Myth #5: Meat-eating causes osteoporosis, kidney disease, heart disease, and cancer.
Oftentimes, vegans and vegetarians will try to scare people into avoiding animal foods and fats by claiming that vegetarian diets offer protection from certain chronic diseases like the ones listed below. Such claims, however, are hard to reconcile with historical and anthropological facts. All of the diseases mentioned are primarily 20th century occurrences, yet people have been eating meat and animal fat for many thousands of years. Further, as Dr. Price’s research showed, there were/are several native peoples around the world (the Innuit, Maasai, Swiss, etc.) whose traditional diets were/are very rich in animal products, but who nevertheless did/do not suffer from the above-mentioned maladies (30). Dr. George Mann’s independent studies of the Maasai done many years after Dr. Price, confirmed the fact that the Maasai, despite being almost exclusive meat eaters, nevertheless, had little to no incidence of heart disease, or other chronic ailments (31). This proves that other factors besides animal foods are at work in causing these diseases.
Several studies have supposedly shown that meat consumption is the cause of various illnesses, but such studies, honestly evaluated, show no such thing as the following discussion will show.
Dr. Herta Spencer’s research on protein intake and bone loss clearly showed that protein consumption in the form of real meat has no impact on bone density. Studies that supposedly proved that excessive protein consumption equaled more bone loss were not done with real meat but with fractionated protein powders and isolated amino acids (32). Recent studies have also shown that increased animal protein intake contributes to stronger bone density in men and women (33). Some recent studies on vegan and vegetarian diets, however, have shown them to predispose women to osteoporosis (34).
Although protein-restricted diets are helpful for people with kidney disease, there is no proof that eating meat causes it (35). Vegetarians will also typically claim that animal protein causes overly acidic conditions in the blood, resulting in calcium leaching from the bones and, hence, a greater tendency to form kidney stones. This opinion is false, however. Theoretically, the sulphur and phosphorous in meat can form an acid when placed in water, but that does not mean that is what happens in the body. Actually, meat contains complete proteins and vitamin D (if the skin and fat are eaten), both of which help maintain pH balance in the bloodstream. Furthermore, if one eats a diet that includes enough magnesium and vitamin B6, and restricts refined sugars, one has little to fear from kidney stones, whether one eats meat or not (36). Animal foods like beef, pork, fish, and lamb are good sources of magnesium and B6 as any food/nutrient table will show.
The belief that animal protein contributes to heart disease is a popular one that has no foundation in nutritional science. Outside of questionable studies, there is little data to support the idea that meat-eating leads to heart disease. For example, the French have one of the highest per capita consumption of meat, yet have low rates of heart disease. In Greece, meat consumption is higher than average but rates of heart disease are low there as well. Finally, in Spain, an increase in meat eating (in conjunction with a reduction in sugar and high carbohydrate intake) led to a decrease in heart disease (37).
The belief that meat, in particular red meat, contributes to cancer is, like heart disease, a popular idea that is not supported by the facts. Although it is true that some studies have shown a connection between meat eating and some types of cancer (38), its important to look at the studies carefully to determine what kind of meat is being discussed, as well as the preparation methods used. Since we only have one word for “meat” in English, it is often difficult to know which “meat” is under discussion in a study unless the authors of the study specifically say so.
The study which began the meat=cancer theory was done by Dr. Ernst Wynder in the 1970s. Wynder claimed that there was a direct, causal connection between animal fat intake and incidence of colon cancer (39). Actually, his data on “animal fats” were really on vegetable fats (40). In other words, the meat=cancer theory is based on a phony study.
If one looks closely at the research, however, one quickly sees that it is processed meats like cold cuts and sausages that are usually implicated in cancer causation (41) and not meat per se. Furthermore, cooking methods seem to play a part in whether or not a meat becomes carcinogenic (42). In other words, it is the added chemicals to the meat and the chosen cooking method that are at fault and not the meat itself.
In the end, although sometimes a connection between meat and cancer is found, the actual mechanism of how it happens has eluded scientists (43). This means that it is likely that other factors besides meat are playing roles in some cases of cancer. Remember: studies of meat-eating traditional peoples show that they have very little incidence of cancer. This demonstrates that other factors are at work when cancer appears in a modern meat-eating person. It is not scientifically fair to single out one dietary factor in placing blame, while ignoring other more likely candidates.
It should be noted here that Seventh Day Adventists are often studied in population analyses to prove that a vegetarian diet is healthier and is associated with a lower risk for cancer (but see a later paragraph in this section). While it is true that most members of this Christian denomination do not eat meat, they also do not smoke or drink alcohol, coffee or tea, all of which are likely factors in promoting cancer (44).
The Mormons are a religious group often overlooked in vegetarian studies. Although their Church urges moderation, Mormons do not abstain from meat. As with the Adventists, Mormons also avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Despite being meat eaters, a study of Utah Mormons showed they had a 22% lower rate for cancer in general and a 34% lower mortality for colon cancer than the US average (45). A study of Puerto Ricans, who eat large amounts of fatty pork, nevertheless revealed very low rates of colon and breast cancer (46). Similar results can be adduced to demonstrate that meat and animal fat consumption do not correlate with cancer (47). Obviously, other factors are at work.
It is usually claimed that vegetarians have lower cancer rates than meat-eaters, but a 1994 study of vegetarian California Seventh Day Adventists showed that, while they did have lower rates for some cancers (e.g., breast and lung), they had higher rates for several others (Hodgkin’s disease, malignant melanoma, brain, skin, uterine, prostate, endometrial, cervical and ovarian), some quite significantly. In that study the authors actually admitted that:
Meat consumption, however, was not associated with a higher [cancer] risk.
No significant association between breast cancer and a high consumption of animal fats or animal products in general was noted. (48)
Further, it is usually claimed that a diet rich in plant foods like whole grains and legumes will reduce one’s risks for cancer, but research going back to the last century demonstrates that carbohydrate-based diets are the prime dietary instigators of cancer, not diets based on minimally processed animal foods (49).
The mainstream health and vegetarian media have done such an effective job of “beef bashing,” that most people think there is nothing healthful about meat, especially red meat. In reality, however, animal flesh foods like beef and lamb are excellent sources of a variety of nutrients as any food/nutrient table will show. Nutrients like vitamins A, D, several of the B-complex, essential fatty acids (in small amounts), magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, iron, taurine, and selenium are abundant in beef, lamb, pork, fish and shellfish, and poultry. Nutritional factors like coenzyme Q10, carnitine, and alpha-lipoic acid are also present. Some of these nutrients are only found in animal foods—plants do not supply them.