Consume more plant proteins to reduce your risk of heart disease
06/11/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Researchers recommend changing the source of protein in a diet from red meat to plant-based food. Their new study shows that eating more plant proteins reduces the chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

Their meta-analysis evaluated the results of previous experiments involving the effects of red meat on the health of consumers. During the earlier controlled trials, other types of food served as substitutes for meat. The results got compared with those attributed to consuming the animal-based food product.

Researchers from Harvard University and Purdue University conducted the study. They published their findings in the scientific journal Circulation.

"Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent," explained Harvard researcher Marta Guasch-Ferré, who served as the lead author of the study. "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." (Related: Looking for plant-based protein? Here are 14 foods that are packed with it.)

Diets based on plant protein reduce the levels of bad cholesterol

In the meta-analysis, the joint Harvard and Purdue research team went over data from three dozen randomized controlled trials. The study cohort numbered 1,803 people in total.

The researchers examined the cardiovascular health of participants whose diets involved eating a lot of red meat. They measured the concentrations of cholesterol, lipoproteins, and triglycerides in the blood. They also noted the blood pressure of the volunteers.


They compared the data with the readings taken from people who mainly consumed other foods. The alternative meals included carbohydrate-rich foods, chicken, fish, and protein-rich plant foods. Legumes, nuts, and soy stood out among the plant-based food options.

The analysis showed that red meat-centric diets did not display any significant differences in blood pressure, lipoproteins, and total cholesterol when compared to other diets that used different foods. However, red meat diets did have higher concentrations of triglyceride than their counterparts.

The real discovery appeared in diets that incorporated large amounts of plant protein from high-quality sources like legumes, nuts, and soy. Participants who ate these foods instead of red meat displayed healthier levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Protect your heart by switching to vegetarian or Mediterranean diets

The results of the Harvard-Purdue analysis matched those from epidemiologic studies that compared plant-based proteins to red meat. The long-term studies confirmed that eating nuts and other plant proteins reduces cholesterol levels, which decreases the risk of heart disease.

Furthermore, the new study may explain the inconsistent findings of earlier studies that also analyzed the effects of red meat diets on heart disease. The researchers recommended that future experiments should consider using diets with specifically different food products.

Harvard researcher Meir Stampfer said that people should not ask if red meat is good or bad for their health. Instead, consumers should judge the healthiness of red meat compared to a specific type of food.

"If you replace burgers with cookies or fries, you don't get healthier," advised Stampfer, the senior author of the study and a professor at the university's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "But if you replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, like nuts and beans, you get a health benefit."

Guasch-Ferré and Stampfer added that health-conscious people who want to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease should switch to vegetarian or Mediterranean diets. Those diets are healthy and benefit the environment because their foods require much fewer resources to grow.

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