While more and more people are becoming health conscious, and eating their fruits and veggies, though still likely not enough, we may be giving less attention to the health benefits of meat in our diet. Often meat is viewed as raising cholesterol levels in the body and people become anxious at the thought of eating meat. To date, there is no link between cholesterol levels in meat and heart disease.
What is the latest research on meat consumption? An interesting study was reported in this month’s Nature magazine by Sujata Gupta finding that deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, all found in meat, have been linked to brain disorders. Low IQ, autism, depression, problems with learning and memory, poor concentration, increased inflammation, slower nerve conduction, and in some cases of dementia, have all been linked to a deficient meat diet.
An actual study was reported where one group of students in Kenya ages 6 to 14 ate a traditional porridge without dairy, the other had dairy added, and the third group meat, but not dairy. The group with added meat had the fewest health problems over time, and were ahead of the other groups on measures of math and language.
The study discusses meat quality and the importance of eating meat from animals obtaining their own diets from eating pasture grasses that contain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids known to fight inflammation, the real culprit in many diseases. If we buy meat from animals fed on corn and soy, the nutrient content shifts dramatically and we will not get the same health benefits. And of course meat is meant to be eaten in moderation.
Clearly, the study shows that meat has many nutrients conducive to our cognitive functioning. The limitation of the study is that it was performed on an age group that is still developing cognitively and we do not know from the research whether these same benefits would be found in a group of adults participating in a similar study. If the study could be replicated with adults, it would make an even more powerful case for eating grass-fed meat.
Of course, the issue in any of these studies on grass-fed meat consumption and cognitive functioning comes back to how to make grass-fed meat more available to people since it is more expensive than grain-fed cuts of meat.
Another issue would be how to best accommodate people who do not like meat, whether by taste, texture, digestibility, on moral grounds, and the like. Making people aware of the missing nutrients and how to best obtain them on a meatless diet would be crucial. But the study certainly makes a strong case for the role of nutrients found in meat, and optimal cognitive functioning in children and adolescents.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Gupta, S. Nature, 531, S12-S13 (2016)