Updated: Mar 17
Most of us have heard, time and time again, the claims that red meat and animal protein cause heart disease or cancer. These claims have at the root Ancel Key’s flawed theory that increased cholesterol raises the risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fat, which is found primarily in animal foods, was blamed for this cholesterol increase, leading everyone to believe that eating meat is bad for you. Everyone assumed that by lowering the cholesterol in one’s diet, they could decrease the blood cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
In order to support this idea, Ancel Keys made a diagram for six countries, carefully selected from a total of 22 countries for which data was available, that showed a perfect correlation: the more fat consumed, the more deaths from heart disease. But this perfect correlation no longer exists when the data for the remaining countries is added to the diagram. (1)
Many studies have been led since this theory started, debunking this connection. One example is a clinical trial that compared a group of people eating a diet rich in saturated fat versus a group of people eating a diet low in saturated fat, which was replaced with corn oil, found that while the vegetable oil group had lower cholesterol, they had a higher mortality rate. (2) Another study that analyzed data from 42 countries, over a period of 16 years, found that the biggest drivers of disease were foods high in carbohydrates and alcohol and no link between total fat and animal protein consumption. (3)
According to Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride “study after study has shown that people with a normal level of cholesterol die from heart disease just as often as people with high cholesterol, and that blood cholesterol level cannot predict a heart attack. Many studies clearly demonstrate that low cholesterol levels are associated with greater mortality from heart disease and other diseases. So people with low cholesterol are more likely to die early.” (4) You can read more about it and find links to many studies in her book titled “Put Your Heart in Your Mouth.”
Dr Weston A Price (1870-1948), a dentist from Cleveland, traveled the world in search for answers on what was causing all the dental decay he was seeing more and more of, in his practice. He searched for communities of people that hadn’t been influenced by Western civilization and studied their general health and presence of tooth decay. “When Dr. Price analyzed the foods used by isolated peoples he found that, in comparison to the American diet of his day, they provided at least four times the water-soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins, from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs and animal fats—the very cholesterol-rich foods now shunned by the American public as unhealthful.” (5) Dr Price found little to no diseases in these communities and “proved conclusively that dental decay is caused primarily by nutritional deficiencies, and that those conditions that promote decay also promote disease.” Dr Price found that the fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2 are crucial to the absorption of nutrients from our food. “It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators.” (6)
Vitamin A has many roles in the body such as supporting proper night vision, growth and tissue healing, healthy skin, lowering cancer risk, as an antioxidant it provides protection from free radicals, protects us from stress, air pollution and chemical exposure and much more. (7) We can get two types of Vitamin A from our diet: retinol is found in animal based product like liver, egg yolk, dairy fat and seafood and it’s the true form of vitamin A; and beta carotene, which is a vitamin A precursor, is found in plant based products and needs to be converted into Vitamin A by our bodies. The process of converting beta-carotene to vitamin A “tends to be extremely inefficient and can be influenced by a host of different factors like levels of thyroid hormone, alcohol intake, and genetics! […]For anyone with impaired conversion, consuming pre-formed vitamin A from animal foods is absolutely important!” (8)
The body uses cholesterol to produce vitamin D3 when we are out in the sunlight. Unfortunately, many factors decrease the amount produced by our body: sunscreen, cold seasons, time of the day, clouds, smog, dark skin and age. Vitamin D is crucial for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and it supports the nervous system, heart function and blood clotting. “Vitamin D deficiency during the first few years of life results in a flattened pelvis making it difficult for childbirth. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk for pre-eclampsia, requiring a Cesarean section for birthing, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, type II diabetes, heart disease, dementia, deadly cancers and infectious diseases.” (9)
The best source of D3 or “natural” vitamin D is found in fish liver oil. Egg yolks, butter, liver and oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring contain smaller amounts of D3. The plant foods are fairly low in D with mushrooms providing various amounts of the vitamin D2. There is a lot of debate on whether our bodies can utilize D2 as efficiently as D3 and studies have shown that vitamin D levels decrease faster when D2 is utilized, making D3 the more efficient option (10,11,12).
Vitamin K2 (or Activator X) was discovered by Dr Price as a fat-soluble vitamin crucial for mineral absorption. Vitamin K2 is only found in certain parts of animals that have been eating young growing grasses, organ meats, fish and shellfish and butter from cows eating rapidly growing grass. For a more extensive explanation of this vitamin, please read a great article by Weston A Price Foundation titled: On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor: A Sixty-Two-Year-Old Mystery Finally Solved.
And if all of the above isn’t convincing enough, animal protein and plant protein is not the same. “Protein is made up of long chain amino acids. […] 20 (of them) are used to build the proteins in our bodies, and only 9 of those are considered essential, meaning that we can’t synthesize them from other amino acids and have to get them from food. […] When we talk about a food being a “complete protein,” it means that the food contains adequate portions of all nine essential amino acids. In general, animal foods supply complete protein, whereas plant foods tend to be low in at least one essential amino acid. "(13)
There are many more reasons why we should be eating moderate amounts of high quality animal protein and fat, especially meat. Many books have been written on the subject and I encourage you to take the time and read them. You can start with the ones I quoted in this article, listed below.
Put Your Heart in Your Mouth, Dr Natasha-Campbell-McBride
Put Your Heart in Your Mouth, Dr Natasha-Campbell-McBride
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A Price, DDS
Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Elson Haas, MD
Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, https://www.thepaleomom.com/genes-to-know-about-vitamin-a-conversion-genes/
Dr Michael F Holick https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738435/