Around 2 million years ago, early humans learned to craft tools by sharpening rocks. These tools were sometimes used to cut meat away from animal carcasses, which expanded their diet to an omnivorous one. In the approximately 2 million years since then, meat has played a key role in the evolution of human beings as the ability to utilise a high energy food source helped us as a species thrive.
Over the last several thousand years, meat has become integral not just in terms of our diets, but also in helping to shape the many cultures around the world. It plays a huge role in many cultural and religious rituals, whether it be a Christmas turkey, or lamb and mutton for Eid al-Adha. The food we consume is therefore deeply rooted within our cultural values and serves a purpose far greater than simply to nourish our bodies.
Over the last few decades, however, meat consumption has become a point of contention for many who question both the ethics of meat consumption, as well as its nutritional benefits. With that in mind, let’s take a look at eight benefits of eating meat as part of a balanced diet.
Muscle Building and Repair
Fresh meat is a rich source of high quality protein. Primarily responsible for rebuilding muscle, protein is necessary after a workout, particularly when engaging in high resistance exercises. While there are many sources of protein, meat contains all nine amino acids (the building blocks of protein), making it a ‘complete protein’ and therefore most effective for repairing and building muscle. This is why bodybuilders so often consume far more meat than the average person.
Studies have shown that high protein diets increase the body’s metabolic rate. This means you feel fuller for longer after a meal or a snack. It therefore has clear benefits for those trying to lose weight, as it can assist in managing one’s appetite.
While snacking is sometimes thought of as an unhealthy habit, it is actually a useful way of maintaining the body’s metabolic rate. There are many ways to incorporate meat into a healthy snack, and one healthy meat snack is beef jerky. But is beef jerky healthy? The short answer is yes—if it is high quality. If so, it is made from lean beef, flavoured with natural seasonings and flavours, and then dried. This means it is a protein rich food source that is also low in fat and carbohydrates.
Good Source of Iron
Meat is rich in heme iron—the type of iron that the body can readily absorb. It is an important nutrient that helps to carry oxygen around the body in red blood cells, meaning it promotes higher energy levels, athletic ability and even health during pregnancy. All meats are a good source of iron, but red meat is particularly rich in this nutrient.
We generally only think of calcium as the important nutrient in promoting healthy bones, but protein is also very important in keeping them strong and healthy. A protein rich diet can therefore help prevent bone fractures as well as diseases like Osteoporosis.
Animal products like meat are the only natural sources of vitamin B12. This is a key nutrient in promoting brain development during childhood as well as assisting in healthy functioning of the nervous system.
Rich in Selenium
Selenium is an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage, promotes proper thyroid function and may help to prevent cancer. A serving of beef or lamb provides half a person’s recommended daily selenium intake.
Of course, greasy burgers and highly processed meats such as sausages and hot dogs are not recommended foods when trying to lose weight. However, a diet that is high in fresh lean meat can play an important role in weight loss. Lean meat is high in protein and low in fat. Moreover, a higher proportion of meat in a meal can therefore reduce the need for carbohydrate rich accompaniments. This can lead to a more balanced and weight friendly diet.
It’s not frivolous to suggest that there is a link between food and happiness. Depriving ourselves of the things we enjoy will always take a toll on our overall happiness, and meat is no different. A healthy mind is as important as a healthy body, so it is always important to strike the right balance between abstaining from things for health reasons and over-indulging for immediate satisfaction. As with most things in life, moderation is key.
While meat should still play an important role in our diets, it is equally important that we are aware of where our food comes from. A lot of cheap meat comes from very unethical factory farming practices where the animals do not live a good life before slaughter, nor are environmental impacts taken into consideration. It’s always good to choose higher welfare animal products because normalising more ethical agricultural practices keeps the supermarket shelves moving further away from ethically questionable produce. This means your food choices promote better farming practices, healthier food, and greater sustainability.
So, if you’re looking to improve your food decisions, keep in mind all the benefits to eating meat because they are aplenty.