, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 71-79

Dietary lean red meat and human evolution

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Summary

Scientific evidence is accumulating that meat itself is not a risk factor for Western lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, but rather the risk stems from the excessive fat and particularly saturated fat associated with the meat of modern domesticated animals. In our own studies, we have shown evidence that diets high in lean red meat can actually lower plasma cholesterol, contribute significantly to tissue omega-3 fatty acid and provide a good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12. A study of human and pre-human diet history shows that for a period of at least 2 million years the human ancestral line had been consuming increasing quantities of meat. During that time, evolutionary selection was in action, adapting our genetic make up and hence our physiological features to a diet high in lean meat. This meat was wild game meat, low in total and saturated fat and relatively rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). The evidence presented in this review looks at various lines of study which indicate the reliance on meat intake as a major energy source by pre-agricultural humans. The distinct fields briefly reviewed include: fossil isotope studies, human gut morphology, human encephalisation and energy requirements, optimal foraging theory, insulin resistance and studies on hunter-gatherer societies. In conclusion, lean meat is a healthy and beneficial component of any well-balanced diet as long as it is fat trimmed and consumed as part of a varied diet.

Received: 24 February 2000, Accepted: 20 March 2000