Meat has long been an important part of the human diet. Up to the 1950s it was traditionally consumed once or twice a week, but since then increases in prosperity, a decrease in the price of meat, and the development of industrial livestock production has led to meat being consumed on a daily basis – often several times a day (e.g. a fry-up in the morning, a ham sandwich for lunch, and a piece of meat for dinner). Combined with a simultaneous decrease in our general level of physical activity, this frequent intake of meat has proved harmful to people’s health. Cardiovascular diseases in particular are linked to a high intake of red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb, which can also increase the risk of certain cancers. The consumption of cured and smoked meats in particular is discouraged due to their proven link to cancer. The fact that we are also replacing health-promoting plant-based foods with meat in our diet further exacerbates the negative effects of meat on our health.
Aside from health concerns, meat production is also having a harmful effect on the climate (e.g. the methane produced by cattle; countries destroying their rainforests to grow feed for livestock) and polluting farmland and groundwater (e.g. with liquid manure and nitrates). For all these reasons, we should either reduce our meat intake – preferably to no more than 300 to 600 grams a week – or stop consuming meat altogether. Less is more!
Dr Claus Leitzmann, former head of the Giessen Institute for Nutritional Sciences, answered this question.