A healthy diet is not only balanced between food groups but also WITHIN them – study finds a variety of protein sources reduces heart disease risk
01/03/2018 // Earl Garcia // Views

The World Health Organization reported that cardiovascular disease remains to be the number one cause of death worldwide, claiming 17.7 million or about 31 percent of the global population in 2015 alone. However, an analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that making even the slightest change in dietary habits may help stave off the condition.

According to the researchers, swapping animal fats with plant-based protein may mitigate the risk of cardiovascular disease. The scientists assessed up to 112 published trials about the food swapping technique as part of the analysis. The researchers then observed its effects on three markers for cholesterol, which included low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) or 'bad' cholesterol,  non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol or good cholesterol  and apolipoprotein B, a protein present in bad cholesterol that clog arteries.

The scientists found that substituting one to two servings of meat or dairy with plant-based proteins may slash the risk of heart attack by up to five percent. The health experts added that the effects could be significantly increased by combining plant proteins with other cholesterol-lowering, high-fiber foods.

"That may not sound like much, but because people in North America eat very little plant protein, there is a real opportunity here to make some small changes to our diets and realize the health benefits. We are seeing a major interest in plant-based diets from Mediterranean to vegetarian diets in the supermarket and the clinic, and this comprehensive analysis of the highest level of evidence from randomized trials provides us with more confidence that these diets are heart healthy," lead researcher Dr. John Sievenpiper told Daily Mail online.


Vegan diet offers protection against heart woes, cancers

Another recent research demonstrated that following a plant-based diet may provide utmost benefits for the heart. One study conducted by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York revealed that people who replaced processed meats and fatty foods with a mostly plant-based diet had a 42 percent reduced risk of developing cardiovascular conditions like heart failure. Another study showed that substituting dairy products with soy-based products slashed cancer risk by 44 percent in women and 40 percent in men. (Related: Doctors recommend plant-based diets for better health.)

However, some experts expressed concerns of protein and calcium deficiencies for patients who follow a plant-based diet.

"The problem is that milk and dairy products are an important source of several key nutrients. Cutting out on the foods reduces the intake of calcium and iodine – raising the risk of deficiencies. Dairy products are also a useful source of iodine – a micronutrient important for women during pregnancy and young children that contributes to growth and brain development. Our bones continue to grow until we reach our mid thirty and during this time it's important to make sure diets contain enough calcium," cautioned Rob Hobson, a London-based nutritionist.

Plant foods rich in essential protein, calcium

Plant-based diets need not be worrisome for those looking to pack on healthy proteins. Entries published on Livestrong.com and the Health Line website list a number of plant foods rich in essential nutrients such as protein and calcium. These foods include:

  • White beans - According to the entries, one cup of white beans may provide up to 45 grams of protein and 170 milligrams of calcium.
  • Tofu - Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that a cup of tofu offers 506 mg of calcium and 20.64 g of protein.
  • Almonds - The USDA also indicated that a cup of almonds may provide as much as 30.34 g of protein and 378 mg of calcium.
  • Green leafy vegetables - Dark green, leafy vegetables -- such as collard greens, lambs quarters, spinach, and kale -- are known for their high calcium content. In fact, one cup of collard greens may offer as much as 266 mg of calcium.
  • Seeds - Seeds such as poppy, sesame and chia seeds are loaded with calcium. One tablespoon of poppy seeds may contain as much as 126 mg of calcium.

Explore more stories on the science of food at FoodScience.news.

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