Without eating meat, humans may not thrive, according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Researcher in biomedicine at the university and study author, Dr Wenpeng You says humans have “evolved and thrived over millions of years” because of their “significant consumption of meat”.

The study also found a correlation between longer life expectancy and meat consumption provided that it is consumed in moderation and that the meat industry is conducted in an ethical way.

The research was published in the International Journal of General Medicine on Tuesday and examined the overall health effects of total meat consumption in 170+ countries around the world.


Launching the findings, Dr You said other studies which only look at “correlations of meat consumption with people’s health or life expectancy within a particular group, and or, a particular region or country, can lead to complex and misleading conclusions”.

[...] the positive correlation between meat consumption and overall health at a population level is not sporadic

He added: “Depending on which minor groups of people you study and which meat types you choose to consider, the measure of meat’s role in human health management may vary.

“However, when all meat types for all the populations are considered, as they are in this study, the positive correlation between meat consumption and overall health at a population level is not sporadic.”


Senior author of the study and nutritionist Professor Maciej Henneberg said humans have adapted to meat-eating from the perspective of their more than 2m years of evolution.

“Meat of small and large animals provided optimal nutrition to our ancestors who developed genetic, physiological, and morphological adaptations to eating meat products and we have inherited those adaptations.

“Before agriculture was introduced – 10,000 years ago – meat was a staple food in the human diet.”

Prof Henneberg said that following economic affluence, studies in some populations in developed countries have associated meat-free (vegetarian and vegan) diets with improved health.

He said: “I think we need to understand that this may not contradict the beneficial effect of meat consumption.

“Studies looking into the diets of wealthy, highly educated communities, are looking at people who have the purchasing power and the knowledge to select plant-based diets that access the full nutrients normally contained in meat.

“Essentially, they have replaced meat with all the same nutrition meat provides.”

The University of Adelaide study demonstrated that this purchasing power is not universal in all countries, particularly those in the developing world.

Lower nutritional value

Co-author of the study and anthropologist at the University of Adelaide, Dr Arthur Saniotis said the findings are in line with other studies that show cereal-based foods have a lower nutritional value than meat.

“While this is no surprise to many of us, it still needs to be pointed out. It highlights that meat has its own components contributing to our overall health beyond just the number of calories consumed, and that without meat in our diet, we may not thrive.”

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