DNC News


Meat: without it kids are small, weak and dumb 

March 20, 2005

Subject: Research suggests that meat is essential in children's diets. Without it, children grow up smaller, less strong and less intelligent. Locally raised grassfed beef may provide a healthy alternative to store bought beef.




There is a widespread belief that a vegetarian diet is a healthy diet. Patients frequently tell me they have recently become vegetarians and ask me how soon their disease symptoms are going to disappear. Popping their happy bubble of vegetarian ethical contentment is no fun. The truth is that a vegetarian diet is not a miracle cure and many people who start such a diet actually get to feel worse.


There is evidence that meat consumption is linked to the development of a few cancers. The correlation is not strong; the link between overcooking meat and cancer is stronger. It may not be the meat as much as how it is cooked that causes cancer.


There are older studies suggesting that vegetarians are in some ways healthier than meat eaters yet it isn't clear from these studies whether the benefit the vegetarians enjoyed came from abstaining from meat or was derived from the larger quantities of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts which they consumed. Or it may be that people who were inspired to be vegetarians did other things in the name of good health that were helpful.  For example vegetarians might smoke less than meat eaters. 



Total saturated fats in the diet have been linked with elevated cholesterol levels. Thus common opinion is that meat fats cause heart disease. These studies did not discriminate between standard saturated fats and trans saturated fatty acids. There are some who wonder if it is the trans saturated fatty acids that cause the elevations of cholesterol and not the regular saturated meat fats.


Relatively new research suggests that meat may be more important than we realized for the physical and mental development of children. So much so, that we may have to rethink the practice of raising children as vegetarians. Some researchers have gone so far as to state that raising kids on vegetarian diets is now a ethically indefensible position.



Nutrition researchers over the years have expressed increasing concern over the deficiencies that are seen in people, especially children raised on vegetarian diets. For example, Dutch infants consuming macrobiotic (strictly vegan) diets had poorer nutritional status and were more likely to have rickets and deficiencies of vitamin B-12 and iron. A study of US vegans showed that almost half the men in the study were vitamin B-12 deficient. All had low levels of ferritin. Studies of the iron and zinc levels in vegetarians caused further concern that vegetarians were also mineral deficient. High grain and vegetable diets intefere with mineral absorption.  The panel setting the new Dietary Reference Intakes for iron assumed 10% iron absorption for vegetarian diets versus 18% absorption for a mixed diet and thus suggested that the Recommended Dietary Allowance for iron should be 80% higher for vegetarians. This growing body of evidence suggesting shortfalls in vegetarian diets prompted the organization of a large prospective study under controlled conditions and careful scrutiny.


Starting in 1998 a two year experiment was begun in Kenya. Arrangements were made to provide carefully prepared snacks to a group of 554 school children during the day. The local diet contains very little animal protein, less than 1% of calories comes from animal foods. The experiment was simple: the kids eat a snack each day of githeri, a local dish made from beans, collard greens and white corn meal. One group of kids got this basic githeri stuff, one group got the githeri to which about two spoons of cooked ground beef had been added. Another group got normal githeri with a glass of milk afterwards and the last group got githeri with extra oil added. Thus there was a control group receiving their regular diet, and three experimental groups that were supplemented with either meat, milk, or fat. Each of these experimental additions to the diet was carefully calculated to provide an equal number of calories. Several different international research groups followed the children during the years they received supplemental food. The various research groups all published their work in a supplement to the November 2003 edition of the Journal of Nutrition.


Over the two years, the kids given food supplements gained an about a pound more weight than those without. Those given meat showed the greatest benefit.


Children in the meat-supplemented group showed up to an 80% greater increase in upper-arm muscle compared with the non-supplemented children; for milk drinkers, this figure was 40%.


Kids who were fed meat outperformed their peers in tests of intelligence, problem solving and arithmetic. "The group that received the meat supplements were more active in the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed more leadership skills," according to Lindsey Allen one of the researchers.



It is these abstract cognitive skills that are harder to measure but probably of greater importance. Whaley et al, showed that both meat supplementation and energy supplementation (as extra fat) improved ability to perform mathematics. [i] Murphy and his group showed that only the meat group actually ended up with more calories at the end of the day. The other kids given supplemental calories as milk or oil ended up eating less food at home and didn't gain weight as readily as the meat kids. [ii] Grillenberger (no pun intended) and his fellows published data that the meat group gained the most muscle mass of all the groups. [iii] The meat supplemented children were better able to produce antibodies to fight infection. [iv]

[interesting side note: the researchers note that anemia was associated with H. Pylori infections]


The base diet these children ate is plant based, high in fiber and cereal grains, and is the goal many aspiring vegetarians strive toward. It is inadequate. [v] These studies clearly point to the value of small amounts of animal protein in the diet of children and it seems that meat protein is more effective than milk. [vi] Raising a child on a vegan diet is a risky business.

I can already imagine the letters of complaint this newsletter will provoke and the pictures of happy healthy children that will accompany them. Certainly we know many of the nutrients that need to be supplemented to a vegan diet. But do we know them all?


It is with thoughts of these studies in mind that I have been reading about grass fed beef. There is a very small but growing movement to raise cattle on grass. The claims are that it produces healthier more flavorful meat. The obviously makes such sense that I won't elaborate on it. The Mad Cow scares of the last few years have made it widely known to what perverse lengths the cattle industry has gone to increase cattle size and their profits. Even without feeding cattle animal byproducts, feeding them corn in feedlots hardly makes sense to our current sensibilities, what with Atkins, South Beach and Syndrome X books all on our shelves. The best website I have seen so far on grassfed beef is at: www.eatwild.com


It is the web site of Jo Robinson. She's the maven of the pasture based food movement. She co-wrote a book with Dr. Artemis Simopouolos, The Omega Diet , awhile back that became a New York Times best seller. After writing the book, she became interested in pasture based foods, started doing some research and has since become a leading advocate of to this fledgling movement. She's lately published a cookbook with recipes using pasture based or grassfed meats called Pasture Perfect .


I've been in recent contact with a rancher named Steve Oswald who lives down in Cotopaxi . I have every intention of doing business with him this coming summer. According to Steve,


“We raise and sell all natural, grassfed beef. Our animals are born and raised at the ranch - spending their whole lives here eating what nature intended a grazing animal to eat - grass. The only time they leave the ranch is when I load them on the trailer for the trip to the processor. We do not use synthetic growth stimulants/hormones nor pump them full of anti-biotics. We also do not use animal byproducts as a feed additive. We employ a grazing technique called management intensive grazing (with the emphasis on management which requires thinking). This technique allows us two things - first is providing our animals the very highest plane of nutrition for optimum health and growth - and second (and equally important), controlling the time a plant/pasture is grazed which is key to creating the most ecological diverse environment possible.”


Steve and his family have a website: www.backcountrybeef.com


Don't fire up the barbecue just yet: they are out of meat for the winter. They will have more to sell this coming July. I am writing about this now because you may want to plan ahead.


Steve has pointed out to me an interesting distinction,

“Because there is less fat in grassfed beef, it requires a little different approach than cooking with grainfed beef - less heat and time”

Recall that my earlier mention about meat and cancer risk; it probably isn't the meat itself but the cooking methods that cause the problem: the more heat and more time, the bigger the problem. The less the meat is heated the safer it is.


I hope I've provided a few thoughts to chew on with this article. Writing it has certainly forced me to rethink some long held beliefs.


If you enjoy getting these letters, please encourage your friends and family to sign up to receive them on our website. Simply go to: www.DenverNaturopathic.com




The Vegans Respond:

April 14, 2005


Subject: The Vegan viewpoint of the Kenya studies of supplementing vegetarian diets.


My recent newsletter on the Kenya studies in which semi starving children were supplemented with meat, milk, or fat provoked a number of interesting responses. One of these responses pointed me to a Vegan website which has posted a direct response to the Kenya studies. Their critique is on two fronts: the first is that these studies were funded by the meat production industry and the second on the ethical ambiguity of having a control group of malnourished children in the study. They write, “Like Nazis experimenting on captives, the Cattle industry manipulated very slightly the diets of starving African children -- not to benefit the children but to try to produce some "scientific finding" which justifies meat-eating.”


I find myself instantly prejudiced when someone jumps to using the Nazi analogy without ample justification. Anyway, we certainly haven't heard the end of these debates yet. If inspired you can read the full text of this rebuttal at:




[i] J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11 Suppl 2):3965S-3971S.

The impact of dietary intervention on the cognitive development of Kenyan school children.


Whaley SE, Sigman M, Neumann C, Bwibo N, Guthrie D, Weiss RE, Alber S, Murphy SP.


Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California , Los Angeles , CA , USA . swhaley@mednet.ucla.edu


Previous observational studies in developing countries have suggested that diet quality, particularly increased animal source food (ASF) consumption, is positively associated with child cognitive development. This report presents findings from a study in rural Kenya , designed to test the impact of three different diets on the cognitive development of school children. Twelve schools with a total of 555 Standard 1 children (equivalent to U.S. Grade 1) were randomized to one of four feeding interventions: Meat, Milk, Energy or Control (no feeding). Feeding continued for seven school terms (21 mo), and cognitive tests were administered before the commencement of feeding and during every other term of feeding. Hierarchical linear random effects models and associated methods were used to examine the effects of treatment group on changes in cognitive performance over time. Analyses revealed that children receiving supplemental food with meat significantly outperformed all other children on the Raven's Progressive Matrices . Children supplemented with meat, and children supplemented with energy, outperformed children in the Control group on tests of arithmetic ability. There were no group differences on tests of verbal comprehension. Results suggest that supplementation with animal source food has positive effects on Kenyan children's cognitive performance. However, these effects are not equivalent across all domains of cognitive functioning, nor did different forms of animal source foods produce the same beneficial effects. Implications of these findings for supplementation programs in developing countries are discussed.


Publication Types:

Clinical Trial

Multicenter Study

Randomized Controlled Trial


PMID: 14672297 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Link to full text:





[ii] J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11 Suppl 2):3950S-3956S.

School snacks containing animal source foods improve dietary quality for children in rural Kenya .


Murphy SP, Gewa C, Liang LJ, Grillenberger M, Bwibo NO, Neumann CG.


Cancer Research Center of Hawaii , University of Hawaii , Honolulu , HI , USA . suzanne@crch.hawaii.edu


Provision of a snack at school could help alleviate the micronutrient malnutrition that is common among schoolchildren in developing countries. The Child Nutrition Project was designed to compare the efficacy of three school snacks in improving growth and cognitive function of children in rural Kenya . The snacks provided approximately 20% of the children's energy requirement, and were composed of equicaloric portions of githeri (a vegetable stew) alone (Energy group), githeri plus milk (Milk group) or githeri plus meat (Meat group). A fourth group of children served as Controls. When nutrient intakes from three, 24-h dietary recalls collected before feeding were compared to three, 24-h recalls conducted after feeding began, intakes of vitamin B-12, riboflavin, vitamin A and calcium increased more in the Milk group than in the Control group, whereas intakes of vitamin B-12, vitamin A, calcium, available iron and available zinc increased more than those of Controls for children in the Meat group. At most of the time points examined, total energy intake increased more for the Meat group than for the other two feeding groups, because the additional energy provided by the Milk and Energy snacks was partially balanced by a decrease in the energy content of foods consumed at home . This decrease did not occur to the same extent for the Meat group, so both dietary quantity and dietary quality improved. For the Milk group, only dietary quality improved. For the Energy group, there were no significant changes in the total day's diet compared to the Control group.


Publication Types:

Clinical Trial

Controlled Clinical Trial


PMID: 14672295 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

link to full text:



[iii] J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11 Suppl 2):3957S-3964S.

Grillenberger M, Neumann CG, Murphy SP, Bwibo NO, van't Veer P, Hautvast JG, West CE.

Food supplements have a positive impact on weight gain and the addition of animal source foods increases lean body mass of Kenyan schoolchildren


Division of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology, Wageningen University , Wageningen, The Netherlands .


Observational studies of dietary patterns and growth and studies with milk supplementation have shown that children consuming diets containing animal source foods grow better. This study evaluates the growth of 544 Kenyan schoolchildren (median age 7.1 y) after 23 mo of food supplementation with a meat, milk or energy supplement (approximately 1255 kJ) compared to a control group without a supplement. Multivariate analyses controlled for covariates compared gain in weight, height, weight-for-height Z-score (WHZ), height-for-age Z-score (HAZ), mid-upper-arm circumference, triceps and subscapular skinfolds, mid-upper-arm muscle and mid-upper-arm fat area. Children in each of the supplementation groups gained approximately 0.4 kg (10%) more weight than children in the Control group. Children in the Meat, Milk and Energy groups gained 0.33, 0.19 and 0.27 cm more, respectively, in mid-upper-arm circumference than children in the Control group. Children who received the Meat supplement gained 30-80% more mid-upper-arm muscle area than children in the other groups , and children who received the milk supplement gained 40% more mid-upper-arm muscle area than children who did not receive a supplement. No statistically significant overall effects of supplementation were found on height, HAZ, WHZ or measures of body fat. A positive effect of the milk supplement on height gain could be seen in the subgroup of children with a lower baseline HAZ (< or = -1.4). The results indicate that food supplements had a positive impact on weight gain in the study children and that the addition of meat increased their lean body mass.


Publication Types:

Clinical Trial

Controlled Clinical Trial

Multicenter Study


PMID: 14672296 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

link to text: http://www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/133/11/3957S



[iv] Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jan;77(1):242-9.


Titers of antibody to common pathogens: relation to food-based interventions in rural Kenyan schoolchildren.


Siekmann JH, Allen LH, Watnik MR, Nestel P, Neumann CG, Shoenfeld Y, Peter JB, Patnik M, Ansari AA, Coppel RL, Gershwin ME.


Department of Nutrition, University of California , Davis 95616 , USA .


BACKGROUND: Undernutrition is widely perceived to affect the development of an effective immune system. OBJECTIVE: We used a mini-analysis system to quantitate antibody titers and evaluate the sera of 200 Kenyan schoolchildren for antibodies to Helicobacter pylori [isotypes of immunoglobulins A (IgA), G (IgG), and M (IgM)], hepatitis A virus, rotavirus, tetanus toxoid (IgG), and a panel of recombinant malarial antigens (MSP1(19), MSP2, Ag512, MSP4, and MSP5). DESIGN: Children participated in a school-based feeding intervention with meat, milk, or nonanimal-source foods or in a nonintervention control group. Microvolumes (200 mL) of sera were analyzed at baseline and after 1 y. RESULTS: Nearly all children had elevated titers of antibody to H. pylori, hepatitis A virus, rotavirus, and malaria at the outset, despite a high prevalence of apparent biochemical micronutrient deficiencies and stunting, but many had titers of tetanus toxoid IgG antibodies below the protective concentration. Children with low hemoglobin had a greater proportion of elevated H. pylori IgM antibody titers at baseline, which suggests that current infection with H. pylori may be associated with anemia. Compared with the control subjects, only the group eating meat had a significant increase in H. pylori IgM antibodies during the intervention (P = 0.019). No other group comparisons with the control subjects were statistically significant. The additional finding that the sera of some children showed inadequate tetanus-protective antibodies, despite immunization, suggests that the vaccination program was suboptimal. CONCLUSIONS: A large battery of immune assays can be performed on microvolumes of sera. Furthermore, despite evidence of malnutrition, children do develop significant antibody-mediated responses to common pathogens.


PMID: 12499348 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Link to full text:




[v] J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11 Suppl 2):3936S-3940S.


The need for animal source foods by Kenyan children.


Bwibo NO, Neumann CG.


Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Nairobi , Nairobi , Kenya . Thebwibos@wananchi.com


Food intake and dietary patterns in Kenyan households have been studied since the 1920s. Reports on breastfeeding, nutrient intake, micronutrient deficiencies and the impacts of malaria and intestinal parasites on nutritional status are reviewed. Diets are mainly cereal-based, with tubers and a variety of vegetables and fruits when available. White maize, sorghum and millet are high in phytate and fiber, which inhibit the absorption of micronutrients such as zinc and iron. Communities growing cash crops have little land for food crops. Although households may own cattle, goats and poultry, commonly these are not consumed. Adults in nomadic communities consume more meat than nonpastoralists. Lakeside and oceanside communities do not consume adequate amounts of fish. Poor households have a limited capacity to grow and purchase food, therefore they have more nutrient deficiencies. Early weaning to cereal porridge deprives the infant of protein and other nutrients from human milk. Other milk is consumed only in small amounts in sweetened tea. Older children eat adult diets, which are extremely bulky and hard to digest. Anemia is mainly due to iron deficiency, malaria and intestinal parasites. In general, Kenyan children have inadequate intakes of energy, fat and micronutrients such as calcium, zinc, iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and B-12. The multiple micronutrient deficiencies may contribute to early onset of stunting and poor child development, whereas lack of calcium together with vitamin D deficiency are responsible for the resurgence of rickets. There is an urgent need to increase the intake of animal source foods by Kenyan children.


Publication Types:


Review, Tutorial


PMID: 14672293 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]


Link to full text:





[vi] J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11 Suppl 2):3932S-3935S.


Nutritional importance of animal source foods.


Murphy SP, Allen LH.


Cancer Research Center of Hawaii , University of Hawaii , Honolulu , HI 96813 , USA . suzanne@crch.hawaii.edu


Animal source foods can provide a variety of micronutrients that are difficult to obtain in adequate quantities from plant source foods alone. In the 1980s, the Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Program identified six micronutrients that were particularly low in the primarily vegetarian diets of schoolchildren in rural Egypt , Kenya and Mexico : vitamin A, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc. Negative health outcomes associated with inadequate intake of these nutrients include anemia, poor growth, rickets, impaired cognitive performance, blindness, neuromuscular deficits and eventually, death. Animal source foods are particularly rich sources of all six of these nutrients, and relatively small amounts of these foods, added to a vegetarian diet, can substantially increase nutrient adequacy. Snacks designed for Kenyan schoolchildren provided more nutrients when animal and plant foods were combined. A snack that provided only 20% of a child's energy requirement could provide 38% of the calcium, 83% of the vitamin B-12 and 82% of the riboflavin requirements if milk was included. A similar snack that included ground beef rather than milk provided 86% of the zinc and 106% of the vitamin B-12 requirements, as well as 26% of the iron requirement. Food guides usually recommend several daily servings from animal source food groups (dairy products and meat or meat alternatives). An index that estimates nutrient adequacy based on adherence to such food guide recommendations may provide a useful method of quickly evaluating dietary quality in both developing and developed countries.


PMID: 14672292 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Link to full text:



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