Why Animal Products Harm – Meat

You don’t need to eat meat. In fact, cutting meat out of your diet can do you a lot of good because humans are not true carnivores and meat-eating has a wide range of negative health effects. The more meat you eat, the more serious the consequences can be, but even small amounts can damage your health.

Heart health

Eating meat increases your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s because meat contains harmful saturated fats, animal protein and haem iron.

When a scientific team fed volunteers a diet high in red meat, then white meat and then no meat to compare the effects on cholesterol, their results were clear – both red and white meat increased their cholesterol levels but a meat-free diet did not. The study also tested the effect of additional saturated fat – they added high-fat dairy products and butter to the participants’ diet – and found that it increased cholesterol levels in all groups.

People who eat a lot of processed meat (sausages, bacon, ham, hot dogs, salami, tinned meat, pâtés) also have a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

To lower your cholesterol levels and keep them down, it’s crucial to reduce your saturated fat intake – saturated fat is found mostly in meat, dairy, eggs, coconut and palm oil. Avoiding meat altogether can lower your cholesterol levels and blood pressure and it may even reverse heart disease.

Vegans and people who eat predominantly wholefood plant-based diets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than all other diet groups and a much lower risk of heart disease – 25-57 per cent.

Type 2 Diabetes

Meat consumption increases your risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 74 per cent. One of the studies that found a connection between the disease and red meat, processed meat and poultry listed the many components of meat than can contribute to the problem: saturated fats, animal protein, haem iron, sodium, nitrites and nitrosamines as well as other harmful substances. 

Of course, meat isn’t the only culprit – high-fat dairy products, eggs, processed and junk foods, sweets, pies and cakes also play a role – but it’s clear that meat plays a very important role in the development of type 2 diabetes.


Meat contains several cancer-causing compounds. Some of them are in meat naturally, some of them form during cooking, processing or digestion. All these components, when consumed regularly over long periods of time, can lead to cancer. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified processed meat as carcinogenic (causing cancer) and red meat as probably carcinogenic. According to their data, just 50 grams of processed meat (less than two slices of bacon) daily increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent and 100 grams daily of red meat increases the risk of bowel cancer by 17 per cent.

Meat consumption has been linked to bowel, stomach, lung, kidney, bladder, pancreatic, thyroid, breast and prostate cancer in numerous scientific studies.


Gout is a painful condition which affects the joints and it has characteristic flare-ups called gout attacks. It develops when uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints, causing chronic inflammation and irritation. Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines — compounds found naturally in your body but also in many foods. The richest sources of purines by far are red meat and organ meats, such as liver or kidneys, and fish, such as anchovies, sardines, trout, tuna, mussels and scallops. Alcohol and drinks sweetened with fructose also contribute to higher levels of uric acid. People who eat meat daily, particularly red and organ meats, are at high risk of gout.


Obesity is a serious health issue because it increases your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, gallstones and some cancers. Being obese also weakens the immune system and so increases the recovery time after an illness or injury.

Research shows that people who eat a lot of meat are much more likely to be obese compared with people who eat none or very little.

A study analysing data from 170 different countries revealed that meat intake was directly linked to excess weight. In fact, meat turned out to be as bad as sugar for weight gain! The likely reasons are that meat always contains considerable amounts of saturated fat but also that excess protein (that your body cannot immediately use) is also stored as fat.

Bone and kidney health

Meat is a rich source of protein and if you eat a lot of it, it can be a problem for your kidneys and bones. It’s because meat protein contains more sulphur-containing amino acids than plant protein. These amino acids produce sulphuric acid when digested – it puts a strain on your kidneys because it makes them work harder and requires calcium to neutralise it. If you have enough calcium in your diet, your bones won’t be affected but if you have low calcium intake, your body may use calcium from your bones to try and balance the acidic effects of animal protein.

In people with compromised kidney health, eating too many acid-forming foods may make matters worse, contribute to bone and also muscle loss. On the other hand, unprocessed plant foods may help.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food and usually results in vomiting and diarrhoea as your body attempts to get rid of the invaders – bacteria, viruses or toxins. Symptoms may also include fever, chills, stomach cramps, lack of energy and dizziness. People usually get better within a few days but sometimes, it may cause serious illness or even death (especially in children or adults with compromised health).

In most cases of food poisoning, the food is contaminated with bacteria or viruses. Meat can become unsafe when the animal it came from was infected, the contents of the animal’s guts contaminated the meat, it wasn’t not cooked thoroughly, not stored correctly before or after cooking, handled by someone who is ill or has dirty hands or when it comes into contact with other food that’s contaminated.

Majority of food poisoning incidents are caused by animal products (meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy) as plants tend not to carry the types of bacteria causing food poisoning in humans. If plant foods do cause food poisoning it is generally because they have been contaminated with animal faeces, human sewerage or handled with dirty hands during preparation.

Antibiotic resistance

Factory farms are the ideal breeding grounds for deadly bacteria that are constantly evolving. Farmers know this and it’s why they use antibiotics not just to treat sick animals but also to prevent the spread of diseases. In some countries, they are even used as growth promoters.

This massive use of antibiotics has a dangerous side-effect – bacteria develop antibiotic-resistance. It means that if you’re infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, your illness will be difficult or even impossible to treat with the medicines we have and could end up being fatal.

The overuse of antibiotics on livestock and fish farms and its dangerous consequences are well documented but with the sheer numbers of farmed animals, it’s difficult to control disease any other way. It seems our only option to limit antibiotic resistance and its threats is by switching to a vegan diet.

Environmental damage

Meat-eating has a dramatic impact on the environment. It’s because we grow vast amounts of crops to feed billions of farmed animals and only about 10 per cent of it actually turns into animal foods (meat, fish, dairy and eggs). Most of the protein and energy that crop feed for animals contains is used up in metabolic processes keeping the animal alive, producing body heat and building and repairing tissues like bones, cartilage, offal – and much is lost in faeces. It is a highly inefficient way of producing food.

If we ate the crops ourselves, we’d need to grow less and use far fewer resources. Animal farming also pollutes the air with greenhouse gases and the soil and water with ammonia and other harmful substances. Livestock farming is also the biggest driver of wildlife losses globally. Plant foods are substantially more environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethical and they are good for your health!

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