A little over a week ago, the Minister of Consumerism in the Government of Spain, Alberto Garzón, presented the campaign “Less Meat, More Lives”, the debate over meat consumption being the norm today.
In this short period of time, the different levels involved in the debate – producers, consumers and even politicians – have made their opinion known as to the appropriateness of meat consumption. The arguments that each individual used to defend his position were based on various factors, ranging from health to environmental impact.
But what does the scientific evidence say about it?
Meat consumption and health
Nutritionally speaking, there is no doubt that meat is a very enjoyable food. Among other things, because it is a source of protein of high biological value, vitamins of group B and is particularly rich in iron (especially red meat). It also provides fat, mainly saturated in ruminant meat, and a high degree of unsaturation in the case of pork.
The Contribution of these nutrients It can vary depending on the breed or age of the animal from which the meat comes, as well as the diet it received.
These nutritional properties mean that meat is included in eating patterns that are considered healthy, such as the Mediterranean diet. In fact, the “presence” of meat in the Mediterranean diet is one of the arguments that has been used the most in defense of its consumption.
However, after delving into what the Mediterranean diet is, it should be noted that the recommendation to consume meat is Moderate for white (chicken) and rare for red (Cattle cattle, hunting animals and organ meat).
Not only that: Harvard Medical School recommends that when eating meat (especially red), It is made in small portions (85 to 115 g) and accompanied by plentiful vegetables. In the case of processed meat (sausages, cured meats, pies), its consumption is not even recommended.
As for the main reasons for advising to reduce meat consumption, especially red meat, its potential to cause cancer stands out. Thus, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published A 2015 article in The Lancet Oncology Red meat is classified as Category 2A (possibly carcinogenic to humans).
In that report, the scientific evidence published to that date (more than 800 epidemiological studies) was analyzed. Several studies have highlighted the relationship between meat consumption and the risk of colon cancer.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that meat consumption is also associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. A recent study conducted in the United States with a group of about 30,000 people indicates that a Consumption of unprocessed red meat and processed meat significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Recommendations and current consumption
The worrying thing is that according to another Consumption report published by the Government of Spain, per capita meat consumption increased by 10.5% in the past year, reaching 36.2 kg of fresh meat annually per capita.
This assumes that an individual consumes about 700 grams of meat per week, an amount higher than the recommendations of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN). he is called: 200-500 grams of meat per week, preferably white (chicken or rabbit).
Regarding the consumption of red meat, the same agency recommends not to exceed its consumption 2 servings (200-250 g) per week.
In light of these data, it is clear that meat consumption in Spain currently exceeds what would be recommended consumption for science.
The problem of ‘overcooked’ meat
In addition to the amount of meat consumed, the way in which we prepare the said food (the ‘recipe’ and the type of cooking method used) is a factor that must also be taken into account.
In general, it can be said that Applying very high temperatures for long periods of time helps produce toxic compounds with the potential to cause cancer, such as heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (especially during grilling) or even acrylamide (especially if the meat is breaded or breaded).
In order to reduce the intake of these compounds, it is recommended Avoid excessive consumption of fried or grilled meat. Or at least, adequately control the process variables that affect the generation of said substances that are harmful to health.
Finally, we must not forget the environmental impact of animal protein production due to Greenhouse gas production and emissions And the resulting high water consumption. Therefore, it will also be necessary to include these aspects when discussing meat consumption in order to address this issue in a comprehensive manner.
Although arguments have been made so far on which the recommendation for moderation of meat consumption has been based, it is also important to take into account the economic dimension of this productive sector and its impact on GDP.
So what do you do?
The controversy raised by the aforementioned campaign, which aims to reduce meat consumption, shows that this is an unpopular issue in Spain.
However, no one can escape that, given the effects that meat consumption can have on health and the planet, controlling/moderating its consumption is something we must do sooner rather than later. For this, it will be necessary to involve all parties, in order to make decisions that are beneficial to all.
The fact that measures are already being taken in other countries in this regard shows that it is not a “mission impossible”.