Doctor’s Tip: The case against meat, part 2

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip

Last week’s column provided epidemiologic evidence that avoiding meat leads to better health. (Epidemiologic studies involve studying big populations of people, seeing what they eat, what diseases they get, and what they die from). Today’s column reviews additional evidence that — in spite of lobbying and marketing by the powerful meat industry — meat contributes to human disease.

By way of clarification, meat refers to beef, pork, lamb, and poultry. For years, scientists have been aware of substantial data linking meat intake to a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart attacks, strokes, inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases, dementia, cancer, and shortened lifespan. The World Health Organization has labeled processed meat (ham, bacon, sausage, lunch meat) a class 1 carcinogen and red meat as a probable carcinogen. Various medical organizations are advising us to avoid or at least cut down on meat.

Following are some examples of the evidence that supports avoiding meat for optimal health:

  1. In 2012 a large Harvard study concluded that consumption of red meat was associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, and an increased risk of early death.
  2. Meat contains saturated and trans fats, which raise LDL (bad cholesterol), resulting in hardening of the arteries — the cause of heart attacks and strokes.
  3. A meat-based diet is acidic, and results in disease-causing inflammation. In particular, meat inflames the organ system called the endothelium, that lines our arteries.
  4. Protein and fat from meat contribute to chronic kidney disease, which affects one-third of Americans over age 64.
  5. Eating poultry increases risk of blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma — thought to be due to avian tumor-causing viruses.
  6. Frequently, salt and water are injected into meat including poultry, to increase their weight and therefore their price. Injected meat can still be labeled as 100 percent natural, and the added salt contributes to hypertension.
  7. Unhealthy artificial dyes are often added to meat to improve appearance.
  8. Farm animals and poultry are frequently injected with antibiotics, which contribute to antibiotic resistance; and with hormones that disrupt natural human hormones.
  9. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogens formed when meat and poultry are cooked at high temperatures (pan frying, grilling, baking), resulting in increased risk of cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, lung, pancreas, prostate, and stomach.
  10. Heme iron in the blood and muscle of animals causes free radicals, which increase risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. (Vegetables have non-heme iron, which doesn’t do this).
  11. In 2014 Consumer Report cited evidence that 97 percent of chicken breasts, 88 percent of ground beef, and 80 percent of pork chops found in grocery stores were contaminated with animal fecal matter containing salmonella and other harmful bacteria.
  12. Because meat is at the top of the food chain, it contains 14 times more pesticides and other environmental toxins compared to plants, which are the bottom of the food chain.
  13. Fiber is necessary for good health and is found only in plants — meat and other animal products have none.
  14. Animal protein triggers IGF1 (insulin growth factor 1), which in adults causes cancer cells to proliferate and spread.
  15. Red meat eaters have bacteria in their gut microbiomes that convert carnitine in meat to TMAO—which causes heart disease.

Still not convinced? Local farm-raised meat may have some advantages compared to factory-farmed, but still has most of the aforementioned health concerns. Wild game has much less disease-causing saturated fat but has as much cholesterol as store-bought meat.

Next week’s column will be about environmental and animal rights concerns associated with eating meat.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment, or email

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