Study: Meat-Eating Increases Life Expectancy

Meat-eating increases life expectancy, according to an analysis of United Nations data published February 22, 2022 in the International Journal of General Medicine. 

You and colleagues analyzed the relationship between meat consumption, carbohydrate crop consumption, and life expectancy at birth and at 5 years of age.  They found that meat-eating correlates with dramatically reduced childhood mortality as well as greater life expectancy, while consumption of carbohydrate crops had no influence on either childhood mortality or life expectancy.

All Kinds of Meat-Eating Increases Life Expectancy

In this study, You and colleagues used data for total meat consumption.  Per the FAO, meat is defined as “flesh of animals used for food” and includes beef, veal, buffalo, pork, mutton and lamb, goat meat, horse meat, chicken meat, goose meat, duck meat, turkey meat, rabbit meat, game meat and offal. 

You and colleagues found that total meat-eating reduced childhood mortality and increases life expectancy even when they statistically controlled for influences of caloric intake, urbanization, obesity, education, socioeconomic status, and carbohydrate crops consumption. 

Take notice from the graph above that the lowest childhood mortality and greatest life expectancy was associated with consumption of more than 150 kg (330 lbs) meat per person per year, or about 0.4 kg (400 g; 14.5 oz) per day.  The best outcomes were associated with the highest intakes of meat.

Their other key findings included:  

  • Meat intake explains at least 50% of variance in life expectancy and mortality.
  • Meat-eating has a linear positive relationship with life expectancy, i.e. the more meat eaten, the greater the life expectancy.
  • Countries with greater meat intake have lower child mortality, and the relationship between meat-eating and child mortality is negatively exponential, i.e. the less meat eaten, the greater the childhood mortality, and the increase is exponential.
  • Meat intake correlates with life expectancy not because of its energy (caloric) contribution, but because it contributes other nutrients.
  • Meat-eating correlates with increase life expectancy even in countries with available percentages of vegetarians.
  • Populations with a lower percentage of vegetarians have a greater life expectancy.
  • Among Mediterranean diet countries, total meat intake is linked to greater life expectancy.

Eating Carbohydrate Crops Doesn’t Increase Life Expectancy

You and colleagues note that in ancient times meat provided over 50% of energy needs, whereas today carbohydrate foods provide more than 50% of energy needs. 

In their analysis, they found that consuming carbohydrate crops –– cereals, starchy roots and sugars –– was not associated with reduced infant mortality nor increased lifespan.  This indicated that the positive effect of meat-eating on life expectancy is due to its provision of vital nutrients other than calories, i.e. not due simply to caloric intake (which could as easily be provided by carbohydrate crops).

How Meat-eating Increases Life Expectancy

And this, indeed, to wit, flesh, is the best kind of food...

Satapatha Brahmana, Part V, 7th Adhyaya, 1st Brahmana, Verse 3

300 BCE

In The Hypercarnivore Diet (out of print for revision), I wrote:

“Longevity is based on faithful reproduction of cells to regenerate body tissues.  Reproduction of cells and regeneration of tissues requires nutrients obtained from food.  Aside from water, the main constituents of our cells and vital body tissues (muscles, bones, organs, brain) are animal protein, fat, cholesterol and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, magnesium).  

“Greater meat-eating may promote longevity by providing large intake of highly bioavailable nutrients required for maintaining body tissues – such as protein, various fats (including essential fatty acids), cholesterol, vitamins and minerals – which would delay physical degeneration.”

Similarly, in their discussion of their findings, You and colleagues note:

“Meat contains high protein with all the essential amino acids, and is a good source of minerals (iron, phosphorus, selenium and zinc) and vitamins (B12, B6, K, choline, niacin, riboflavin).  Simply put –– a human animal consuming the body of another animal gets practically all constituent compounds of its own body.”

“The complete nutritional profile of meat and human adaptation to meat eating have enabled humans to gain many physical benefits, including greater life expectancy. Meat intake, or its adequate replacement, should be incorporated into nutritional science to improve human life expectancy.”

As the Vedic scripture Satapatha Brahmana says, animal flesh is the best kind of food. 

Vegetarian Diets Don't Increase Life Expectancy

You and colleagues note that, contrary to popular misconceptions promoted by "authorities," we lack evidence that vegetarian diets enhance longevity.  Studies purported to find that vegetarian or plant-based diets contribute to a high life expectancy suffer from questionable study designs, including failure to account for overall healthier lifestyle patterns among vegetarians compared to general population.  Many studies concentrate on subjects not representative of the general population, e.g. Seventh-day Adventists who have healthier lifestyles, including non-smoking, marital maintenance, regular exercise and maintaining a health body weight.

Further, they note that vegetarians may be able to maintain ‘health’ on their diets only when they avoid meat-related nutrient deficiency in one or more of the following ways:

  • Taking meat-nutrient supplements (e.g. vitamin B12)
  • Eating meat occasionally in secret.  As I noted in The Hypercarnivore Dietresearch shows that while 3% of U.S. citizens self-identify as vegetarians, 66% of these people report eating red meat, poultry, and fish on follow-up challenges; only 0.9% of the total study population both self-defined as vegetarian and provided dietary recalls that included no animal flesh.1  
  • Starting life as a meat-eater, thus avoiding deficiencies during the periods of critical growth and development, childhood and early adolescence.
  • Including sufficient dairy products in their diets.  These contain animal proteins, fats, cholesterol, vitamins and minerals similar to meat.

Meats & Sweets

Meat may indeed be the best of foods, but it is not the only suitable food for humans.  Unlike cats, humans are not designed to be exclusive carnivores.   

In Meats & Sweets I explain that humans have several features indicating that we are also designed to eat sugar-rich fruits, including:

  • Color vision, necessary for identifying ripe fruits.
  • Sweet taste receptors specially adapted to detecting sugars, both glucose and fructose
  • Enzyme systems dedicated to digesting, assimilating, storing and metabolizing both glucose and fructose.  

Exclusive carnivores do not have color vision, sweet taste receptors or enzyme systems dedicated to metabolism of dietary sugars.

These are just a few of the features of human biology that indicate that we are by Nature designed for a diet of meat and fruits.

In addition, many studies also link fruit intake to health and longevity.  A review of research on the health effects of fruit consumption concluded that we have evidence that regular consumption of fruits may protect against many degenerative conditions including:

  • intestinal dysbiosis and colonic gastrointestinal diseases (e.g., constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and diverticular disease)
  • overweight and obesity
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • colorectal and lung cancers
  • premature and degenerative aging
  • asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • depression and other mental and behavioral disorders including autism spectrum disorder
  • low bone mineral density (osteoporosis)
  • seborrheic dermatitis

A 2020 systematic review of observational studies assessing association between mental health and fruit and vegetable intake in adults found that daily consumption of 6-8 daily servings of fruits or vegetables correlated with better mental health compared to lower intakes.  More fruits than vegetables were linked to better mental health; in one of the reviewed studies, 7 of 10 types of produce associated with better mental health were fruits: bananas, apples, citrus, berries, grapefruits, kiwi, and cucumbers.

The Global Burden of Disease Study estimated that in 2017 about 2 million deaths and 65 million disability-adjusted life-years were attributable to low intake of fruits.2

Thus, when you eat both meat and fruits in proportions adjusted to your needs you powerfully support strength and health.  That's why I call a diet of meats and sweets (fruits) a high vitality diet

Notes

1. Haddad EH, Tanzman JS, “What do vegetarians in the United States eat?,” Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(3):626S-632S. <http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/626S.long>

2. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 [published correction appears in Lancet. 2021 Jun 26;397(10293):2466]. Lancet. 2019;393(10184):1958-1972. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8 

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