While most of these diets differ in some ways, they all have consuming meat in common.
“There’s a huge trend toward eating more meat over the past few years and I think it’s going to continue to accelerate,” says John Rooney, founder of DNX Foods, producer of meat bars. “We’re finding out more everyday about the health benefits of meat. We’re carnivores, and we’ve always been carnivores – we need to eat meat for so many reasons.”
“Meat is the most nutrient-dense source of protein for the least amount of calories,” says Diana Rodgers, registered dietician, nutritionist and host and author of the Sustainable Dish blog. “Animal protein is highly satiating and full of nutrients – I think people should eat more meat, not less.”
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the daily consumption of 5.7 oz. of meat as a part of a healthy diet – Rodgers says people can and should eat more meat.
“When someone comes to me for weight loss, I often find that if I just increase their protein intake, they will lose weight,” Rodgers says. “I try to get them to eat 4 to 6 oz. of animal protein per meal. If they do that, they will fill up faster with fewer calories and will most likely lose weight.”
Animal protein will not only allow people to be satiated while also consuming fewer calories, but animal protein is a more nutrient dense source of protein than other plant-based options (like vegetables and nuts).
“The difference in meat-based protein versus plant-based protein is the quality of the protein,” explains Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., professor in the Dept. of Kinesiology at McMaster Univ. in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “Protein quality refers to how easily proteins are digested and what amino acids they contain. Meat is more easily digested than plant-based proteins and contains more of what we call essential amino acids – the building blocks we have to eat that our bodies can’t make. Thus, meat protein is, by definition, a higher quality and oftentimes more nutrient-dense, protein.”
In short: “Meat provides high quality, nutrient-dense protein and when consumed generally improves diet quality,” Phillips says.
Animal proteins deliver nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and B12, that can’t be found in the same amounts in plant-based proteins. In fact, B12 can only be found in animal products like fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. According to the CDC, B12 is the most deficient nutrient in the American diet.
“Animal protein is a more complete protein, where vegetable proteins are not,” Rodgers says. “Animal protein is also easier to digest – soy (which is a good source of protein) is a lot harder for the system to digest.”
As a nutritionist and dietician, Rodgers feels like she’s in the minority when it comes to being pro-meat. “What I was taught in my nutritionist education was to be very pro vegetable and anti-meat. That’s the climate we’re dealing with right now,” she explains. “It’s very fashionable to be vegetarian and vegan right now.
“Diets like Whole30 and Paleo do put more emphasis on eating meat, but there’s still a lot of education needed on the benefits of eating meat – both nutritionally, environmentally and sustainably,” she says. “I think the meat industry needs to focus on the pure nutrition value of meat and the benefits of protein. And how meat is a calorically efficient way to get protein.”
As senior vice president of public affairs with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), Janet Riley spends most of her time promoting the meat industry and meat itself, but at times it feels like an uphill battle. There’s a lot of false information out there about food, she explains, and a lot of it is about meat.
NAMI hosts a website called Meat Mythcrushers, specifically designed to “provide consumers and media with the other side of the story.” Under the Nutrition and Health Myths section there are videos regarding whether spinach and other vegetables are as good of a source of iron as meat, whether grass-fed beef is more nutritious than corn-fed beef and if eliminating meat from your diet will make it healthier.
“If consumers see the comparison between beef and other protein sources like tofu, beans or nuts, they’ll be surprised to see how much complete protein they can get for very few calories and very few grams of fat,” Riley explains. “Beef is a very nutritionally dense food. It’s important that we communicate that to consumers.
“I think it’s important that we have a steady stream of positive information about meat to counteract the steady stream of negative information that seems to always be publicized to consumers,” Riley adds.