Replacing red meat with plant-based protein lowers heart disease risk

Replacing the red meat in your diet with plant-based protein may be an effective way to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, according to a new study. The link between eating red meat and developing heart disease is well known, but it remains unclear whether replacing that red meat with a specific food product decreases the risk. New research suggests plant protein may be the ideal substitute.

According to researchers with Purdue University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this new meta-analysis looked at the health effects of diets high in red meat and diets high in other specific types of food.

Replacing red meat with plant-based protein was found to decrease heart disease risk factors, such as triglycerides and blood pressure. Plant proteins included ones derived from nuts, soy, legumes, and similar plants. A diet high in red meat was associated with higher triglyceride levels; beyond that, there wasn't any significant difference between it and other diets in general.

However, when looking specifically at diets high in plant-based proteins (rather than lumping all comparison diets into the same general group), cardiovascular disease risk factors like "bad" cholesterol were lower than in the red meat diet. The study joins past research that found a link between eating foods like nuts and lower heart disease risk compared to red meat eaters.

Some past research has been inconsistent regarding the potential risk red meat contributes toward cardiovascular disease. This, the researchers suggest, may be due to the diets those past studies used for comparison. Going forward, researchers may benefit from considering red meat's effect in relation to specific other diet types to determine the health outcomes.

The study's senior author Meir Stampfer explained:

Asking 'Is red meat good or bad?' is useless. It has to be 'Compared to what?' If you replace burgers with cookies or fries, you don't get healthier. But if you replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, like nuts and beans, you get a health benefit.