The future of red meat is at a critical juncture: on one hand, there are the committed meat-eaters, the paleo enthusiasts, those touting the nobility of grass-fed-hormone-and-antibiotic-free meat, nodding toward our primordial if not crude carnivorous habits of cultures past, where eating animals came to us first out of necessity, then as a symbol of status.
But on the other hand, there’s the plant-based vegan movement, picking up steam at every turn not just because vegetables have rightfully earned hipster status and farmers market boho-chicness, but also in the revolutionary alchemy of plant-meats and proteins — making peas and beets superior to their cadavered counterparts on every level -- turning us away from our dietary "musts" of millennia past and toward a more efficient, less messy, and notably less cruel diet of the future.
To the daily meat-eater, though, there’s an engrained line of thinking when it comes to eating animals and animal byproducts, mainly that conventional worldview “we’ve always done it this way,” a perilous perspective, particularly in light of new evidence that points to a much-shortened worldview--that is, if you regularly consume red meat.
“[V]egetarians not only live better, but also longer,” reports the Washington Post, referring to recent research conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital.
The researchers analyzed data on more than 150,000 individuals who participated in two major decades-long health studies. The conclusion: the more red meat you eat, the shorter your life.
The researchers concluded that a ten percent increase in animal protein equaled a two percent increase in earlier death, with an eight percent increase in dying from heart failure.
For the study participants who consumed more plant foods—even as little as three percent—it decreased the mortality risk by ten percent and 12 percent in death by heart failure.
"After adjustment for lifestyle and other dietary risk factors, a high consumption of protein from animal sources ... was weakly associated with an increased risk of death, while high consumption of protein from plant sources — breads, cereals, pasta, beans, nuts and legumes — was associated with a lower mortality rate," the researchers said.
It’s not the first study to identify the benefits of decreasing animal protein. Numerous studies have linked diets higher in plant protein than animal protein to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and other health ailments. Perhaps the most noteworthy study was T. Colin Campbell’s research, which he later turned into the book “The China Study.”
There’s also the less-often discussed environmental impact of raising animals for meat that’s going to be tightly connected to human health issues in the future, regardless of your (present or future) dietary preferences. Livestock agriculture contributes to global warming in massive ways, namely via the copious methane emissions produced by billions of livestock animals, excessive use of industry that also depletes the ozone, and dependence on major amounts of natural resources that accelerate the loss of ecosystems vital to the planet.
A warmer planet is likely to experience major shifts in food supply—making some products like animal-based ingredients—at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses, as well as threatening the nutrient density of key foods, and making viruses and other pathogens more potent and widespread, all of which take a toll on the health and longevity of the human population, meat-eaters or not.
Even the USDA, which acknowledges the benefits of consuming more plant-based foods for health reasons, wouldn’t add warnings in the U.S. dietary guidelines about the environmental impact of meat, even though the two are intricately interconnected.
Still, America and nations fashioning themselves in our image (thanks to our corporate influence around the globe), continue to push meat center plate despite major restaurant chains and food companies highlighting plant proteins. That is, at least, for now, the researchers hope.
"The findings confirm what we have been observing from studies using different research approaches," Dr. Mingyang Song, lead author and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNN.
"People who consume their dietary protein primarily from plant foods would be expected to be better able to maintain a healthy weight and have lower risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers."
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