Giving Up Red Meat? Five Possible Side Effects to Expect
Whichever way you look at it, going vegan isn’t for everyone. Both in terms of lifestyle preferences and the health of the individual in question, there are instances where cutting out all animal products in their entirety is not necessarily the way to go.
Precisely why it is essential to consult with a doctor or qualified professional, before making any major lifestyle changes.
Nevertheless, there is one thing the medical community in its entirety fully agrees on:
Most people could do with cutting down on their consumption of red meat.
It’s a hotly debated topic, given the fact that lean red meat does indeed have plenty of nutritional value. It’s a fantastic source of protein and other nutrients, which according to some studies can be consumed in moderation without posing any threat to health.
Nevertheless, almost all studies conducted into the excess consumption of red meat have brought to light downright terrifying findings. All suggesting that even if you don’t cut it out entirely, you could still benefit by reducing your intake.
What Science Has to Say About Red Meat Consumption
Back in 2015, red meat was officially named a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization. This means there is just cause to believe that red meat consumption can increase a person’s cancer risk, which in its own right should be enough of a motivator to cut down.
Over the years, several studies have drawn direct links between the elevated consumption of red meat and a higher risk of kidney failure, diabetes, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and various other dangerous diseases. Furthermore, a study carried out by Harvard University in 2012 found that those who regularly consume red meat are more likely to die prematurely than those who abstain.
Unsurprisingly, the quantity of red meat consumed is the biggest factor of all where these associated risks are concerned. The more red meat you eat and the regularly you eat it, the more likely you are to gain weight, develop deadly diseases and ultimately enjoy a shorter lifespan – so the science tells us.
But what’s rarely (or never) factored into such studies is the way in which red meat varies enormously from one product to the next in terms of quality and potential health implications. Some red meat is exponentially less hazardous to human health than others – as are red meat preparation methods and the lifestyle of those consuming the products.
"If you are giving up fattier forms of red meat in the form of greasy burgers and buttery, fatty steaks, you will potentially experience some health benefits from reducing your saturated fat and caloric intake," said Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, and nutrition consultant for the AI-driven visual diet diary app Freshbit.
"If you typically consume lean or grass-fed forms of red meat and in proper portions at mealtime, the drawbacks you may experience would potentially outweigh the benefits."
Hence, it’s clearly not a black-and-white issue where red meat is concerned. There’s no disputing the fact that eating too much of the stuff is bad for you, or that cutting down could be beneficial for your health. But at the same time, some people could find it beneficial to simply swap out their current red meat products for healthier choices.
The Potential Side Effects of Cutting Out Red Meat
For those who intend to go the whole hog – pun intended – the side effects of cutting out red meat will also vary significantly from one person to the next. There are myriad factors that can influence the outcome, including how much red meat you ate previously and the lifestyle you lead.
Nevertheless, there are several common side effects that typically accompany the complete exclusion of red meat from a person’s diet. Assuming red meat has played an important role in your dietary habits up until now, here’s a rundown of the side effects you may experience over the subsequent weeks and months:
- You may find yourself losing weight
If weight loss (or healthy weight management) is your goal, you could find it much easier to achieve by cutting out red meat. Pound for pound, red meat is far more calorie-dense and fat-loaded than almost any other comparable source of protein. Which subsequently means that whatever it is you swap out your red meat for, it could result in you consuming less fat and fewer calories.
This goes some way to explain why a study carried out in 2011 found that those who consumed red meat on a regular basis were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than those who ate no red meat at all. There was a direct correlation between the quantity/frequency of consumption and the likelihood of the individual to end up overweight.
Though of course, the above only applies give the rest of your diet after giving of red meatis balanced and healthy.
- You could benefit from a healthier heart
Similarly, red meat consumption has been associated with a variety of ill effects on cardiovascular health. Particularly when it comes to the build-up of cholesterol causing problems with blood pressure, the elevated consumption of red meat can be downright dangerous.
Studies have shown that red meat contains a protein building block called carnitine, which prompts the release of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO has the potential to speed up the thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries, and is exponentially more prevalent in the bloodstream of those who eat red meat on a regular basis.
In terms of cholesterol, some studies have indicated that by switching to a predominantly plant-based diet, it’s possible to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by as much as 30%. Again, there’s a direct correlation between how much red meat an individual needs and their likelihood of developing cardiovascular health problems.
- You may need to watch your protein intake carefully
One of the most common issues encountered by those attempting to give up meat for the first time is ensuring they continue to consume enough protein. There are plenty of sources available, but it can be tricky during those early weeks and months to provide your body with the same amount of protein you were giving it before.
"Depending on how much meat you were consuming, cutting out red meat without replacing it with another complete protein source may lead to insufficient protein intake," warned Minchen.
"Track your protein intake in an app like Freshbit to make sure you are achieving the desired amount on a daily basis."
The potential consequences of a protein deficiency can be severe, but it is something that can be easily avoided. There’s the endless list of plant-based foods and ingredients that are absolutely packed with protein – beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, legumes and so on. It’s therefore a case of keeping careful track of your protein intake, packing your diet with high-protein plant-based foods instead of meat.
- You may also need to prop up your immune system
Striking the right balance as a newcomer to plant-based living is something that takes time. In the meanwhile, it’s entirely likely that you’ll face a few ups and downs with regard to your nutrient intake. In particular, things like zinc, selenium, B vitamins and iron needs to be prioritised when making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle.
You’ll previously have been getting your RDA of these (and other) key nutrients in the meat you were eating. With meat having been excluded from your diet, you will need to get them from other sources. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a position where your immune system takes a hit.
Selenium and zinc in particular are essential for immune system support. If you are in any way concerned that you are not getting enough of either in your diet, supplementation should be considered. Though again, it’s a good idea to discuss all such issues with your doctor, if worried about your nutrient intake following a major lifestyle change.
- You may benefit from improved bone health
Last but not least, it was traditionally theorised that the consumption of red meat could be beneficial for bone health. In reality, research has shown that it could in fact be quite the opposite. Several studies carried out by the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition found that osteoporosis risk can actually be reduced by limiting red meat consumption.
This is due to the fact that the elevated consumption of animal protein has been linked with accelerated loss of bone density in some people. In this instance, it’s not just red meat that could potentially pose a risk to bone health – it’s all animal protein across the board.
Getting plenty of calcium to fulfil your RDA as part of a plant-based lifestyle really couldn’t be easier. There’s a long list of products fortified with calcium, along with countless supplements available to ensure you get your fill. Which means that even if you decide to give up animal products entirely, there’s still no reason to worry about a lack of calcium in your diet.