Two initial studies presented at a recent American Heart Association event indicated that people could live longer if they ate less red meat and consumed more plant-based protein or dairy instead.
The findings were presented at AHA’s Epidemiology and Prevention Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2020 Thursday.
» RELATED: White meat just as bad for LDL cholesterol as red meat, study finds
The first study surveyed more than 37,000 Americans with an average age of 50. It found that people who ate the most protein were 29 percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease and 27 percent less likely to die of any cause compared to people who ate the least amount of plant-based protein. That is, protein from legumes like bean or peanuts, whole grains like quinoa and broccoli.
Researchers also discovered that replacing 5 percent of calories consumed daily from animal protein with the same amount of plant protein was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of dying in general. When people replace 2 percent of daily calories from processed meat protein with the same number of calories from plant protein, a 32 percent lower risk of death was associated with it.
While a past study has said to avoid red and processed meats in relation to cancer, researchers of the AHA-presented study say people have to go beyond that to extend their lives and avoid heart disease.
» RELATED: Sorry, red meat lovers: New research confirms risk to health, mortality
“It isn’t enough just to avoid red meat – it’s also about what you choose to eat in place of red meat,” said lead study author Zhilei Shan, M.D., Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, in a news release.
“Healthy plant proteins like nuts, legumes and whole grains contain more than just protein – they include other beneficial nutrients such as healthy fats, antioxidant vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (compounds derived from plants), which have been associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.”
Researchers pulled dietary data for the study from eight National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cycles between 1999 and 2014.
The second study focused solely on men and found that replacing a single serving of red or processed meat a day with dairy or plant protein from things like nuts was linked to as much as a 47 percent lower risk of having coronary heart disease. Swapping out a serving of red meat for an equivalent amount of nuts was associated with a 17 percent lower chance of dying from a heart attack. Ditching red meat in favor of whole grains led to a 48 percent lowered risk of heart attack death.
» RELATED: Study: One slice of bacon a day can increase risk for colon cancer 20%
“On average, Americans eat approximately 3.5 servings of red meat each week, and about one-third have red meat daily. Our findings suggest that even partial replacement of red meat with healthy, plant-based sources of protein could substantially reduce rates of coronary heart disease in the United States,” said lead study author Laila Al-Shaar, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Program, in a news release.
More than 43,000 participants in the Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which began in 1986, completed questionnaires about their eating habits every four years through 2010.
The AHA recommends a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as poultry, fish, nuts and low-fat dairy. It suggests limiting red and processed meats and sugar-filled beverages.