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Is non-vegetarian food healthy?

High intake of meat, especially has been associated with a significantly elevated risk of heart disease and cancer owing to the saturated fat it contains.

Very few topics will spark as much-heated debate as those centered on whether it is best to restrict meat or indulge in them. A few questions which are raised time and again - is meat really necessary for our bodies protein requirements? Does it contribute to heart disease? Does it cause cancer like some people believe it does? Preeti Swaminathan talks to experts to clear the facts and myths about meat consumption.

Is meat necessary for our protein requirements?

Though a large number of Indians are purely vegetarian for religious reasons; meat does have its nutritional benefits. It is an excellent source of complete protein, containing all the amino acids that a body needs to develop and maintain muscles. It is also an excellent source of heme iron (which is very readily absorbed by the body) and Vitamin B12. However, vegetarian supporters argue that it is possible to cover our protein requirement from sources like milk and milk products, legumes etc. Here is the healthiest non-vegetarian food guide.

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Naini Setalvad, Nutritionist and Obesity and Health Consultant explains, While meat is a good source of protein, it is not the sole protein source. Vegetarians do not consume any meat and there is no drastic reported case of protein deficiency-related to vegetarianism. There are various plant sources of protein, such as pulses, legumes, sprouts and bean and even leafy greens provide protein. These foods help maintain cholesterol as well as blood sugar levels . She further adds, Most of the meats we get today are high in chemicals. Today animals are no longer kept in their native inhabitation. They are fed with artificial diets consisting of grains, soy and their feeds contain artificial colouring and chemicals. These artificial diets/foods not only harm animal s health but also the consumer s. And thus, I believe, one should have vegetarian sources of protein rather than meat. Here are diet chart and tips that non-vegetarians can follow.

Can meat contribute to heart disease?

High intake of meat, especially red meat (mainly mutton, beef and pork), has been associated with a significantly elevated risk of heart disease and cancer owing to the saturated fat it contains. Sodium used in processed meats may also increase cardiovascular disease risk through its effect on blood pressure. Read how processed meat can give you a heart attack.

Is meat carcinogenic?

Consumption of large quantities of red meat has been linked to colorectal cancer, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society.

Though there are theories about how meat actually does not get digested in our system and may end up causing cancer, research suggests it may be due to the heme iron present in it which on digestion releases compounds harmful to cells which may be carcinogenic. You may also want to read how mutton and other red meat can promote cancer.

When meat is cooked at high temperatures during grilling or frying, amino acids react with creatine to form food mutagens like heterocyclic amines.

Dr Sanjay Jain, Consultant, Gastroenterology, Moolchand Medcity,New Delhi, argues that, It is wrong to say that meat is not digested in human body, meat per se is not proven to be carcinogenic but there are certain chemical released during processing of meats which are carcinogenic. In certain studies it has been shown that vegetarians have lower incidence of cancer. In one large study on the British population, it was documented that, vegetarians had 12 per cent lower incidence of cancer but meat eaters who included fish in their diet were also at a reduced risk.'

So, while the argument continues, people who want to relish their meat can follow these tips to cook meat better and reduce adverse health effects. Here are 5 common cooking mistakes that can make your meals unhealthy.

  • Eat freshly prepared chicken, other poultry, fish, lean beef and pork. They are safer than processed meats which are smoked, cured or salted. Ex: Salami, sausages, bacon, pastrami, etc.
  • Meat should account for not more than 10 per cent of total daily calories. Fill up on fresh vegetables, fruits and greens and minimize the calories from meat and carbohydrates.
  • Choose lean meat like chicken and turkey in which skin has been removed.
  • Trim out the fat from the meat before cooking
  • Cooking the meat for a long time releases more heterocyclic amines which can be carcinogenic. Marinating meat is often suggested as a way to cut down this risk, but the evidence isn t clear about the same.
  • Cook smaller pieces of meat, as the meat cooks more quickly and at lower temperatures.
  • Precook in the microwave, doing so for two minutes may decrease heterocyclic amines by 90 per cent, according to some research.
  • Flip the meat frequently while cooking, that way neither side has time to absorb or lose too much heat.
  • Remove the charred part from the meat before eating as they increase the risk of cancer.
  • Avoid frozen meat. It comes packed with chemical preservatives which may be harmful to health.

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