This article is not about discussing what I personally think about animal products, nor what a doctor or a certain diet simply states about them. Rather, this article will discuss the scientific implications of the consumption of animal products in relation to immune system health and the prevention and control of disease using research-grounded findings. After you develop your own opinion of animal product consumption in your OWN life (I emphasize this because what works for someone else may not work for you, no matter how much they swear by it), there will be some simple guidelines that are proven to improve immune system function for life with the help of chemical compounds from certain foods.
Without talking about research, right off the bat we must understand WHY there is a recent seemingly “villainization” of animal products in the health industry. Just like exercises, there is no such thing as a food being in a constant state of being “good” or “bad”, but only appropriate and necessary. That said, Americans must ask themselves if the AMOUNT and QUALITY of animal products they consume is appropriate and necessary, rather than question the general integrity of animal products overall. So let’s quickly assess quality.
58% of the meat consumed in the United States is red meat . In reaction to consuming so much meat, demands must be met effectively and fast for smallest amount of money. This is why a vast majority of consumed meats are also processed meats. For a fun view of what this can look like, watch how chicken nuggets are made here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T67DvoH2H3E.
Another popular cooking method of preparing meats for consumption (whether processed or not) is BBQing. BBQ is the cornerstone of the American pastime, but ironically charring and meats in this way robs micronutrients (iron, zinc, B-vitamins) of their full bio-availability and actually CREATES CARCINOGENS . That’s right, that next well-done hamburger you eat can be appropriately renamed “Cancer-which”. Not that you should “never ever eat BBQ again”, but how often does this really need to be consumed to achieve optimal health? Once again, we shouldn’t be surprised that American has outstanding cancer and obesity rates when foods such as this are its cornerstone.
Does eating more meats, specifically red, account for higher risks of major diseases? 100%! There is endless research on this, but the big-game lobbyists in the ‘Big Meat’ industry pay countless dollars to make this not seem so. Aside from the terribly disgusting way some of these animals are treated (which directly affect sanitation issues), “energy-dense diets, purported to be high in meat, fats and sugars, and further compounded by sedentary lifestyle, have been implicated in the growing epidemics of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Evidence suggests vegetarians may be at lower risk for CVD, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and cancer…. Inflammation and oxidative stress have also been linked to intake of meat and disease risk.” 
What about Pescatarians? Well those who primarily consume fish can be at a high risk for sustaining higher levels of toxic metals and contribute to the severe overfishing of natural habitats. Eat fish (I love fish), but all you can eat sushi twice a week and expensive salmon from Whole Foods twice a day might want to be re-thought.
So we get the bottom-line; TOO MUCH meat, especially at lower qualities, sets us up to die faster and sicker . As mentioned earlier, there are in fact essential nutrients in meats, such as Iron, Zinc, B-vitamins and more (see my previous post about Plant-Based diets for healthy ways to prevent deficiencies in these), but there are vast nutrients that one may miss out on when being too busy consuming primarily animal products.
MY SOLUTION? – Keep eating a reasonable amount of animal products if you wish, but also (in addition to or in place of animal products) include a large variety of fresh plant sources.
Now, the varieties are of healthy foods to incorporate are endless, as are their benefits. Regardless, I am going to list several categories of food that contain compounds that can strengthen your immune system and protect you from disease, both big and small. You can remember the acronym “GOMBBS”. The compounds they contain are listed, so you may research them if you are interested.
- Greens, especially Cruciferous (too many benefits too list. Just eat as much as you can, seriously. Highlights – folic acid, antioxidants, Omega-3, kill cancer cells)
- Onions (prebiotic fructans, selenium, Quercetin)
- Mushrooms (through Beta-glucans and ergosterol, prevent DNA damage)
- Beans (Fiber, Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Regulation, Cancer Prevention)
- Berries (Flavanoids, High Antioxidant content, and the benefits described above)
- Seeds (Phytosterols, Omega-3, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, Antioxidants)
If you want to further explore the benefits of these groups (all of which have reliable scientific evidence), read the book “Super Immunity” by Dr. Fuhrman or visit: http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/gbombs.aspx. To be honest, eat those foods above and you’ll be living well.
The take-away? Develop your own diet based on scientific findings and how you feel, not based on what someone else has planned because it worked them and a few others.