Swapping red meat for plant-based foods can reduce heart disease risks, study finds

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Highly processed meats pose a serious threat to consumers’ heart health

Research continues to highlight how red meat negatively affects consumers’ heart health, and now a new study is exploring how consumers can make healthier diet choices. 

According to researchers, avoiding red meat -- especially processed meats -- and opting for plant-based proteins and whole grains as an alternative can reduce consumers’ risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). 

“We found that greater intakes of total, unprocessed, and processed red meat were each associated with a higher risk of CHD,” the researchers wrote. “Compared with total, unprocessed, or processed red meat, other dietary components such as soy, nuts, and legumes were associated with a lower risk of CHD. We also found that substituting whole grains or dairy products for total red meat and substituting eggs for processed meat were also associated with a lower CHD risk.”  

Making healthier choices

To better understand how food choices affect heart disease risk, the researchers analyzed data from over 43,000 men involved in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The participants completed diet questionnaires every four years for 30 years, and the researchers assessed their medical records. 

The team learned that as little as one serving of red meat per day was associated with an increased risk of heart disease, whereas plant protein options were associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. While processed red meat increased the participants’ risk of CHD by 15 percent, those who opted for plant protein -- like legumes, beans, or lentils -- reduced their risk of CHD by 14 percent -- a 29 percent swing.

Making healthier choices was beneficial for both older and younger men in the study. The researchers learned that younger men who swapped red meat for eggs were 20 percent less likely to experience heart disease, and older men who swapped red meat for any kind of plant protein were 18 percent less likely to develop heart disease. 

Reducing heart disease risks

While replacing red meat with plant protein is perhaps the biggest takeaway from this study, the researchers also learned that other healthy options were linked with a lower risk of heart disease. Participants who kept their red meat consumption low and prioritized whole grains and dairy products were also at a reduced risk of CHD. 

There seems to be no shortage of health risks associated with red meat consumption, and these findings highlight the benefits of opting for healthier foods. 

“These findings are consistent with the effects of these foods on low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and support a health benefit of limiting red meat consumption and replacement with plant protein sources,” the researchers wrote.

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