Why is meat such a staple across cultures? Because human life demands it, and it’s one of our most primitive needs. Eating meat is as vital to our survival as breathing. If we don’t provide our bodies with a regular supply, then our bodies begin to cannibalize our tissues to make up for the deficit. That’s when the slow reabsorption of body tissues begins, and we start to see issues like sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass. We lose bone mass, which is about 40 percent protein. Our production of vital hormones, neurotransmitters, and basic cell functions start to fail. Eventually, our very existence becomes one of daily pain, weakness, and despair.
People who’ve adopted all-meat diets often report feeling two or three decades younger. Their chronic pains go away, their desire for life returns, and their diseases resolve or remit. For some people, the changes have been downright miraculous. People who have given up on life and suffer chronic depression have seen profound reversals in their mental states. For the first time in memory, they find that they’re happy and looking forward to life. Let’s talk about why these changes may happen.
Meat offers a tremendous amount of nutrition, even though it’s vilified for having cholesterol and saturated fat (which are vital components of the human body). As I like to remind people, meat is made of basically the same stuff that we are made of. If you want to build a car and you have access to a pile of car parts or a pile of computers, from which one would you draw your supplies? I can take all the nutrients from a rib-eye steak, which is made up of a bunch of animal cells, and then turn them into whatever my body needs.
Yes, we have a limited capacity to turn material from plants into what we need, but the process is much less efficient than drawing nutrients from meat, and it comes with some drawbacks. Meat is rich in several unique compounds found exclusively, or almost exclusively, in animal-based foods. These compounds include carnitine, carnosine, creatine, taurine, retinol, and vitamins B12, D3, and K2. These compounds offer some tremendous benefits.
Carnosine’s antiglycating properties can help mitigate the development of things like Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, and renal disease. Muscle levels of carnosine are significantly higher in people who eat meat compared to the levels in their vegetarian counterparts. By some accounts, carnosine may be one of the most potent antiaging molecules known.
Like carnosine, carnitine is found almost exclusively in animal products, especially red meat. Carnitine has several potentially beneficial effects in preventing and improving diseases. It has been shown to help with anemia, particularly for anemia associated with kidney dysfunction. It appears to improve the body’s use of glucose, and it may reduce the effects of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. In heart attack patients, carnitine has been used to prevent ischemia in cardiac muscle, and it’s even been shown to assist with resolving male infertility via an improvement in sperm quality.
Creatine (a supplement athletes commonly use and one of the few that’s been found to be beneficial after being rigorously tested), is another product found only in meat. Meat eaters register higher levels of creatine, and when vegetarians supplement creatine, they experience improved cognitive function. It’s also interesting to note that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of creatine. Heart failure patients who receive creatine have shown improved overall performance, and type 2 diabetics who supplement with creatine have improved glycemic control, particularly when they also exercise.
Taurine is found in high levels in both meat and fish but is woefully absent from a plant-based diet. As you might expect, taurine levels are significantly lower among herbivorous humans. In animal studies, taurine has been shown to reduce anxiety. Perhaps that is one reason so many folks on a carnivore diet report a sense of calmness and a resolution of anxiety. Taurine is similar to carnosine and has been shown to inhibit glycation. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. Some evidence suggests that taurine contributes to preventing the development of diabetic renal disease.
Although zinc is not exclusive to animal products, it’s found in much greater quantity and is more highly bioavailable in meat, and numerous plants containing phytates interfere with zinc’s absorption. Accordingly, zinc levels are fairly low in vegan and vegetarian dieters. Zinc deficiency has been associated with poor learning capacity, apathy, and behavioral problems in children. In adult males, low levels of zinc are associated with erectile dysfunction and decreased sperm counts. Zinc also is essential in the formation of insulin and appears to have a protective effect in preventing coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is found exclusively in animal products, and experts advise people who abstain from meat to supplement it. One of the more common causes of deficiency is gastrointestinal malabsorption. Up to 62 percent of pregnant vegan women were noted to be deficient in B12, and up to 86 percent of vegan children and 90 percent of vegan elderly were B12-deficient. A deficit of vitamin B12 has been associated with several neurological diseases, including dementia; it’s also related to depression.
Heme iron is another mineral found in abundance in red meat but absent from nonmeat sources. Unsurprisingly, a 2015 study of vegetarian women saw a 100 percent rate of some degree of iron deficiency anemia, which was more than double the rate of deficiency in their omnivorous counterparts. Certain plants, like leafy greens, soybeans, and lentils, contain non-heme iron, but those plants also can contain compounds like phytates and oxalates that limit iron absorption. Deficiency of iron has been shown to result in impairments in cognition and mental health status and a sense of general fatigue.
On average, people who include meat in their diets generally have better vitamin and mineral status than those who do not, and the vast majority of nutritional deficiency problems are in parts of the world where access to meat is scarce. In impoverished locations where meat is abundant, it’s not common to see nutritional deficiencies, whereas in poorer areas where people rely on a plant-based diet, residents frequently suffer from stunted growth and have numerous nutritional deficiency syndromes. Meat is indeed, a superfood!
Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
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