In a new study, researchers found using healthy plant proteins to replace red meat could help reduce the risk of heart disease.
The finding supports the notion that plant-based diets are important for maintaining heart health.
The research was conducted by a team from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Purdue University.
Red meat is defined as any meat that has more of the protein myoglobin than white meat or fish.
It contains large amounts of iron, creatine, minerals such as zinc and phosphorus, and B-vitamins.
Previous research has shown that eating red meat may increase heart disease, but the results are inconsistent.
In the current study, the team made specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods.
They examined data from 36 randomized controlled 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 such as chicken, fish, carbs, or plant proteins like legumes, soy, or nuts.
They focused on blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoproteins, and blood pressure. All of the things are big risk factors for heart disease.
The team found that when diets with red meat were compared with all other types of diets combined, there were no big differences in total cholesterol, lipoproteins, or blood pressure.
However, diets higher in red meat led to higher tryglyceride levels in the body than the comparison diets.
In addition, diets higher in high-quality plant protein sources such as legumes, soy, and nuts resulted in lower levels of both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared to diets with red meat.
The results suggest that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources help reduce risk factors of heart disease.
They also support recent studies showing lower risks of heart attacks when nuts and other plant sources of protein are compared to red meat.
The researchers suggest that asking ‘Is red meat good or bad?’ is useless. It has to be ‘Compared to what?’
If people replace burgers with cookies or fries, they cannot get healthier.
But if people replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, such as nuts and beans, they can get health benefits and protect their heart health.
This is the first meta-analysis that examines the health effects of red meat by substituting it for other specific types of foods.
The lead author of the study is Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition.
The study is published in the journal Circulation.
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