Earlier this year, esteemed medical practitioner, Dr. Michael Greger, claimed that switching to a plant based diet was the equivalent of quitting smoking. So, if going vegan can do so much good for your body, does that mean eating meat and smoking can do equal amounts of damage?
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) claim that there are five major diseases that both tobacco and eating meat can contribute to. So just what is happening to your body when you eat meat?
5 Ways Eating Meat Can Be as Bad for Your Body as Smoking
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or Lung Disease, has been found to increase when people are consuming processed or cured meats. In a 2007 study, it was found that men consuming cured meat on a daily basis were 2.5 times more likely to develop lung disease than those who weren’t. Similarly, in 2016, researchers found that adults consuming at least 75g/day processed meats were more likely to develop COPD than those who consumed less than 25g/day.
Coronary Artery Disease
Due to the relationship between dietary fat, cholesterol and coronary artery disease (heart disease), many studies have pointed to a link between meat and heart disease. In 2003 Erlinger and Appel wrote ‘Dietary patterns are a major factor in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD) and other chronic disorders.’ Meat, in particular, red meat, contains high levels of cholesterol. The RDA of cholesterol is a maximum of 300mg but some meat can provide 85mg cholesterol in every 100g.
Decreased Bone Health
It might seem like all you need for healthy bones is to ingest a lot of calcium, but this isn’t the case. You need to be equally worried about the food you are consuming that may decrease calcium absorption. According to PCRM, ‘Animal protein tends to leach calcium from the bones, leading to its excretion in the urine. Animal proteins are high in sulfur-containing amino acids, especially cystine and methionine. Sulfur is converted to sulfate, which tends to acidify the blood. During the process of neutralizing this acid, bone dissolves into the bloodstream and filters through the kidneys into the urine. Meats and eggs contain two to five times more of these sulfur-containing amino acids than are found in plant foods.’ This is supported by a study conducted as early as 1981 by Wilson and Schedl.
A study published in 2008 showed that females who replaced animal protein in their diet with plant protein reduce their risk of infertility. Just one serving of meat (including red meat, poultry, and fish) seemed to increase the participant’s risk of infertility by 32%. In contrast to this, the participants that replaced animal protein with vegetable protein saw a risk reduction of 42%. Similarly, at 2006 study concluded that diets that included large amounts of meat and dairy decreased both sperm count and quality.
A Harvard study has concluded that red meat significantly increases an individual’s risk of stroke. Male participants who ate more than two servings of red meat every day had a 28% greater risk of having a stroke than those who only ate one-third of a serving every day. Another study, completed in 2011, indicated that those who had consumed the most red meat over a 23 year period had 47% higher chance of having a stroke than those who ate minimal red meat.
The evidence appears to point towards tobacco and meat being equally as damaging to your body. Thankfully, medical associations are increasingly accepting vegan diets as a component of a healthy lifestyle, making it easier than ever to reduce meat and dairy intake whilst still ensuring you have all the nutrients you need.