It seems every day there’s a new fad diet sweeping the nation. Atkins, South Beach, juice cleanses, paleo… the list goes on. What everyone can agree on is that our food culture is broken – not irreparably, but when you look at our rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, there’s clearly something wrong with how we eat. Over the past few years there have been many theories on how we can eat better, but only one seems to really hold water: we are eating too much meat and grains in place of produce. That idea seems blasphemous to many – after all, we’re a nation of steak and potatoes, hamburgers on the grill – what do you mean we eat too much meat?


But that theory now has scientific backing. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study that shows a relationship between meat consumption and obesity. In the study, researchers collected dietary data from five groups of participants: meat-eaters, semi-vegetarians (those eat meat occasionally), pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish), ovo-lacto vegetarians (who consume eggs and milk products), and vegans (who consume no animal products whatsoever).


There were over 70,000 study participants, from whom data was collected for five years. The average participant age was 59. Each group had a similar caloric intake, about 2,000 calories per day. Overall, the Body-Mass Indexes were lowest among the vegans, and highest among the regular meat-eaters. Even though the caloric intake was similar across the groups, the type of nutrients being consumed differed dramatically. Meat eaters were obviously consuming more animal protein than the other groups, but they were also consuming far less plant proteins, beta-carotene, fiber, and magnesium.


Obviously diet is not the only thing that affects weight – exercise, socioeconomic status, age, and genetics play big parts, and the study did not address these factors. So we can’t point to the study and say, “A-ha! Meat causes obesity!” But we can look at the study and see that there is an association between the two. And that is something to think about the next time you sit down to your steak dinner.

Image Credit: National Cancer Institute