Last weekend my cousins and I went Sheep shopping. While I was waiting for my cousin to finish filling out the paperwork I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen who looked to be in their early to mid-forties. The two men were engaged in a passionate discourse about the role of meat in their diets. 

“If we have cabbage, Spinach, onions, and potatoes in the house I’m happy papa!” The one gentleman said. 

“Bona ne!” Responded the other gentleman. “I don’t know where this idea of eating meat two to three times a day comes from. Rona, we were raised eating meat, once a week!” He concluded.

“Exactly! And if you think about it, we got sick a lot less frequently.” The first man added.

“Bona! Nama ya, every day ha ya loka shem.” Responded the second gent in agreement.

The two gentlemen went on to share testimonies of their experiences and observations of people who over-consume meat as a symbol of wealth. When did eating meat more frequently become a status symbol? 

The conversation reminded me of a conversation I had late last year with Olwethu and she shared about the significant difference she had noticed in her sons after two weeks of reducing their household consumption of meat.     

South Africans consume about  2.9 million tons of beef, pork and poultry per annum. The Bureau for Food and Agriculture has estimated a 38% increase in poultry consumption over the next decade, a 28% increase in beef and a 33% increase in pork consumption. 84% of the South African population reported to be meat eaters and incorporating it in their meals an average of four times a week. I get it, it is hard to turn down a nicely cooked steak or juicy hamburger (my mouth is watering just typing it). 

While meat contains several good nutrients, it also has some natural chemical toxins, saturated fat, and other elements that make the digestion process rather difficult for our bodies.  Eating too much meat has some serious consequences and increases the risk of you becoming diabetic or dealing with some other heart disease or cancer.

Todays #Wellness blog highlights 5 health benefits of decreasing meat consumption.  

Health and Weight Management 

Science has shown that people who consume a Vegetarian or Vegan diet have significantly reduced their risk of heart disease and cancer. Additionally, research also suggests that plant-based diets improve insulin resistance which lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Studies were conducted on a group of people who were placed on a variety of popular dieting eating plans and those who were ascribed a more plant-based diet ended up losing more weight than their counterparts.   

“An analysis of 12 high-quality studies found that people who followed vegetarian diets for an average of 18 weeks lost significantly more weight than those who ate nonvegetarian diets.” Lizzie Streit registered dietician. 

Streit, says that the health benefits to limiting meat and eating more plant-based diets likely stem from a higher intake of beneficial plant compounds, including but not limited to:

  • Antioxidants
  • Fibre
  • Some Micronutrients

Improves Gut Health

Diets that exclude meat tend to be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and other plant foods that are high in dietary fibre. Fibre feeds beneficial bacteria in your gut that produce compounds that help reduce inflammation and support your immune system. 

Plant protein and polyphenols are beneficial compounds that help maintain a healthy gut. Gut bacteria also helps your body starve cells that promote cancerous growth and help shield you against type 2 diabetes.

Research also suggests that fats and proteins found in animal sources promote the growth of not so healthy gut bacteria that negatively influence the metabolism and play a role in heart disease.

Reduces Heart Disease

Despite the controversy around the research on the impact of plant-based diets and their impact on heart disease. However, most health officials encourage their patients to moderate their meat intake especially meats with fatty components such as; 

  • Red Meat
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs

Meats that are lower in saturated fat include poultry and leaner cuts of meat.

Improves Mood 

Research indicates that people who consume a predominantly vegetarian diet seem to be happier than their meat-eating counterparts. The element of freshness in most vegetarian dishes is bound to purify your mind and keep your thoughts positive.

Environmental Impact  

The production of meat requires more resources that lead to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and pollution.

Meat production is one of the leading causes of climate change, water scarcity, soil erosion and other environmental issues. According to the United Nations, a global shift towards a more plant-based diet is crucial to minimizing the effects of climate change.

A systematic review of studies that were done on the sustainability of different diets concluded that diets, including vegetarian, pescatarian, and vegan, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as eighty per cent! 

In conclusion, a diet with no or limited meat intake benefits both your health and the environment. Cutting back on meat helps with weight management, protect against heart disease and certain cancers, and support a healthy gut. 

If you’re thinking about reducing your meat intake, I’d recommend you start with swapping in leaner meats such as steak for fish, or plant-based protein sources.