Making This Swap In Your Diet Can Lower Your Risk Of Heart Disease

mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor By Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.

Image by Sophia Hsin / Stocksy

Perhaps the most heated debate in health and wellness is the question of whether or not we should be eating meat. If so, what kind? If not, why not? And if you’re someone who wants to rely on the science, you may have to sift through quite a bit of information to find a clear answer—and you’ll probably find just as many opinions as you do facts.

But if you’re looking for another reason to go plant-based or want to know more about the benefits of a plant-based diet, you’re in luck! A new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School Of Public Health and Purdue University found that swapping red meat for healthy plant protein in your diet can lower your risk for heart disease. Awesome, right?

According to its authors, this study is the “first meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining the health effects of red meat by substituting it for other specific types of foods.” In other words, researchers looked at data from similar studies done in the past, but were careful to avoid the inconsistent findings that they yielded.

“Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effect of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent,” says Marta Guasch-Ferré, the lead author of the study. “But our new student, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorite changes in cardiovascular risk factors.

In terms of the specifics, the study included data from 1,803 participants in 36 randomized controlled trials. They compared people whose diets included red meat with people who ate more of other types of foods (like chicken, fish, carbohydrates, or plant proteins such as legumes, soy, or nuts). From there, they looked at the cholesterol levels in their blood, as well as triglycerides, lipoproteins and blood pressure, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers found that those eating diets higher in high-quality plant protein sources (legumes, soy, and nuts) exhibited lower levels of both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared to diets with red meat. “The results are consistent with long-term epidemiological studies showing lower risks of heart attacks when nuts and other plant sources of protein are compared to red meat,” the authors noted.

While this might not convince you to give up red meat forever, it’s certainly a reason to consider cutting back. The study authors recommend sticking to a healthy vegetarian or Mediterranean-like diet, namely because of their health benefits and how sustainable the diets are. They also recommend that we all stop asking whether or not red meat is bad, and instead just eat a healthier diet.

“Asking 'Is red meat good or bad?' is useless,” said Meir Stampfer, senior author of the study. “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.”

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