Question to the expert: Does a person need eat meat
ANSWERS TO THE MOST QUESTING QUESTIONS OF US We are all used to searching online. In this series of materials we ask precisely such questions – relevant, unexpected or common – to professionals in various fields.
Recently, more and more people refuse meat: some for ethical reasons, others for health reasons. And yet, what is better – to eat meat or to be a vegetarian? Does meat really contain essential substances and which ones? Can vegetarian food be balanced? Is meat a carcinogen? We asked these questions to an expert.
nutritionist, graduate of King’s College London
It is believed that our ancestors ceased to be vegetarians about two and a half million years ago – and then they did not even know how to hunt and make fire, so they ate the raw meat of dead animals. Half a million years ago, hunting became part of the way of life, and ten thousand years BC people began to tame animals. Both hunting and agriculture demanded communication between people, and, consequently, the development of the brain – that is, meat-eating indirectly contributed to the evolution of man. Recently, researchers found that meat-eating allowed our ancestors to reduce the period of feeding newborns and the interval between births – that is, to increase fertility.
Of course, the most important thing that meat, eggs and milk give us is high-quality protein. Proteins of animals are closer in composition to human than plant proteins, and therefore the body assimilates them more easily. Nevertheless, the use of exclusively plant foods with the same success covers the body’s needs for the necessary amino acids – if the diet is quite diverse. One of the problems of a vegetarian diet is the lack of two essential amino acids – lysine and tryptophan, which are also needed for the formation of collagen (protein of ligaments, skin and nails). But this need can be satisfied if there are legumes, soy, seeds and nuts.
One of the most important trace elements for humans is iron. It is necessary for the synthesis of enzymes, and also for the transfer of oxygen by blood – iron is part of its hemoglobin protein. According to the WHO, anemia caused by iron deficiency is the most common malnutrition in the world, which is observed in more than two billion people. The risk group includes primarily populations whose access to meat is limited.
Iron is also found in plant products, but in animals it, like in humans, is part of a chemical complex called heme – and that, in turn, is part of the hemoglobin molecule. So, heme iron, that is, iron from animal products, is absorbed much better. In addition, oxalates, derivatives of oxalic acid, which are present in sorrel, black pepper, celery and, for example, bran, interfere with the absorption of iron. Vitamin C, on the contrary, helps iron to be absorbed. Other processes, for example, infections or a short-term need for it, also affect the absorption of iron.
In principle, some plants contain more iron than meat – but less is absorbed from them. Iron is twice as much in soy as in beef – but 7% is absorbed from soy, and 15% from beef. On the one hand, meat more effectively satisfies the body’s needs for iron, and on the other hand, a plant-based diet is no worse if it is balanced and thought out. In the end, with iron deficiency, you can drink its course in tablets – you just need to remember the risk of overdose, which manifests itself primarily in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.
Proteins of animals are closer in composition to human than plant proteins, and therefore the body assimilates them easier
An important substance that is present only in animal products is vitamin B12. It is necessary for the normal functioning of the nervous system and for the formation of blood cells, and its best source is the liver. Vitamin B12 is not produced at all by plants – but if you refuse meat, it can be obtained from fish, eggs and dairy products. Vegan foods like soy milk and cheese are additionally fortified with vitamin B12. Calcium, which is necessary for healthy bones and normal contractility of muscles, including the heart, can be found primarily in dairy products. If you don’t eat them, for example, because of lactose intolerance, then know that calcium is found in green vegetables like broccoli, figs, oranges and nuts.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, which can be obtained from oily fish and eggs, as well as from products enriched with this vitamin. As you know, the main “source” of vitamin D is the sun, as it is produced under the influence of ultraviolet rays. The British Dietetic Association recommends sun exposure for at least 15 minutes a day between April and September, and vitamin D supplements in other months.