Replacing Red Meat with Healthy Plant Proteins can Decrease Risk for Heart Disease
According to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Purdue University, diets that replaced red meat with healthy plant proteins led to decreases in risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). The study is the first meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining the health effects of red meat by substituting it for other specific types of foods.
“Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. But our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors,” said Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.
The study included data from 36 trials involving 1,803 participants. The researchers compared people who ate diets with red meat with people who ate more of other types of foods (e.g., chicken, fish, carbohydrates, or plant proteins such as legumes, soy, or nuts), looking at blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoproteins, and blood pressure – all risk factors for CVD.
Research showed that when diets containing red meat were compared to all other types of diets combined, there were no significant differences in total cholesterol, lipoproteins, or blood pressure, but did result in increased triglyceride concentrations. Researchers also found that diets that included higher amounts of high-quality plant protein such as legumes, soy, and nuts resulted in lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol when compared to diets with red meat.
These results are consistent with long-term epidemiologic studies showing decreased risk of heart attacks when comparing nuts and other plant protein sources to red meat, the authors said. The findings also suggest that inconsistencies found in prior studies regarding the effects of red meat on cardiovascular risk factors may be due, in part, to the composition of the comparison diet. The authors recommend adherence to healthy vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets, not only for the health benefits, but also to promote environmental sustainability.
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