Whether you’re looking to save animals or protect the environment or tweak your eating lifestyle, here’s how you can expect your body to change when you boot red meat from the menu.
By Jenn Sinrich
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istock/mediaphotosYou may lose a few pounds
Red meat is calorie-dense, so cutting it out of your daily diet could mean a lower number on the scale. “Most portions of meat are more than the actual protein requirement, and these larger portions can be replaced by alternative protein sources that are much lighter in calories, still satisfying, and also easier to digest,” says Sally Warren, PhD, traditional naturopath at Metro Integrative Pharmacy. “A three-ounce serving of beef can be around 170 calories, but a portion of beans can be around 100 calories and tofu around 70 calories, each supplying the same amount of protein.” It may not seem like a huge difference at first, but it can add up over time. Fish, chicken, and legumes are lighter calorie alternatives, and good replacements to choose. A 2015 review article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported that people on a vegetarian diet lost more weight than those on a non-vegetarian diet, although vegans shed more weight than people who still ate eggs and dairy products. Here are more benefits of a vegan diet.
istock/alexis84You’ll be less acidic
For our bodies to be healthy, we need a good pH balance, but much of the modern convenience diet today is comprised of acid-forming foods, including red meat. “Red meat together with white flour, coffee, and soda produces a high acidic load for the body to absorb and neutralize,” explains Dr. Warren. “Plus, high acidity in the body creates the perfect environment for disease—add stress and poor sleep to the mix and you’ve lowered your resistance to high-mortality illnesses like cancer and diabetes.” The majority of fast-food meals excludes more alkaline foods such as vegetables and fruits, which can balance out the acid-forming foods.
istock/vitapixYou may feel less bloated
The body digests red meat more slowly than it does other foods, so some people report constipation, abdominal pain, and increased gas after a jumbo steak dinner or a large pastrami sandwich. While you may experience some indigestion right after you cut out red meat, it’s mainly the result of eating more healthy, fiber-rich foods. In the long-term, you’ll add healthy bacteria in your gut, which could lower body-wide inflammation and make you feel less bloated to boot. In fact, a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrition, found that vegetarians had lower rates of inflammation than meat eaters. Healthy protein substitutes that are easier for the body to digest include chicken, fish, and vegetarian meals, according to Dr. Warren. These foods can help get rid of bloating.
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istock/CasarsaYour skin might improve
Clear skin begins on the inside, so loading up on fruits and vegetables, which also happen to be loaded with vitamins like A, C, and E that are known to fight blemish-causing free radicals, is one easy way to maintain it. “Constipation, which can result from sluggish digestion from red meat consumption, can cause skin issues and a dull complexion,” says Dr. Warren. “And taking red meat off the menu helps reduce the load on important organs like the liver and kidneys, which are responsible for filtering out impurities on an ongoing basis.”
istock/XsandraYour cholesterol levels may drop
Cutting out red meat can reduce the amount of saturated fats in the diet, which have been linked to higher cholesterol levels. “The ideal is to get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from fat to keep a good balance and reduce the risk of having high cholesterol, which can lead to the buildup of plaque in artery walls,” says Dr. Warren. “This buildup is called atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA) and peripheral arterial disease.” While high cholesterol can be linked to your genes, there’s no denying that cutting out red meat and other foods derived from animals will go a long way toward helping reduce your body’s levels.
istock/skynesherYou could slash your risk for certain cancers
Banning beef could save you from colon or bowel cancer, especially if it runs in your family. “Diets high in saturated fat have been associated with increased inflammation within the body, and chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer,” says Dr. Warren. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified red meat as a possible carcinogen, meaning it could possibly cause cancer. “There have been reports linking a high intake of red meat to increased risk of cancer, particularly colon cancer,” says Adrienne Youdim, MD, the director of the Center for Weight Loss and Nutrition in Beverly Hills. A review of 29 studies linked high consumption of red meat to a 28 percent increased risk in colon cancer. Bowel cancer is also a risk. In 2011, a report from the Continuous Update Project found strong evidence that eating red meat or processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer—including an 18 percent greater risk for people eating 50 grams of processed meat per day. The researchers suspect that a compound in red meat that gives it it’s red color, haem, promotes the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds. Also, when red meat is cooked at high temperatures, it triggers production of several compounds that may cause bowel cancer in people with a genetic predisposition. Processed red meat, like hot dogs and sausage, also have nitrites, both naturally and as added preservatives, and they’re thought to contribute to cancer. On the other hand, these foods can lower your risk of cancer.
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istock/sturtiYou could reduce your risk of serious diseases
Many research trials suggest that taking red meat off the menu and replacing it with chicken, fish, or a vegetarian choice reduces the risk of multiple diseases. “Depending on the cut of red meat, it can often contain high amounts of saturated fat that have been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes,” says Dr. Warren. A 2012 study found red meat consumption to be the cause of an increased risk of heart attacks due to carnitine, which causes the body to produce Trimethylamine-N-oxid (TMAO), a compound produced by bacteria in the stomach that appears to correlate with risk. “Researchers believe that it affects the body’s metabolism of cholesterol, which leads to enhanced development of plaque on blood vessel walls, and can increase risk of heart disease,” Dr. Warren says. Beef eaters may also be courting Alzheimer’s disease. Studies at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA have blamed the link on excessive iron accumulation from too much red meat in the diet.
istock/Christopher_FutcherYou may have more energy
Studies have found that eating red meat can raise estrogen levels, causing a hormone imbalance that leads to decreased energy. “We need a healthy heart, a healthy digestive system, and a healthy mind and body for good energy,” explains Dr. Warren. “A meal including red meat takes longer to digest, which slows the energy release and requires time for the body to rest during digestion.” In addition, you can have poor absorption, which may lead to irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and poor nutritional balance, as well as the diseases already discussed. “As someone who’s been a Pescatarian—meaning I eat a mainly vegan diet with the addition of some fish—for many years, the first thing I noticed was that my energy improved,” Dr. Warren says. “I feel better about my diet and feel better in myself.”
You’ll help the environment
Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, feed, energy, and water, and causes immense animal suffering. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. Each year the livestock sector produces 59 million tons of cattle and buffalo meat globally and 11 million tons of meat from sheep and goats. Americans eat 270 pounds of meat per person per year, on average, in comparison to other countries’ per person average of around four pounds. So choosing alternative sources of protein can reduce this damage significantly, for a better future for the next generation and a healthier future for an aging population.
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istock/VeselovaElenaYou may be chasing protein
Whether you find red meat delicious or not, the main role it plays in the average diet is in providing daily protein, an important nutrient that builds, repairs, and restores muscle. But everyone’s dietary needs are different depending on their age, size, and activity. “There are many myths associated with our need for protein, especially where red meat is concerned,” says Dr. Warren. “In truth, it does provide many nutrients, however, we need to keep in mind how much we actually require.” A small three-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein, but a typical eight-ounce restaurant serving has over 50 grams of protein—a whole day’s worth! While the U.S. National Research Council recommends that adults get 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein—an average requirement of around 36 grams for women and 46 grams for men—there are many other protein sources other than red meat, many of which are healthier too. For example, quinoa has as much good protein as steak. Use this ranking of plant-based protein sources to get your daily dose without eating red meat.
istock/Elena_DanileikoYou may fall short on certain nutrients
Though it’s possible to make up for the lost protein in your diet, some nutrients do come mainly from red meat—and you may start running low on them if you don’t supplement. One key family of nutrients is B vitamins, mostly vitamin B12, and also the mineral iron. If you still eat shellfish, 3.5 ounces of cooked clams can supply as much B12 as beef. (These are signs you might not be getting enough vitamin B12.) If not, other good sources are tofu and soy products, fish, cheese, and eggs. Some experts still recommend popping a supplement for insurance. “Taking supplements, including a high quality B12, can ensure that you’re getting the correct daily dosage and that the delivery method is such that your body can use the vitamin or mineral without having to break it down,” says Dr. Warren. Many people, even those who do eat red meat, tend to be deficient in magnesium, so a good supplement with magnesium and vitamin D3 will be especially helpful. That’s because today’s soil is low in magnesium, so plant-based diets are no longer supplying as much of this important mineral and, even in meat, the cattle grazed on pasture or fed hay or grass pellets are not getting as much as is required to maintain a healthy daily level. In addition, any change in diet should include good probiotics, which provide important friendly bacteria to help the gut digest food and make sure it’s properly absorbed. Check out the other key nutrients you might be missing without red meat, and how to stock up.
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