Meat vs. Plant Based Diet: Who Wins?

The Netflix documentary, The Game Changers, may have you reconsidering your diet, but the truth isn’t that cut and dry.

You’ve probably seen or at least heard of the Netflix documentary, The Game Changers.

Maybe you watched it already and immediately dumped all the meat from your freezer into the garbage.

But I’m here to present the facts from both sides, and documentaries like this one are meant to entertain and support their position, not present all the facts in an objective way.

Here’s what I do know, first and foremost:

You can lose fat on a plant-based diet. You can lose fat on a meat-based diet. You can be unhealthy on a plant-based diet. You can be unhealthy on a meat-based diet.

This should not be a yelling match between vegan/vegetarian advocates and meat eaters. This should be a discussion about what the current consensus is in the research and determining what works best for you.

The Game Changers is well-produced and uses lots of celebrity endorsements to support its central message that plant-based proteins are better for athletic performance.

Bear in mind this statement has little to do with you, the average person, just trying to lose a bit of weight and be a bit healthier while still eating foods you enjoy.

(Not to mention its Executive Producer, James Cameron, is CEO of Verdiant Foods, an organic pea protein company with the goal of becoming “the largest pea protein fractionation facility in North America.” That might factor into why he made a movie to encourage you to eat more plant-based, but I may be in the wrong there.)

In this article, I’ll stick with the science to answer the question of whether plant protein is indeed better for our health, physique and physical performance than meat proteins. I won’t go into ethical or environmental concerns.

Should you eliminate meat from your diet?

The Game Changers claims meat causes cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

In an article by Menno Henselmans, he shared a review done by The Annals of Internal Medicine on the health effects of red meat, which concluded there’s insufficient evidence to reduce red meat intake.

Further still, a meta-analysis, reported on by Examine.com, based on 24 randomized controlled trials in adults, compared red meat eaters to those who didn’t consume red meat.

Compared with eating less than an ounce of red meat per day, consuming more does not appear to have a significant influence on blood cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure, according to the research.

Examine.com also notes that red meat is likely to be more harmful when prepared in certain ways.

Harsher cooking methods such as frying, broiling, BBQ grilling, and roasting consistently led to higher levels of toxic compounds than gentler cooking methods such as boiling, poaching, stewing, and steaming.

It would be quite the stretch to state that a charbroiled burger patty, bacon or sausage are the same as a medium-rare sirloin steak or ground grass-fed beef.

The Game Changers, like many documentaries that came before it (remember What The Health?), only presents cherry-picked studies to support the filmmaker’s views.

First off, know this: Eating bacon on Saturday mornings will not cause you to instantly drop dead, face down in your frying pan.

The dose makes the poison. If you make a habit of eating bacon for breakfast, chargrilled BBQ hot dogs for lunch, and processed deli meats for dinner, day in and out, yes, you may, in fact, be increasing your risk for colorectal cancer.

But regularly swapping those processed meats for grass-fed beef, wild caught fish, and lean chicken is a completely different story.

It’s the processed kind that is more likely to cause colorectal cancer, according to the World Health Organization’s 2015 review of the link between processed meat and cancer.

The other problem? Your average vegetarian is typically more health-conscious than the typical North American who follows a western diet with meat included. Someone on a vegetarian diet is much more self-aware of what they eat, so they’re generally more health-conscious and invested in their diet than the average person.

The best comparison to make would be health-conscious meat-eaters (who choose minimally processed foods, exercise regularly and consume a calorie-controlled diet) vs non-meat eaters who follow a similar lifestyle, but I don’t know if such a study exists.

In one 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians and meat eaters studied in the UK had similar life expectancies.

Both Meat and Plants Offer Health Benefits

While plants offer certain health benefits and nutrients, animal foods do too. While plants shine in terms of vitamins, anti-oxidants and phytochemicals, animal foods have a higher protein quality and are typically richer in bioavailable minerals, especially iron, beneficial fatty acids like omega-3s and B-vitamins.

Animal proteins (particularly red meat) supply vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps nerve and red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which keeps the immune system working properly, and protein, to build and repair muscle.

One thing the research seems very clear on is to eat more vegetables and fruits. So maybe the answer is a ‘flexitarian’ diet where you add meat strategically to a predominantly plant-based approach.

What About Fat Loss?

My goal as a coach is to offer the simplest, most effective way for typically busy clients to reach their fat loss and fitness goals. The evidence supports higher protein intake to accomplish this task, and it’s easier to meet your protein needs if you have meat as an option to do so.

Daly et al. (2014) studied what happens when elderly strength training women add 160 g cooked meat to their diet 6 days a week. Compared to the control group who stuck to their regular diet, the meat-eating women gained more muscle and more strength with a greater reduction in measured inflammation and no adverse effects on blood lipids or blood pressure.

This is always hotly contested by those who believe Netflix documentaries, but the research consistently supports protein intake to preserve muscle and increase satiety on a diet.

So, with that all away, how about I give you a much simpler solution? Something I call the 4 Pillars of Perfect Fat Loss…

The 4 Pillars of Perfect Fat Loss

That all said, if you’re looking for a simple solution, I like to break it the perfect fat loss plan down to these four pillars.

Because it’s easy to get confused by all the noise. Heck, a search for the “best diet” on google will send you down a never-ending rabbit hole. Same goes for the “best workout plan.”

So, scratch all that and don’t let paralysis by analysis stop you from moving forward. I’m going to show you the simple formula here in this article.

Pillar 1: Calorie Control

You need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat.

If you’re a naturally chubby person who puts on fat easily, start by multiplying your bodyweight x 10 in total calories. I.E. 200 pound man would eat 2,000 calories.

Keep in mind this is just a starting point, and you may need to adjust your totals up or down depending on how you respond in the weeks ahead.

It’s probably a good idea to get a good portion of those calories from protein and fibrous veggies, as you’ll feel full on less calories and be less likely to cave into cravings.

Pillar 2: Resistance Training

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use weights, but strength training does the body good. If you’re a newbie, your body can generate plenty of resistance just fine.

It depends on your level of development and limitations, but find efficient activities that push you and also involve a fun factor, so you stay consistent with it.

Pillar 3: NEAT

NEAT is number three. That’s non-exercise activity thermogenesis. That is simply the deliberate act of walking more, standing more, and going out of your way to move your body. But when you do this, your fat loss is better. Studies have shown this time and time again. The higher your NEAT, the higher your percentage of fat loss.

The Mayo Clinic designed a study to look at the mechanisms that hinder fat gain. They studied 16 subjects (12 males and four females), ranging in age from 25 to 36 years.

The subjects volunteered to eat 1,000 excess calories a day (above what they needed to maintain weight) for eight weeks.

Some of the subjects gained 10 times more fat than others, ranging from 0.8 to nine pounds. The overall weight gain ranged from three to 12 pounds, some of which was additional muscle.

NEAT explained the big variation in weight gain. The subjects who rated high in daily expenditure from NEAT were among those who gained the least.

Pillar 4: Sleep/Self Care/Stress Management

I lumped a few things in here, the 3 S’s, but they all support one another. If you’re getting four disrupted hours of sleep every night, your results will be sub-optimal. If you’re stressed out and burning the candle at both ends, your results will be sub-optimal. You get my drift here.

In one extensive review by the Sleep Research Society, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89 per cent and 55 per cent more likely to become obese, respectively.

I don’t care how old you are, the research says enough sleep is in the seven to nine hours a night for the vast majority of us.

In the end, it’s best you throw away the complicated formulas, fad diets and black-and-white approaches and focus on building your lifestyle around those four key pillars.

Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based weight loss coach for men and women like his former self. Obese in his 20s, he now helps clients find their spark and lose weight the right way and keep it off for life. To inquire about coaching or to download a free diet secrets cheat sheet, visit mitchcalvert.com.

 

 

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