Replacing red meat with plant foods can lower heart disease risk in men

LONDON — Another study is suggesting that carnivores are doing it all wrong. Researchers in Boston say eating red meat of any kind can increase the chances of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), especially in men. Their findings reveal replacing meatier diets with plant foods, like beans and nuts, can help to reduce this risk.

The 30-year study of over 43,000 men also discovered switching out total red meat with whole grains and dairy products like milk and cheese can improve heart health as well. Researchers add eggs are a good substitute for processed red meat products which include bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and salami.

Study authors from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School say other studies have failed to compare red meat consumption with similar proteins and energy sources. This has resulted in inconsistent results when examining diet and heart health.

Red meat creates red flags

In this study, researchers followed 43,272 men with an average age of 53 starting in 1986. Each participant filled out a diet survey at the start and again every four years until 2016. They also shared their medical history and lifestyle habits with the study authors.

Medical records kept track of both fatal and non-fatal CHD events that participants suffered over the course of the review. During that time, patients suffered 4,456 coronary problems and 1,860 tragically turned fatal.

The results of the study discovered that for every one serving of total red meat each day, patients see a 12-percent increase in their risk for coronary heart disease. Eating unprocessed red meat was linked to an 11-percent higher CHD risk and processed red meat had a 15-percent higher risk.

Going green can save your heart

When researchers compare these results to eating plant proteins, the change is dramatic. The study finds eating nuts, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and soy contributed to a 14-percent drop in CHD risk. This risk for heart trouble dropped even further in men over 65 years-old (18%). Older men are also affected more by eating processed red meat, suffering a 17-percent higher chance of developing CHD.

For younger men, switching from red meat to eggs lowered their risk of heart disease by 20 percent. The study did not find a benefit in switching from red meat to fish. Researchers say this may have more to do with how the fish is cooked, explaining that deep frying would not be a healthy option.

Study authors add that many fish products on the market actually fall into the category of processed meats.

The team cautions that their findings have a few drawbacks. Most of the participants were white, healthy professionals which may skew the results when looking at more diverse populations. The study also does not establish a cause for red meat’s impact on the heart. Despite adjusting for each person’s lifestyle factors, researchers say other health issues may be influencing the results.

The Boston team still believes the findings from 30 years on observation show a clear link between the dangers or red meat and benefits of switching to a plant-based diet.

“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,” researchers write in a media release.

The study appears in The BMJ.