Meat, Veganism and Science

Today’s post isn’t going to be a “pro-veganism” rant or anything like that. I’m aiming to provide a balanced overview on meat-eating. This post is going to be looking at meats, their pro’s and con’s and the recent research spreading around them and also veganism and I’ll leave the decision to which option could potentially be the best for your health, to you, the reader.


Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. It’s recommended that we try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat and also always cook meat thoroughly.

Proteins are complex substances, made up of chains of amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks that combine in different formations to make up the proteins in your body. There are 20 amino acids in total – your body can create some of these itself, but there are nine essential amino acids that you can only get from protein that you eat. After you eat protein, it’s broken down in the body into amino acids.  They are then transported in the bloodstream, where they’re rearranged into new proteins that are required for the healthy growth of all of our body tissues, such as your muscles (including your heart), internal organs (such as your lungs and liver) and skin.  Also, proteins are a great source of energy.


Saturated fats, found in meat, can block the absorption of essential fats which are important for maintaining cell structure. An increase in saturated fats in the body can cause cells to become more rigid and affect the flow of nutrients in and out of the cells.

Furthermore, if you eat a lot of red and processed meat, it is recommended that you cut down as there is likely to be a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. This has been proven in research published in the recent years and has been making news headlines as of late.

The Research...

The first piece of research has found that diets high in meat may lead to an increased risk of developing renal cell carcinoma (RCC) through the intake of carcinogenic compounds created by specific cooking techniques, such as barbecuing and pan-frying. The kidney is a biochemically active organ which is responsible for filtering many harmful toxins from the body, s it was essential to investigate the effects of dietary intake, including carcinogens, on kidney cancer risk.

A potential theory for the cause could be ingestion of meat-cooking mutagens, harmful compounds created when the meat is cooked in a certain way. Cooking meat at high temperatures or over an open flame, such as when barbecuing or pan-frying, is known to result in the formation of carcinogens, including 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenyl-imidazo(4,5-b) pyridine (PhIP) and amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo(4,5-f) quinoxaline (MeIQx).

However, the researchers don’t suggest that people should remove meats entirely from their diets, but rather consume it in moderation, as part of a well-balanced diet, complete with fruits and vegetables. They also advised that: when grilling or pan-frying meat, to try to avoid charring it as much as possible.

Studies on cancer risks of  different types of meat

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

Red meat.

The IARC classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Processed meats.

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. The experts concluded that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Overall effects of meat consumption.

The IARC working group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The most prominent evidence came from big prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.

"These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat," says Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC. "At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations."

On how meat-eaters defend their eating habits...

Researchers have found that meat eaters who justify their eating habits feel less guilty and are more tolerant of social inequality say, researchers. They found that the vast majority of omnivores defend consuming animals by rationalizing their behaviour using one of four rationalizations, which they call the 4Ns.

Typical comments used to justify eating meat include these 4Ns:

  1. Natural "Humans are natural carnivores"
  2. Necessary "Meat provides essential nutrients"
  3. Normal "I was raised eating meat"
  4. Nice "It's delicious"

Since veganism and vegetarianism are perceived to be the  healthiest lifestyle to live. More and more people are cutting out meats and animal produce in order to have a plant based diet.

In addition to weight loss, a vegan low-carbohydrate diet may also reduce the risk of heart disease by 10 percent over 10 years, researchers have demonstrated for the first time. The diet is a low-carbohydrate vegan diet. A lot of low-carbohydrate diets have been able to improve weight loss, but most highlight eating animal proteins and fats, which can raise body cholesterol levels. A diet that is high in vegetable proteins and oils may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering "bad cholesterol" levels in the body.

Finally, although some meats can cause cancer it's also beneficial to not completely cut out meat and other animal produce from the body because they do have some beneficial nutrients that are essential to the body. Even if some of the nutrients can be sought via other means, vitamin B12 is an essential one which can be found in  meat, eggs and milk. This brings us back to the saying "everything in moderation is good".


[3] Stephanie C. Melkonian, Carrie R. Daniel, Yuanqing Ye, Nizar M. Tannir, Jose A. Karam, Surena F. Matin, Christopher G. Wood, Xifeng Wu.Gene-environment interaction of genome-wide association study-identified susceptibility loci and meat-cooking mutagens in the etiology of renal cell carcinoma. Cancer, 2015; DOI:10.1002/cncr.29543

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Increased meat consumption, especially when cooked at high temperatures, linked to elevated kidney cancer risk: Individuals with certain genetic variations more vulnerable to dietary risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2015. <>.

[4] Véronique Bouvard, Dana Loomis, Kathryn Z Guyton, Yann Grosse, Fatiha El Ghissassi, Lamia Benbrahim-Tallaa, Neela Guha, Heidi Mattock, Kurt Straif, International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology, 2015 (in press) DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1

World Health Organization. "Processed meat can cause cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2015. <>.

[5] Jared Piazza, Matthew B. Ruby, Steve Loughnan, Mischel Luong, Juliana Kulik, Hanne M. Watkins, Mirra Seigerman. Rationalizing meat consumption. The 4Ns. Appetite, 2015; 91: 114 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.011
Lancaster University. "How people defend eating meat." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2015. <>.

[6] St. Michael's Hospital. "Low-carb vegan diet may reduce heart disease risk, weight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014. <>.