, called nitrates and nitrites.

It was previously believed that nitrates are carcinogenic, but some researchers now consider them to be harmless (there is still some contention on this issue). 

There is also contention over whether nitrites increase the risk of cancer.

While nitrites and nitrates may have some health drawbacks, they may have some benefits however​ - so they are not necessarily 100% bad for you.

One study that looked at vegetable and fruit nitrates and nitrites noted that they may lower blood pressure (6).

Whether or not this applies to meat nitrites and nitrates is still unclear.

KEY POINTNitrites and nitrates present in meat may or may not pose a cancer risk - but they may also lower blood pressure. Research is mixed at this point.

Improperly cooking meat can also lead to the presence of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

But if you take steps to cook meat safely at high temperatures (or simply avoid cooking meat this way), you can greatly reduce your exposure to these compounds.

​Does Meat Increase Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease?

Medical personnel showing a paper heart

Many people are under the impression that eating meat vastly will increase their chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

The reason for this concern is the high amount of saturated fat found in red meats.

According to the most recent scientific research however, these concerns have been greatly over-inflated (43, 44).

You will recall however that there has been at least some research potentially linking a diet which includes meat to increased chances of ischaemic heart disease (42).

One reason for the mixed data may concern the matter of how the meat is processed.

Two large studies (45, 46) found no association between unprocessed red meat and cardiovascular disease or diabetes. 

They did however find an association between processed red meat and these diseases.

Just how massive were these studies?  One of them included around 450,000 people, while the other looked at more than a million. 

So right now, the concern that red meat causes heart disease appears to be negligible to nonexistent, so long as you are staying away from processed meat.

KEY POINTWhile it was believed in the past that the high saturated fat content of red meat could increase the chances of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease, recent data suggests there is no link between unprocessed red meat and either of these diseases.

Processed red meat however can increase your risk.

​​Does Eating Meat Increase Your Chances of Getting Diabetes?

Woman injecting insulin using syringe close-up

Returning to the question of diabetes (which we have touched briefly upon), many people also worry that eating meat means they are increasing their risk for diabetes.

Previously I mentioned two studies (45, 46) which did find a link between red meat and diabetes but only processed red meats.

The results of one study in particular (54) are quite dramatic. 

This review of three studies found that eating more than half a serving of red meat each day could raise the four-year risk of developing diabetes by 30%. 

The researchers did note that this effect seems to be linked specifically to weight gain.

The other dietary habits of the participants may also not adequately have been accounted for. 

Their weight gain problems and the development of diabetes may have reflected a diet high in refined carbs or low in vegetables.  

They may also simply have overeaten. 

This theory is supported by studies of low-carb diets (55). 

Diets like these are high in meat but low in refined carbohydrates.  Blood sugar and other markers of diabetes decrease with these diets.

One study (56) even found that people who eat the most red meat had a 9% lower death rate from diabetes than those who consumed it in the smallest amounts. 

A number of other studies also show benefits of meat for reducing the risk of diabetes (57, 58, 59).

KEY POINTWhile there are some studies which appear to link diabetes to red meat, this may be a case of correlation not indicating causality.

It is likely that other dietary factors play a role as well, particularly a high intake of carbohydrates.

On a low-carb diet which is high in red meats, your diabetes markers may actually decrease.

​Does Eating Meat Cause Cancer?

You may also have heard that eating red meat (or any meat at all) can increase your chances of developing cancer.

Indeed, this is supported by some studies (47).

Studies which have focused on red meat and cancer have however generally been of the observational variety. 

Studies conducted in this fashion tend to lump all red meats together, whether they are processed or unprocessed.

And as you now know, processed vs. unprocessed red meats are very different in terms of their health effects.

Meta-studies which have looked at data from many research studies have concluded that any link between cancer and red meat is quite weak (48).

The increase in risk in men is small, while in women it appears to be non-existent (49).

Remember, the way in which you prepare your meat also can affect whether or not it is carcinogenic. 

Wipe away drippings rapidly, and consider cooking your meats for a longer time on lower temperatures.

KEY POINTWhile eating meat has been linked to cancer, this link appears to be weak.

Simply by avoiding processed red meats and by taking proper precautions when preparing your meats, you can mitigate most (if not all) of this risk.

​Should You Be Concerned About the High Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Content of Meat?

Woman with a question marked sauce on an empty plate

I have already touched briefly on this subject, but it is worth emphasizing: neither the cholesterol nor saturated fat content of meat is something to be concerned about.

To start with, cholesterol is an essential molecule which is used to create hormones.

It is also found in all of your cell membranes.

Your liver naturally produces cholesterol because your body needs it.

When you take in more cholesterol through your diet, your liver compensates by producing less (60, 61).

This means that the overall amount of cholesterol in your body remains more or less stable.

Researchers have also found that in around 70% of people, eating more cholesterol has minimal effects on the level of cholesterol found in their blood (62).

What about the other 30%? 

Even though LDL goes up in response to the higher amount of dietary cholesterol, protective HDL cholesterol increases as well (63, 64).

Eating more saturated fat increases your HDL levels as well (65, 66).

Also of interest is the fact that the minor increases which saturated fat or cholesterol sometimes cause in LDL is not necessarily harmful either.

How so?  The LDL particles are changed from small ones to large ones. 

These large LDL particles have a protective effect (67, 68).  Such particles can reduce the risk of heart disease (69, 70).

This is why in large population studies, cholesterol and saturated fat are not linked with any increase in risk for heart disease (71, 72).

Many studies of diets which are high in saturated fats show improvements in heart disease risk markers (73, 74, 75, 76, 77).

Diets high in meat can therefore reduce your risk of heart disease, as previously discussed (78, 79).

KEY POINTThe dangers of diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol appear to be unsubstantiated based on current scientific evidence.

In fact, a diet which is high in meat can actually lead to improvements in coronary health markers.

​Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Beef meat and cucumber slices on a chopping board

One health concern with red meats is the omega-6 fatty acid profile.

Consider the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids for one steak:

  • Total omega-6 fatty acids: 1596 mg
  • Total omega-3 fatty acids: 548 mg

As you can see, there are almost three times as many omega-6 fatty acids as there are omega-3 fatty acids in a steak.

Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation in the body, while omega-3 fatty acids reduce it.

Many western diets are already quite imbalanced when it comes to omega-6 vs. omega-3 ratios.

A diet which includes fewer omega-6 fatty acids and more omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases (50).

For this reason, you may want to look at your overall diet and figure out which other foods you are eating that are high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

You should cut back on foods which are high in omega-6 fatty acids, especially if you plan to eat more red meat. 

You can do this by avoiding heavily fried and processed foods. 

You should likewise start increasing your intake of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. 

These include a variety of fish as well as flaxseed, walnuts, egg and dairy products which have been fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. 

KEY POINTWhile meat is rich in nutrition, red meat contains a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

Because omega-6 fatty acids have an inflammatory effect on the body, you should cut back on them in other parts of your diet if you eat an ample amount of red meat.

Does Meat Rot in Your Colon?

Overweight mid-adult man with hands on his belly

One of the more peculiar notions about meat and digestion concerns the urban legend that meat “rots” inside your digestive tract.

This notion belief has no basis in fact.  Meat is digested just like any other healthy food that you eat. 

Your stomach acid and your enzymes work on breaking down the meat after you swallow it. 

As it descends into the small intestines, the proteins and fats break down into useful components (amino acids and fatty acids). 

These acids are absorbed through the wall of the digestive tract and then enter your bloodstream. 

The nutrition is then ferried around to wherever it needs to go.

Ironically, the only type of food which actually rots in your colon is the indigestible fiber that comes from vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains.

When it reaches the colon, this fiber literally ferments, thanks to the activity of healthy bacteria.

This is not a bad thing, however; it is actually necessary.

This fermentation process converts the fiber into nutritious and beneficial compounds such as butyrate (​83​). 

Friendly bacteria in our intestine are important for optimum health, and it is fiber that feeds the bacteria (84, 85​​).

KEY POINTThe notion that meat rots inside the colon is a myth.

Fiber from vegetables, grains, fruits, and legumes actually does rot inside the colon, but this is necessary for your health.

​Ethical Concerns About Eating Meat​

We have now covered the nutritional benefits and concerns of eating meat in great detail, and can conclude that the health risks are quite minimal while the benefits are substantial.

But this article would not be complete without a discussion of the ethical concerns of eating meat. 

None of us live in a vacuum, and we all have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to the planet and to the animals and plants that we share it with. 

Some people believe that eating meat is inherently wrong because of the ethical concerns.

I will present those concerns below and offer suggestions for eating meat without compromising ethical behavior.

Obviously, one person's ethics may vary from another's, so ultimately you will need to decide what is right for you. 

1.  Some people are opposed to killing or eating animals altogether.

Moralities differ between cultures, religions and individuals. 

Some people feel that there is nothing immoral about killing or eating an animal, while other people feel that either or both is unacceptable.

If you feel that killing an animal and/or eating it is morally reprehensible, you have to decide for yourself not to eat meat.

Many people however are not opposed to killing and eating animals, so long as the animals are treated humanely while they are alive, and are slaughtered as swiftly and painlessly as possible. 

KEY POINTFor some people, killing and eating animas is unacceptable.

But for others, this is not a deal-breaker so long as the animals are slaughtered humanely.

​2.  Factory farming is cruel.

That brings us to the next point - factory farming is cruel. 

cows in factory farm

The animals in factory farms are confined to the point where they often cannot turn, lie down, or sometimes even breathe. 

Sanitation is often non-existent.

The use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a threat to human health. 

While the agricultural use of antibiotics is only a minor factor, it does contribute.

Genetic modification of animals can cause them to experience painful, stunted lives.

Transport to the slaughterhouse features conditions which are so inhumane that many animals die in transit before even reaching their destination. 

Many slaughterhouses do not swiftly or humanely kill animals, instead ending their torturous lives with torturous deaths.

Now, it should be noted that the phrase ​"factory farming​" has a somewhat vague definition, and as a result, not all farms slotted under that category will necessarily feature inhumane practices.

What is most important to know is that not all meat comes from factory farms; there are many organic farms which raise grass-fed animals and care humanely for them.

At the grocery store, you can take notes about the brands available. 

Look at the packaging for meat and dairy products; often farms will state on the packaging whether they allow their animals to roam freely, what they feed them, and how they treat them.

You can also research farms online to find out more in-depth about how they care for their animals.

KEY POINTFactory farming entails many cruel practices. But you can still eat meat without purchasing it from factory farms.

You can instead choose to support farmers who treat their animals humanely.

​3.  Factory farming practices often contribute to antibiotic resistance.

usda organic label

Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are becoming a serious health hazard around the world - one which affects both animals and human beings.

You may be concerned that you are contributing to the problem if you purchase meat which was treated with antibiotics.

This is a reasonable concern, but thankfully right now research indicates that the threat is quite minimal. 

Transmission rates of resistant-bacteria to humans from contaminated food may be as low as 0.003% (51). 

Another study (52) concludes, ​"Although some antibiotics are used both in animals and humans, most of the resistance problem in humans has arisen from human use.​"

So this is not as large an ethical concern as you may think.

Still, if you do want to steer clear of meat which has been treated with antibiotics, you can look for the following labels when you shop for your groceries:

  • USDA Organic (best)
  • No Antibiotics Administered

These indicate that the meat came from animals that were not treated with antibiotics. 

The labels “No Antibiotic Residues” and “Antibiotic Free” are meaningless on a regulatory level.

The label ​"Natural​" is also not informative.

KEY POINTPurchasing meat treated with antibiotics is unlikely to have a major impact on the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

If you want to avoid it altogether, you can do so by purchasing meat with the "USDA Organic" or "No Antibiotics Administered" label.

​4.  Factory farming is far from environmentally friendly.

Factory farming produces methane emissions, and the fossil fuel burning associated with fertilizer production for animal feed crops results in CO2 emissions.

Animals need land to graze on, so farmers often remove swaths of forest for their fields.

Factory farming also results in hundreds of millions of tons of manure being produced every year - an astonishing amount of raw waste. 

While manure can be used as a ground fertilizer, it may contain heavy metals and salts. 

These may contaminate both land and water, and eventually enter the food chain.

Remember, farmers also may use fertilizers and pesticides to grow vegetables and starches. 

So environmental concerns exist regardless of what you eat, though eating meat does create a larger environmental and economic footprint.

Organic farms tend to produce less waste and fewer emissions than large-scale factory farms.

This study (53) concludes, “In addition to their local benefits, organic farming approaches can reduce the total water, energy and greenhouse gases involved in food production.”

KEY POINTBy buying from organic farmers, you can reduce the environmental impact of eating meat.

This is also a great way to reduce the environmental impact of eating vegetables and starches.

​5.  Eating meat is expensive.

Different currency notes in a meat grinder

One more ethical concern involving meat consumption relates to economics.

It costs a lot more to produce meat than it does to produce vegetables or grains. 

Consider that feed needs to be grown to nourish animals throughout their lives.

But the meat from a single animal does not last long at all.  The yield is minimal, and the production cost is high.

This is reflected in the higher cost of meat at the supermarket.

Some people do say that they have a hard time feeling full on a vegetarian diet, and spend more money as a result.

You can however consider augmenting your intake of beans, which are high in protein and can increase satiety. 

What you decide to do about this is up to you, but it may be one reason to consider reducing your meat intake.

KEY POINTThe production cost for meat is high, but the yield is low.

In a world where hunger is a problem, eating meat may not be the most sustainable option.

​The Bottom Line with Ethics:

As you can see, there are ethical concerns with eating meat, and not addressing them would be a mistake.

It is not a black and white issue, however.

By shopping for organic meat, moderating your intake, and buying only from humane producers, you can protect livestock, the environment, and human health. 

I would like to wrap up this article by providing you with a list of simple action tips which you can take to ensure that your consumption of meat is healthy and ethical. 

​Tips for Healthy and Ethical Meat ​Consumption

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    Buy organic meat from ethical farmers.  Making sure your meat is healthy and ethical all starts in the grocery store.  Buying organic meat from ethical producers may cost you a few dollars more, but it is worth it to know you are protecting the planet, the animals we share it with, and human health.​
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    ​Look for ​"USDA Organic​" or ​"No Antibiotics Administered.​"  To avoid contributing to antibiotic resistance, look for either of these two labels at the grocery store.  Do not be fooled by vague labels which have no regulatory significance.
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    ​Consider cooking your meat more slowly at a lower temperature.  There may be times when you do not want to do this, but as a general rule, it can help you to stay safe from carcinogens.
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    ​Take care when grilling, barbecuing, or smoking meat at a high temperature.  Wipe away drippings immediately.  This also will protect you from carcinogens.
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    ​Boost your omega-3 intake and reduce omega-6 intake.  Because red meat contains a lot more omega-6 than omega-3, you should compensate in other areas of your diet.  Eat more fish and other foods which are high in omega-3, and eat fewer processed and fried foods that are high in omega-6.  This will balance your fatty acid profile, which in turn will reduce inflammation in your body.
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    ​Minimize your intake of processed meats.  The health risks associated with red meats are greatly exaggerated.  There is however a link between processed meats and cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  Avoid processed meat and you can steer clear of these risks.
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    ​Moderate your meat consumption.  You may have heard the aphorism, ​"All things in moderation.​"  That applies quite well to diet.  Meat is nutritious and is wise to include in a healthy diet, but do not overdo it.
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    ​If in doubt, do your homework.  Remember, there is a lot of health propaganda out there from both sides of the meat debate.  If you hear something about eating meat which makes you uneasy, do your own research and look to see what kinds of studies back it up or contradict it.  Do not blindly believe whatever you read or hear.
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    ​If you do decide to avoid eating meat, that is entirely up to you.  Just remember that you need to replace all that nutrition through other dietary sources.

​Conclusion: Meat Is Healthy to Eat

There are so many myths and misconceptions out there where eating meat is concerned. 

Ultimately it is your decision whether you want to eat meat or not, but for the most part, it is both innocuous and beneficial from a health standpoint. 

To review briefly, health benefits of meat include:

  • Amazing nutritional benefits
  • Great source of protein
  • Boost metabolism
  • Increase satiety
  • Support bone health
  • Build and retain muscle mass
  • Iron your body can easily absorb

Things are more complicated from an ethical perspective, but many people will find that they can still eat meat ethically according to their moral strictures if they take extra care when selecting meat products. 

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  • Updated September 29, 2018

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Thanks for the overview. I find the theory that meat increased our brain size in early evolution very interesting. I agree on most of your points about health, too. For example, processed meats are likely carcinogenic, as stated by the IARC. They also label red meat as “possibly” carcinogenic, but still say it’s okay to eat red meat in moderation. And as you mention, meat can be highly nutritious if prepared well and eaten in moderation. And thanks for discussing the economics and ethics of meat too. This is why I am personally very intrigued by the rise in “alternative… Read more »

Thank you for such a good and comprehensive study on eating meat. After 13 years with Diabetes 2, my son is now out of the diabetic range, he is off all diabetic medication. This was achieved by eating a low carb and a higher fat diet.

I love how you emphasized your point that cholesterol and saturated fats in meat is something that is naturally needed in our body. That is particularly the reason why I’m making sure to increase my beef menu as I already waived eating pork. I’ll do my best to look for top quality beef and grass-fed beef to maximize the health benefits that we could get from them. Thanks for the very detailed and helpful article about the benefits and myths about beef!

Grant Richatdson

Thanks for the useful information. However, one fact needs to be corrected. Soy has a PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score) of 1.0 (same as eggs and whey, and higher than beef’s 0.92). The article you referenced [23] includes this information in a table. Interestingly, despite this fact, it subsequently goes on to state that all plant foods are ‘incomplete’. Unless I am missing something, I find this statement therefore factually contradictory. Except from the article on PDCAAS: “1989, the Food & Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) in a joint position stand stated that protein quality could… Read more »

Bishwa Basnet

What about from a spiritual point of view? Besides, have you noticed all alternative cancer protocols recommend a vegetarian diet.

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