Eating too much meat could be as bad for you as a diet rich in sugar, scientists have warned.
Protein found in animal products can be just as damaging to the waistline and could potentially lead to type 2 diabetes, experts believe.
While previous research has found meat consumption is related to obesity, researchers often put it down to its fat content.
But a new study found eating meat is a serious issue for the modern diet and human health because the protein is directly contributing to the global obesity crisis.
They said because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, it makes the energy received from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the body.
University of Adelaide PhD student Wenpeng You has examined the link between growing consumption of meat and increasing obesity rates in 170 countries. His published research was recently presented to the 18th International Conference on Nutrition and Food Sciences in Switzerland.
“Our findings are likely to be controversial because they suggest that meat contributes to obesity prevalence worldwide at the same extent as sugar,” saysProfessor Maciej Henneberg, head of the Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit.
Once different influences are balanced between nations, such as degree of urbanisation, physical activity and calorie consumption, the research found the availability of meat contributed to 13 per cent of the obesity rate. Sugar was behind a further 13 per cent.
And it’s not about meat’s fat content.
This is where his work diverges from previous studies.
“There is a dogma that fats and carbohydrates, especially fats, are the major factors contributing to obesity,” Mr You said. “We believe the protein in meat is directly contributing to obesity.”
Generally, meat represents a source of a surplus of energy.
Whether we like it or not, Mr You said the fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are already supplying more than enough energy to meet our daily needs.
“Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus. (This) is then converted and stored as fat in the human body,” he said.
Which is not to say we should relax about how much sugar and fats are in our diet.
“It would be irresponsible to interpret these findings as meaning that it’s okay to keep eating a diet high in fats and carbohydrates,” Professor Henneberg said.
“Clearly, that is not okay, and this is a serious issue for our modern diet and human health.”