Forget for a few minutes everything that you've been taught about food and nutrition, keep an open-mind and prepare to enter The Matrix. Ok, just kidding, but seriously, forget that stuff and keep reading, you'll want to thank me afterward.

Meat for proteins and iron, milk and cheese for calcium and strong bones, eggs for... well, proteins, once again. This is what each of us have been taught since we were little kids. We've been told that those foods are good for us and that they can - and should - be part of a healthy, balanced diet. But is that true? And to which degree?

Before we even start digging into the details, let me just give you a straight answer. The answer is: no. Animal foods of any kind (yes, even that yogurt which claims to be good for your gut) can't be considered health-promoting foods and shouldn't be part of a healthy diet. Of course, there is a threshold: you'll not die or get cancer if you eat pork once a year, although billions of pigs would die if everybody would do that (and trust me, people eat pork definitely more than once a year, you do the math), but that's another story and a pretty sad one.

Saturated fats and cholesterol

All animal products - including dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt) and the so-called "lean meats" (such as chicken) - are a source of saturated fats and cholesterol. What's wrong with that? Well, those are things you wouldn't want to put inside your body, at least not in the amounts contained in animal products. Why? Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol, which is a major risk for heart desease. A study from the American National Academy of Medicine (formerly known as Institute of Medicine) states: "The IOM did not set ULs [upper limit intakes, ndr] for trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol because any intake level above 0% of energy increased LDL cholesterol concentration and these three food components are unavoidable in ordinary diets."

So, saturated fats and trans-fats (found in junk food... fried stuff, mostly) raise LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol. Add to that the amount of dietery cholesterol already found in animal products and you basically get all the ingredients for heart desease. The human body already produces all the cholesterol that it needs (like all other animals do), in the right amounts. Let's not ruin this work by trying to help it...

The "C" word...

Which is "cancer", no need to hide it. It's bad, we all know it, but we can do a lot to prevent it. For example, everybody knows that smoking is bad for you, right? However, no one advices you to smoke, not even one cigarette. Now, you probably don't know about it, but already in 2015 the World Health Organization classified red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic to humans)  and processed meats (yes, the ham you filled your lunch sandwhich with) as Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), same group as tobacco smoking. I don't know about you, but I'd rather stay away from that piece of meat as much as I stay away from that one cigarette.

I know what you are thinking. Something like "ok, ok... I'll take the risk of getting cancer rather than dying of some weird nutritional deficiency". Yeah, would you? Even if I'd tell you that everything you find in meat, including protein and iron, is widely available in plant-foods? Ok then, at this point you can even stop reading this article.

For those of you who decided to stay, let's go on.

Too much proteins & IGF-1 (which is not the name of a Star Wars android)

Have you ever heard about hormones? Of course you did. I bet you've also heard about proteins, and that's great Now, all we need to do is address your knowledge about them. Long story short: hormones are produced by the body, specifically from the glands, and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) is one of them. Small detail: IGF-1 is a cancer-promoting hormone, in the sense that an excess production will stimulate growth of potential tumors in the body.

What about proteins? Proteins are molecules formed by chains of amino-acids (some of which we produce ourselves while others we need to get from our diet, the so-called essential amino-acids). We are not on a science class, but this premise was necessary to help you understand the link between animal foods (rich in proteins and especially in those essential amino-acids) and the production of the IGF-1 hormone by our bodies.

Again, long story short: animal proteins are clearly linked to an overproduction of IGF-1. Dr. Michael Greger is way better than me at explaining this correlation, so check his videos on this topic for more information. As he states, "higher IGF-1 levels were just associated with animal protein intake. In fact, the plant protein seemed to decrease IGF-1 levels. [...] Animal protein appears to send a much different signal to our livers than most plant proteins. So even those vegans eating the same amount of protein as meat-eaters still had lower levels of the cancer-promoting hormone, IGF-1. So, it’s apparently not about excessive protein in general, but animal protein in particular."

So...

As you might have understood by now, there are many, many reasons why animal products are bad for your health and it's very difficult to mention all of them at once, in details. My advice? If the information provided here was not enough for you (I wish it wasn't, my goal was just to give you an input and open your eyes on this subject), you should definitely consider a few books. The first one is How Not To Die, by Michael Greger, and the second one is The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell. Reading those two books is possibly the best gift you can do to yourself. Of course, there are many other books, but I believe those ones provide the best amount of evidence-based information, and that's all we need to make good choices for our health, isn't it?

Italian, (plant)based in Poland, passionate about nutrition and avid oatmeal eater.

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