Diets High In Protein May Increase Risk For Heart Disease, Study Finds

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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To eat meat, or not to eat meat? That really does seem to be the question these days. With some boasting the importance of protein, while others insist the power's in the produce, what's anyone supposed to believe?

According to new research out of Penn State University, there may be more evidence to support a connection between a high-protein diet, heart disease, and subsequently, death.

A plant-based diet, on the other hand, may have the opposite effect, with researchers finding diets lower in sulfur amino acids (found in protein-rich foods) are associated with a lower risk for heart disease. And with the average American eating over twice the estimated average requirement of sulfur amino acids, it might be time to start taking meat reduction more seriously.

Finding the connection.

John Richie, Ph.D., a professor of public health sciences, along with a team of researchers, conducted their study on the diets of over 11,000 people participating in a national study. They discovered those who ate foods with less sulfur amino acids tended to also have less risk for cardiometabolic diseases.

The team based that disease risk on levels of things like glucose, insulin, and cholesterol in people's blood after a 10- to 16-hour fast. Richie explains, "These biomarkers are indicative of an individual's risk for disease. Many of these levels can be impacted by a person's longer-term dietary habits."

And among the connections to disease they observed, the team also found participants were eating almost two and a half times more sulfur amino acids than the estimated requirement.

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A first-of-its-kind study.

Limiting sulfur amino acids has been known to promote longevity in animals, but Richie says this study "provides the first epidemiologic evidence that excessive dietary intake of sulfur amino acids may be related to chronic disease outcomes in humans."

Co-author of the study and associate professor Xiang Gao, Ph.D., adds, "Many people in the United States consume a diet rich in meat and dairy products, and the estimated average requirement is only expected to meet the needs of half of healthy individuals."

According to their findings, high sulfur amino acid intake was found with every type of food except fruits, vegetables, and grains. Not to say that's all you need to survive, but this suggests it's important to balance the amounts and types of foods you're eating, placing more emphasis on fruits and veggies and grains.

"People who eat lots of plant-based products like fruits and vegetables will consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids," says Zhen Dong, a graduate student and lead author of the study. "These results support some of the beneficial health effects observed in those who eat vegan or other plant-based diets."

It's all about balance.

Next up for the research team is a longitudinal study on sulfur amino acids and their effects on health over time.

And as we continue to learn more about optimizing diet, these findings can help us make smarter food choices for longevity and heart health. After all, we know some of the top healthiest diets include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the Flexitarian diet, which all advise limiting meat intake.

Again, it's not that we don't want any protein. We just want to make sure we're eating enough fruits, vegetables, and grains, too. For some additional pointers, here's some good info on how much protein you should be getting, plus 14 clean sources.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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