However, it’s also been a timely shift in diet for Lewis, who was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol. “I’ve had to cut down on red meat and animal fats, and doing it as a family is much less gloomy. I don’t know yet whether it has worked because I’m still waiting for the follow-up blood tests.”
One University of Toronto study found that people eating a plant-based diet rich in special cholesterol-lowering foods lowered their LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol by nearly 30 per cent in just four weeks. These foods include oats, beans, barley and others high in soluble fibre; soy protein, nuts, wheatgerm, wheat bran, almonds, Brussels sprouts and other foods containing substances called phytosterols.
The quality as well as quantity of the meat is what’s important says medical scientist and public health nutritionist Dr Federica Amati, who is a scientific adviser for De-liver-ance.
“It’s one of the most nutrient-rich foods we eat. If it’s been pasture fed, a steak can be a high omega food. It’s all about quality, but if the majority of your meat consumption comes from salami, bacon, sausage meat and ham, that’s not good quality animal fat.”
Diets high in animal-derived fat such as processed meats and butter overwhelm the liver, which eventually starts to store it as fatty liver deposits.
“I know there are a lot of paleo [followers] and carnivores that strongly believe you can eat steak all day and be fine, but we know from many decades of epidemiological data that the higher the fat content of your diet [the more of] a negative effect on longevity, cancer and heart attacks,” says Dr Amati.
Still, she believes in not demonising any one type of food. “Whatever you have more of on your plate is diminishing space for other food groups. It’s about making sure you have room on your plate for a diversity of different foods. Protein is filling, so if you eat a big piece of steak, you’re unlikely to have room for other food groups.”
A guiding principle
Saima Duhare, 46, started eating a veganish diet three years ago. She cut out white meat entirely, and now only consumes red meat twice a month, alongside a diet rich in legumes and vegetables, barley, dried fruits and grains. She also eats some dairy and fish.
“By cutting out meat, it has helped with lowering my cholesterol and generally feeling lighter. My metabolism doesn’t feel sluggish. I notice when I eat more veggies, grains and legumes I feel better.”
Duhare owns a small meal-kit business, and it was the number of meat meals she was packing on a weekly basis that struck her so much she began researching whether it was normal to consume meat five to seven days a week: “Especially from an Islamic point of view, I went on a journey of Islamic food and way of eating.”