Nutritional Significance of Meat
Are we inherently vegetarian or carnivorous? Despite the robust data that suggests that we are, in fact, omnivorous, the debate rages on. Almost every discussion on the links between diet and human origins comes back to this central question. For well over a century, anthropologists have argued that meat eating was likely a catalyst for critical watershed moments in human evolution – such as pair bonding, tool making, neural expansion, cooperation, and even increased longevity. While the specific role that meat might have played in human evolution remains hotly contested – it certainly changed the playing field for our earliest ancestors. Meat, particularly that of mammals (so called “red meat”), is a high quality protein, is easy to digest, and provides many key micronutrients and essential fatty acids. Red meat consumption is now a major feature of most diets in the post-industrialized west and, increasingly, is becoming a key component of diets in the developing world. The average American consumes approximately 200 pounds of meat a year, which is estimated to be more than twice the global average. With this increase in consumption comes an increased contribution to the epidemic of metabolic diseases (e.g. cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes) and is also contributing to environmental degradation and climate change. Here, I address the nutritional significance of meat and discuss how, during the course of human evolution, red meat has been transformed from a blessing to a potential curse.