Eating Meat in America


Detrick Snyder

MPH Candidate, Nutritional Sciences

Vegetarian. Vegan. Cruelty-Free. Plant-based. All of these I'm sure you've heard of, maybe you've even tried them. But at what point do these diets go from reducing risk of disease to fad diet? How do we know what to do about eating animal products?

Large population-based studies often agree that consuming meat and saturated fat are linked to chronic disease rates. Examples include diabetes (1, 2), cardiovascular disease (2,3), alzheimer's disease (4), and especially colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer (5). In some cases, these associations are given weight with studies that confirm their mechanism. Whole food, plant-based diets are certainly a boon to health for all kinds of reasons, but eliminating animal products altogether may be missing the point of what these studies actually show, and might not be practical, or optimal, for everyone.

Meat is not the killer here - it's the way Americans eat it that leads to disease. Here are some recommendations based on sound evidence that support the sensible consumption of meat.

Argument Evidence Recommendation
Eating excessive amounts of red meat leads to disease.

There is convincing evidence that certain meat can lead to disease (1-5). However, there are common threads between these studies:

  • Industrially-raised animals
  • Industrially-processed products
  • Eating meat along with excessive eating, in general
  • Choose to eat whole or minimally processed (i.e. ground) meats rather than preserved meats and deli products
  • Choose local, grass-fed options when possible (6)
  • Eat what you need to, and not to fullness
  • Explore vegetarian protein options like nuts, beans, and seeds
Cooking of meat leads to disease.
  • Oxidized fats and their byproducts, which are present in any fried food, are associated with heart disease (7,8).
  • Byproducts of blackened meat are associated with cancer (9).
  • Byproducts of the browning process in animal proteins might be linked to chronic disease (10)
  • Choose baked, steamed, or boiled options when eating out rather than fried options.
  • Use a lower temperature when cooking with oil.
  • When you can assure the safety of the meat and at your own discretion, choose less "well-done" options that still meet food safety standards.
  • Achieve a golden brown color when grilling, rather than blackening.
Raising and processing animals contributes to climate change. The American animal industry does create high levels of methane, CO2 and ammonia which affect the global climate (11). On the other end of the industrial spectrum, small-scale, sustainable agricultural models that focus on a symbiotic relationship with the environment will be crucial to providing food for generations to come.
  • Know your farmer. Opt for local, grass-fed or hunted animal products and support farm-to-table restaurants when possible.
  • Explore unique cuts of the animal (e.g. organ meats, bone broth) to ensure that no part of the animal goes to waste. Additionally, these products are the most nutrient-rich parts of the animal.
The raising and killing of animals is unethical. Moral arguments around the taking of life should be left to individuals to consider for themselves. The Global Animal Partnership (12) offers guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals. When you have a relationship with your farmer and you know that the love they have for their animals fuels their livelihood, you know that your meat comes from animals that are raised humanely and killed respectfully.

Meat can be part of a healthy, environmentally-conscious diet. By choosing to consume moderate amounts of properly-prepared, pasture-raised animal products, your choices demonstrate respect for the environment, the animals and the hard-working farmers who raise them, and perhaps most importantly, for your own health.


  1. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein A, Manson J, Willett W, Hu F. Changes in Red Meat Consumption and Subsequent Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013;173(14):1328. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6633.
  2. Micha R, Wallace S, Mozaffarian D. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation. 2010;121(21):2271-2283. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.109.924977.
  3. Bechthold A, Boeing H, Schwedhelm C et al. Food groups and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017:1-20. doi:10.1080/10408398.2017.1392288.
  4. Grant W. Using Multicountry Ecological and Observational Studies to Determine Dietary Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2016;35(5):476-489. doi:10.1080/07315724.2016.1161566.
  5. Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton K et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. 2015;16(16):1599-1600. doi:10.1016/s1470-2045(15)00444-1.
  6. Carrillo J, He Y, Li Y et al. Integrated metabolomic and transcriptome analyses reveal finishing forage affects metabolic pathways related to beef quality and animal welfare. Scientific Reports. 2016;6(1). doi:10.1038/srep25948.
  7. Gadiraju T, Patel Y, Gaziano J, Djoussé L. Fried Food Consumption and Cardiovascular Health: A Review of Current Evidence. Nutrients. 2015;7(10):8424-8430. doi:10.3390/nu7105404.
  8. Stevens J, Maier C. Acrolein: Sources, metabolism, and biomolecular interactions relevant to human health and disease. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2008;52(1):7-25. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700412.
  9. Chiavarini M, Bertarelli G, Minelli L, Fabiani R. Dietary Intake of Meat Cooking-Related Mutagens (HCAs) and Risk of Colorectal Adenoma and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2017;9(6):514. doi:10.3390/nu9050514.
  10. Virk-Baker M, Nagy T, Barnes S, Groopman J. Dietary Acrylamide and Human Cancer: A Systematic Review of Literature. Nutrition and Cancer. 2014;66(5):774-790. doi:10.1080/01635581.2014.916323.
  11. Gurian-Sherman D. Raising the Steaks: Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States. In: Union Of Concerned Scientists: Raising The Steaks. Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists Publications; 2011. Available at: Accessed November 26, 2017.

Detrick SnyderDetrick Snyder is a Master's of Public Health Candidate at the University of Michigan studying Nutritional Sciences. interested in the prevention, treatment, and research of chronic diseases that may be explained metabolically. Of particular interest is the treatment and prevention of cancer and related diseases through targeted diets and bioactive food compounds. By working with an integrative team in a clinical research setting, Detrick hopes to enhance the credibility of nutritive therapies and improve the standard of care for cancer patients while also serving those less privileged populations that need it most.