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Substituting plant foods for red meat reduces the risk of heart disease

Replacing red meat with plant foods such as beans and nuts can reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a study published by The BMJ. The research suggests that the risk of heart disease may also be mitigated by substituting whole grains, eggs, and dairy for red meat.

A growing collection of studies show that frequent consumption of red meat is linked to an increased risk of premature death and to serious chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease (CHD). This association is the strongest for processed red meat, such as bacon, hot dogs, and salami. 

According to the experts, studies that have produced inconsistent results often failed to compare red meat with similar protein and energy sources.

To investigate, the researchers analyzed data on more than 43,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free from cardiovascular disease and cancer at the time of enrollment. Medical records were used to track both fatal and non-fatal CHD events over a period of 30 years. 

The team examined the relationships between total, processed, and unprocessed red meat and the risk of CHD. The experts also estimated the effects of substituting plant foods for red meat with CHD risk.

During the follow-up period, 4,456 CHD events were documented and 1,860 were fatal. After accounting for other cardiovascular disease risk factors, the researchers determined that for every one serving per day, total red meat was associated with a 12 percent higher risk of CHD. Similar associations were seen for unprocessed and processed red meat

By contrast, intake of one serving per day of plant protein sources – including nuts, beans, and soy – was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of CHD. The risk was reduced even more for men over the age of 65 who replaced red meat with high quality plant foods. 

The study revealed that substituting whole grains and dairy products for total red meat, and swapping eggs for processed red meat, were also associated with lower CHD risk. Among younger men, the replacement of red meat with egg was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of CHD.

“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,” said the study authors. They concluded that switching to plant foods would also be very beneficial to the environment.

The study is published in the journal The BMJ.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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