Swap Red Meat With Plant Protein: Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
- Replacing red meat with high-quality, protein-rich plant foods such as beans, nuts, and/or soy may lower your heart disease risk, suggests a study published in this month’s edition of The British Medical Journal.
- Substituting whole grains and dairy products for any red meat, and eggs for processed red meat, might also reduce this risk.
Red meat can be a healthy protein source for active riders. But eating it every day—especially if you’re choosing processed foods like hot dogs, sausages, and salami—can increase your risk for heart disease.
Luckily, you can lower that risk by swapping out some of your red meat for plant-based protein foods like beans, nuts, or soy, according to a new study published in The British Medical Journal. The research also found that substituting red meat for whole grains and dairy products, and replacing processed red meat with eggs, might also reduce your risk.
A team of U.S. researchers analysed the relationship between the consumption of red meat—total, processed, and unprocessed—with risk of heart disease. They then estimated the effects of substituting other protein sources, like whole grains, dairy foods, and eggs, for red meat with heart disease risk.
The researchers based their findings on data from more than 43 000 men, with an average age of 53, from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The men, who were free of heart disease and cancer at the start of the study, filled out a detailed diet questionnaire in 1986 and every four years afterward until 2016. They also provided medical and lifestyle information throughout the 30-year study period.
After taking other cardiovascular risk factors into account, the researchers found that for every one serving of unprocessed red meat eaten per day, the risk of heart disease was 11-percent higher. That risk was 15-percent higher for every serving of processed red meat eaten per day and was 12-percent higher when they looked at total (processed and/or unprocessed) red meat consumption per day.
Compared with red meat, eating one serving a day of a plant protein—such as nuts, beans, and soy—was associated with a 14-percent lower risk of heart disease. That risk was even lower (18 percent) for men over the age of 65.
Eating whole grains and dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt instead of red meat and consuming eggs instead of processed red meat were also linked to a lower heart disease risk. This association was particularly pronounced in younger men, who saw a 20-percent lower risk for heart disease when they ate eggs instead of red meat.
Milk (both skim and whole), yogurt, and cheese were each associated with a 10-percent to 22-percent lower risk of heart disease compared with red meat. These associations were especially strong when one serving of processed red meat was replaced with one serving of each of these dairy products.
Surprisingly, eating fish instead of red meat was not associated with a reduced heart disease risk. But the study authors noted that this could be due to cooking methods, like deep frying, and that the fish category on the questionnaire included processed fish products like fish sticks and fish cakes.
The benefits from these substitutions are likely due to numerous factors, according to the study researchers; decreasing saturated fats and cholesterol as well as increasing unsaturated fat, fibre, and antioxidants like vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols can reduce heart disease risk.
In the end, it’s about (you guessed it), moderation, study author and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Walter Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., told Bicycling.
“Having red meat a couple of times per week and making these substitutions on the other days would ameliorate the large majority of risk,” Willett said.
“In our analysis with the EAT-I Commission on Food, Planet, Health, we found that having red meat once a week (red meat has a large [environmental] footprint), poultry twice a week, and fish twice a week was both healthy and sustainable for planetary health.”